Sparks Likely to Fly Before AT&T Gets to Seal T-Mobile Deal

AT&T announced a deal Sunday that will make it the largest cellphone company in the U.S., surpassing Verizon. AT&T reached an agreement to acquire T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom for about US$39 billion. The deal will need approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to verify it would not violate antitrust laws. If approved, it could close in about a year.

AT&T triumphed in an earlier merger when it acquired Cingular Wireless for $41 billion in 2004.

AT&T released a presentation online explaining how the U.S. wireless market will remain competitive even as it gains control of about 43 percent of the sector.

The T-Mobile merger will expand AT&T’s 4G LTE service to 95 percent of Americans. Current T-Mobile customers will have to upgrade their 3G phones for the 4G network, AT&T said Monday, but they will have plenty of time to do so.

AT&T’s and Deutsche Telekom’s stocks shot up with the merger announcement.

Sprint released a statement saying that Verizon and AT&T are alrady too powerful and that the merger is not in the best interest for consumers. The deal will cause Sprint — which had engaged in talks about acquiring T-Mobile — to a distant third place in the U.S. cellular market. Sprint’s stock fell after the announcement.

Neither AT&T nor T-Mobile responded to the E-Commerce Times’ requests for comments by press time.

How Do You Spell Monopoly?

This acquisition could give major upgrades to the AT&T network or it could bog it down with too much activity.

“AT&T will become the No. 1 carrier in terms of post-paid and pre-paid market-share, turning it into a GSM monopoly,” Neil Shah, analyst for wireless device strategies at Strategy Analytics, told the E-Commerce Times. “But, this also means a huge and uniform nationwide GSM-HSPA-LTE network coverage.”

Verizon might benefit from the merger, but Sprint probably won’t.

“From a competitive point of view, it might be a blessing in disguise for Verizon Wireless, as it eliminates an aggressive competitor in the form of T-Mobile — but it’s not good news for Sprint. Losing out on a potential acquisition to the competitor will shatter its dreams of lowering costs by acquiring scale.”

This deal will effectively give AT&T more possibilities and more power in the market.

“From AT&T’s point of view, this means a huge subscriber base generating healthy economies of scale, and higher buying and bargaining power with suppliers — from network equipment to user equipment,” said Shah.

“Above all, the company will gain a good chunk of AWS spectrum resource to let the carrier efficiently deploy next-generation wireless networks (HSPA+, LTE),” he noted.

There are definite challenges in a merger this grand in scale.

“This consolidation in one of the world’s biggest and most important mobile markets won’t be a smooth ride for AT&T, as the company is restricted by the amount of concentrated market penetration allowed. This may result in regulatory challenges,” observed Shah.

“The market will be closely scrutinized by the FTC and the FCC to ensure that AT&T’s market share is not too concentrated,” he said. “This might also lead to the divestiture of some AT&T assets. Overall, the complete merger of the business from integration of assets to streamlining of processes and resources could take almost two years, subject to the regulatory approval.”

Improved Network Capabilities

AT&T will have some choices to make as to how it integrates its business model with T-Mobile’s.

“When AT&T buys T-Mobile, they get the spectrum and the towers,” Michael Morgan, senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times.

“The coverage will improve. They really will get a lot of synergy out of this,” he said. “What I’m wondering is, if the money they’re going to save will perpetuate the T-Mobile business model — or, is AT&T going to go with their core model of a higher price?”

The future is unwritten for T-Mobile consumers.

“T-Mobile customers may be excited — they may be able to get the iPhone with their current contract,” said Morgan. “But they’ll also be nervous. Are they going to lose their plans? Once this goes through government regulatory scrutiny, will the regulators be OK with AT&T taking away a low-cost service provider? The government may say, ‘You can join up if you continue a low-cost offering.’ AT&T could say, ‘We already have a low-cost offering.’ But AT&T’s low-cost offering is not as low a T-Mobile’s.”

If Verizon were to buy Sprint, then the third place would be even further away.

“If the government lets AT&T take T-Mobile, will this block out Verizon’s ability to buy Sprint?” said Morgan. “Will they let competition go down to two? For Verizon, the only way to match AT&T would be to buy Sprint. This market is no longer about organic growth. If they’re going to grow, they have to buy somebody.”

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E-commerce Times Channels

Back-Office Finance Automation: The Foundation of a Solid E-Commerce Enterprise

accountant using e-invoice software

E-commerce retailers and direct-to-consumer businesses of all sizes are dealing with a ripple effect of business challenges. These include continued inflation increasing the cost of goods and squeezing customers’ disposable income, global supply chain shortages, increased out-of-stocks, and more demanding customer expectations.

Add to that, the Great Resignation has led to a mass exodus of vital frontline and back-office workers, leaving retailers understaffed and hard-pressed to provide the service that customers want.

Fortunately, new digital technologies continue to help e-commerce businesses innovate by expanding online shopping options, improving forecasting and inventory management with AI-powered analytics, upgrading customer service with RPA customer-service bots, enabling last-mile optimization systems for omnichannel experiences, and increasing customer buying power at the point-of-sale with services like buy now, pay later.

These are all incredibly important capabilities supporting the front end of the business. But there are also technologies that work behind the scenes. like AP automation, that can deliver important value and quick ROI by helping e-tailers and direct-to-consumer businesses streamline cumbersome finance workflows, improve controls and security, reduce costs, empower remote employees, and help offset staff shortages.

FAQ
What are the benefits to e-commerce companies of automating AP processes?

Automating accounts payable processes provides several advantages:

  • Faster, more efficient finance processes and workflows
  • Fewer errors and less manual effort required to correct them
  • More satisfied and productive staff
  • Reduced full-time equivalent (FTE) requirements and operational costs
  • Increased cash-back rebates from suppliers
  • Happier vendors better positioned to support supply needs
  • Better cash flow management
  • Reduced risk of fraud

Manual Processes Create Inefficiency and Hinder Growth

Businesses still receive a surprisingly high number (25%) of paper invoices, and 47% are not using any type of invoice workflow automation solution. E-commerce is no exception. In my experience working with e-tailers and direct-to-consumer businesses, many are still making more than 50% of their supplier payments via check.

AP staff at these businesses are wasting valuable time and effort opening paper invoices, capturing and entering data, emailing or calling approvers, printing and mailing checks, and responding to questions from suppliers.

It’s a problem in any industry, but it becomes even more complicated in e-commerce where finance teams tend to manage many supplier invoices. In addition, as supply chain disruptions continue, it’s important for e-commerce businesses to do everything they can to maintain reliable inventory sources. This includes getting key vendors paid on time.

The Power of AP Automation

Modern accounts payable solutions can automate the entire invoice-to-pay process by providing a single workflow to capture invoices, automatically sync data in ERP and finance systems, simplify approvals, and send payments however suppliers prefer to receive them, whether that’s check, ACH, virtual card, or even cross-border.

These solutions can address much of what an e-commerce business needs including vendor onboarding, invoice capture, coding, approvals, and supplier management — as well as payment authorization, execution, and reconciliation.

The benefits to accounting and finance teams are obvious, but they also provide important advantages for many other parts of e-tail and direct-to-consumer businesses. Here are six examples:

1. Streamlined Invoice Workflows

Many finance teams spend the bulk of their time on manual, paper-based invoice processes. Full invoice-to-pay automation captures and codes invoices with far fewer errors than manual data entry and significantly reduces time spent processing invoices.

2. Improved Visibility and Control

Intuitive tools and centralized reporting provide users with detailed views of days payables outstanding (DPOs), pending or past-due invoices, and other category reports. In addition, specific employees can be granted access to the same level of reporting to gain real-time insights into invoice processing.

These capabilities help e-commerce businesses make the right decisions related to payment timing to maximize working capital and take advantage of early-pay discounts.

3. Reduced Costs and Generation of New Revenues

AP automation delivers where it matters for e-commerce businesses: top-line revenue growth and a stronger bottom line. Eliminating paper-based processes and manual data entry and using e-payments can reduce costs per invoice by up to 430%. In addition, rebates from virtual card payments can generate significant new revenues delivering a complete ROI while funding other parts of the business.

4. Increased Staff Productivity

The time employees spend on manual payment processes could be spent on higher-value initiatives such as optimizing receivables, providing proactive support to suppliers, or developing new internal processes.

For managers forced to multitask, it means less time in the back office and more time focused on customers. When hiring back-office help is tough, AP automation helps e-commerce businesses grow without adding headcount.

5. Empower Remote Work

AP automation allows finance staff to review and approve invoices or pay suppliers from anywhere, using any device. Similarly, month-end closing and AP audit data can be accessed remotely, further minimizing the need for staff to be in an office or store.

6. Stronger Vendor Relationships

Brands, wholesalers, and other suppliers are the lifeblood of any e-commerce business. The industry is already suffering from inventory issues; the prospect of late or missed payments adds additional risk of disruption.

Improving the ability to pay on time builds better relationships, adds leverage to negotiate discounts, and minimizes the chance of additional supply chain issues.

The Right Strategy

E-commerce is built on digital customer experiences and processes. That same thinking needs to be applied to the financial back office. Automating foundational processes like accounts payable can provide e-commerce operations with proven methods to overcome key supply-side challenges and deliver far-ranging benefits that help all facets of the business.

Matt Friend is VP, product and program management, at MineralTree, a provider of accounts payable and payment automation solutions.

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VENDOR PROFILE

Robotic Letter Writing Lends a Hand to Personalized Marketing, CRM

Image Credit: Handwrytten

The art of automating business communication extends to resurrecting handwritten letters to customers and maximizing the appearance with a robot labor force to produce the correspondence.

The Handwrytten app is part of an automated CRM tool that lets businesses — and individuals with an entrepreneurial passion — integrate computerized automation with personalized handwritten notes to customers. The result is a novel approach to updating one of marketing’s best-known strategies — the personal letter.

Retailers today have all but destroyed the effectiveness of thank you notes and personalized business letters. Delivered electronically in plain vanilla typed emails and SMS messages, people have learned to reach for the delete button or send-to-spam response for most of the retail-related correspondence arriving in inboxes.

The Handwrytten web-based service uses robots to finesses marketing messages into handwritten polished prose. It helps marketing teams reintroduce and automate what was once a fine art of letter writing. The Handwrytten app and computer interface let you create professionally designed handwritten notes that are delivered to customers and clients’ postal mailboxes.

Consumers expect to get emails, text messages, and bulk mailers from companies. They rarely read or pay attention to them on a regular basis. Handwrytten is an effective way for businesses to help their sales and marketing teams to better engage potential and existing customers.

“People understand the power of the personal note, but nobody has the time to sit down and actually pick up a pen and write one. This is why we built a platform to automate the process from end to end,” said David Wachs, founder and CEO of Handwrytten.

Leveraging cutting-edge robotic technology automates what is seemingly impossible to automate. These notes have been proven to drive incredible and lasting results for our clients, he added.

Fine Art Revisited

Founded in 2014, Wachs had a vision of bringing back handwritten communication to business. He wanted to fill an unmet need: making handwritten notes as easy to send as an email.

To solve this problem, he invested heavily in robotics to build a machine unmatched in handwriting quality and scalability. His 175+ patented Handwrytten robots each autonomously writes nearly 500 notes a day.

Handwrytten factory

Image Credit: Handwrytten


The company now builds its own handwriting robots to produce more realistic penmanship. Each robot machine monitors its ink levels and communicates with tenders via Slack if it jams or runs out of ink.

To scale, the company continues to build more machines to meet demand. Wachs plans to double machine capacity this year.

This 2016 video shows how the company first used off-the-shelf, third-party machines to fulfill orders.

Machine Maintains Humanlike Mannerism

The handwriting is indistinguishable from real human handwriting. The robotic hands can produce 23 handwriting styles.

Alternatively, users can upload their own handwriting and signature for a truly personalized style. That option comes with a one-time fee.

Either way, users can select from more than 100 card designs or design their own online. Deliveries can include business cards or gift cards to over 20 popular brands, including Starbucks, Home Depot, Amazon, and Visa can further foster relationships with customers.

Handwrytten bulk order production

For bulk letter orders, each copy is originally copied, not photocopied from the robot-printed initial letter. (Image Credit: Handwrytten)


“Handwrytten is the largest and longest running service of its kind. We allow people to go to our website, or use our app integration, and choose a card or design their own. They also choose a handwriting style and type a message. We then convert the message into the handwriting style,” Wachs told CRM Buyer.

Keeping It Real

The company is tweaking several improvements into the robot hands to make the writing look even more real. A new version of the web app will deliver better usability and more features.

Some of the “tricks” built into the robot mechanism to defy creation by mechanical hands include:

  • Using up to 10 copies of each letter in both upper and lowercase form randomly put in the note to ensure enough variation;
  • Capturing the unique ligature combinations of a handwriting style (or font), such as two O’s next to each other, two T’s, or connecting T and H or O and F;
  • Varying the spacing between lines and randomizing this interline spacing subtly, along with varying the left margin and ensuring that each line starts at a different spot, creates more organic-looking writing.

The company is working on fixing its main remaining complaint: straightness by bending words. Its updated handwriting engine now bends each line of text to create an even more organic effect.

Behind the Scenes

When I first discovered the Handwrytten service, I planned to check it out further as a possible business product review. That approach gave way to a more detailed discussion with the company’s driving force, David Wachs.

The product reviewer part of me wanted to know more about how the robotic handwriting process transforms the customer’s initial typed correspondence into an “Is it real?” finished product.

Wachs declined to reveal specifics about the transformation process. He confided that they build, program, and maintain their robotic machinery in a large facility in Phoenix to write out notes and mail them.

Primarily a tool for businesses, Handwrytten’s client base ranges from Fortune 500 corporations to small retailers and consumers. It currently has over 85,000 customers using the platform, according to Wachs.

The company has options for any budget. Pricing starts at $3.25 to send one Handwrytten note, with discounts for bulk orders and subscriptions.

All of its cards are available without a contract. The company also offers subscription plans, bulk discounts, and prepay options.

Wachs also disclosed that some limitations exist with the Handwrytten app (available for Android and iOS). The apps do not allow the user to bulk upload lists of contacts. Nor do they currently support signatures. But those features are forthcoming.

“The apps also do not allow the new prospecting tool, which allows the user to target a demographic or geographic area and blanket the area with Handwrytten notes,” he said. “The rest of the functionality is the same, however.”

Orders are stamped with First Class postage and mailed from the factory. The U.S. Postal Service delivers all mail to the continental U.S. in three-to-four days. The company also delivers to Canada, the U.K., and 190 other countries.

Marketing Tool Advantages

As a marketing tool, Handwrytten notes offer benefits over using in-office CRM software and in-house or commercial printing services. Perhaps the most significant is Handwritten notes have a 300% higher open rate than print pieces, according to Wachs.

Additionally, Handwritten notes have a very high likelihood of being considered surprising while having a low risk of being regarded as annoying, he noted.

When consumers do not feel appreciated by a brand, Handwritten notes have a statistically significant ability to improve brand perception and get consumers to come back and buy more, Wachs concluded.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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