How to Choose a Mobile Carrier

Evaluate your users and your data before choosing a provider.

Staffers who bring their own device into the workplace often bring their own voice and data plans. But that’s not always the case. When choosing a provider, keep in mind that few contractors will be more closely tied to a public-sector agency’s operations than its telecom carrier. Carrier selection exerts a huge influence on costs, reliability of operations and cybersecurity. Choosing a carrier requires a careful acquisition strategy because government-size organizations can’t switch carriers as simply as consumers can.

Of course, only a limited number of wireless carriers can deliver agency-quality service across a state or region. Mobile users who travel outside of their local geographical area might encounter roaming charges or gaps in service. Some government missions depend on guaranteed service in disaster scenarios, when infrastructure suffers damage or a surge in use overwhelms the cellular capacity in a given area.


Organizations must carefully evaluate their own requirements before enlisting a carrier. The more clearly that competing carriers understand government requirements, the better they’ll be able to offer bids that meet those technical needs. At the federal level, established governmentwide telecom contracts — principally, Networx from the General Services Administration — don’t absolve individual agencies from thorough requirement analysis.

The chief considerations in establishing telecom requirements are the following:

  • Number of users: How many users will the IT department need to support, and what will their aggregate usage be? Note that telephone minutes and data usage need separate calculations.

  • User locations: Where are users located? This information is needed to map against carriers’ coverage. Although broadband wireless is more ubiquitous than it was even five years ago, significant gaps remain, especially with 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) coverage.

  • Data requirements: Will users regularly move large documents to and from mobile devices or merely send ASCII text gathered in forms? Will they need to view video content or just check websites?

Choosing a Carrier

In addition to AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon, about three dozen wireless carriers belong to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. The federal government must, in most instances, deal with companies offering national service. State, county, municipal and tribal governments may find good deals with regional carriers that link to national networks.

Determining a carrier’s coverage area should be the primary consideration when soliciting bids. To verify a carrier’s map, take a phone, hop in a car and drive to remote locations within the jurisdiction to test coverage.

Also, make sure the carrier’s available devices fit an agency’s needs. The iPhone is more widely available now that it has migrated from AT&T. Yet many agencies opt to remain with BlackBerry. Few regional carriers sell all of the big three: iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices. Survey users to determine what mix of touch-screen and keyboard devices is needed.

After narrowing down the possible carriers to those that offer the required coverage and devices, determine the rates for voice, data and roaming. Investigate billing practices too. Will the carrier bill in the aggregate or phone by phone? Will unused capacity carry over month to month? And how does the carrier handle international and out-of-network calls?

This is an excerpt from our Mobile Strategies for Government white paper which can be downloaded for free here.

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Dec 03 2012