Mobile

Who wants a cell plan with unlimited texting? VA does.

David Hammonds/Shutterstock.com

The Veterans Affairs Department would like to end up with only one cellphone bill.

VA earlier this month kicked off the process for a national contract that covers voice and data airtime, as well as hardware such as smartphones and tablet computers.

In a July 11 request for information to industry, VA said it is considering a national mobile device and services contract for its 300,000 employees in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The department currently uses multiple contracts to acquire mobile hardware and airtime and said it expected a consolidated contract would “provide significant savings.”

To cut down on both voice and data airtime costs, VA said it plans to use the national contract to pool minutes and wants unlimited nighttime calls, unlimited text message service and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling within a specific carrier’s network.

The department specified it planned to use the national mobile contract -- slated to begin in 2013 -- to acquire plain-vanilla voice cellphones, smartphones and tablets running on both Apple and BlackBerry operating systems. The national contract, at this time, does not cover phones or tablets that run on Google or Microsoft operating systems because VA management has not yet approved them.

Jin Kang, president of iSYS LLC, a Mclean, Va.-based firm the General Services Administration hired to help federal agencies manage mobile communications, said the trend within the federal government is to consolidate cellphone contracts, although the VA plan to acquire phones and tablets in the deal is an unusual approach.

In June, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said he would a back departmentwide policy allowing employees to bring their own devices to the job -- known as BYOD -- but acknowledged he had not worked out the financial details of such a plan.

Kang said a BYOD plan probably would require some kind of employee reimbursement for hardware costs and airtime, a complex accounting process. The national mobile plan ultimately could save Baker and VA employees hassles and money, Kang said, adding “the carriers may just throw in the devices for free” considering the large scale of the contract.

If VA puts 100,000 employees and devices on the national contract and pays $75 a month for each, that works out to $7.5 million a month, or $90 million a year.

Though VA said it is considering a valued-added reseller to manage plan, Kang said he expected the department to award multiple national contracts to the major wireless carriers to insure wide geographic coverage.

VA also must develop a national contract that is flexible with billing individual users -- an unlimited voice and data plan for heavy users and a per-minute plan for light users, with the ability to change those plans on a monthly basis, Kang said. This approach would allow VA to wring even more savings from the national contract, he added.

Responses to the RFI are due Aug 1.

CORRECTION: This story originally misidentified the president of ISYS LLC. He is Jin Kang. 

(Image via David Hammonds/Shutterstock.com)

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