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It is no secret that wireless networks cost a lot to purchase, implement, and maintain. However, if you follow some simple negotiating tips, leverage your competitive position, and explore your funding options, you can cut your costs and boost your budget to make your district’s purchases possible. The section below gives you some tips on how.

Vendor Negotiations

Here are a few tips to help you as you negotiate with product vendors:

  • Always have a rough idea of what a total solution will cost prior to releasing an RFP. If you receive bids that are too far outside of your budget, your time issuing the RFP and the vendors’ time responding has been wasted. Though it is not generally a good idea to tell the vendors what your budget is (they may not submit an aggressive bid if they know your budget), you should talk with them to get a sense of what the total solution might cost.
  • Larger deals typically result in more of a discount on products and services. If you are making a large purchase it is very common to negotiate hard for more discount "points."
  • When negotiating, use your competitive leverage. If a vendor knows that they are the only player in the game, they are less likely to budge on pricing.
  • Look at a vendor’s fiscal calendar and try to time your negotiations such that the purchase order is aligned close to the end of their fiscal quarter or year. Sales teams operate on commission and usually have added incentive to close deals toward the end of each quarter. You may be more likely to get a higher discount when the sales teams need the sale.
  • It is easier for vendors to discount things like software, maintenance, licenses, and professional services than it is for them to discount equipment. As you are negotiating, you may have more luck asking for discounts on these items though it doesn’t hurt to ask for a higher discount on the equipment as well.
  • A final piece of negotiation can be to ask for extras. Many vendors can throw into a deal things like a site survey or training credits. These things are of very little value to them but can be hugely valuable to you.

Purchasing Consortia

When managed correctly, purchasing consortia can negotiate better prices for many pieces of equipment because of their ability to buy in bulk. Many manufacturers participate in state contracts and/or purchasing consortia such as PEPPM or WSCA. Many districts have found that these consortia have been effective purchasing vehicles for them. However, if a district’s RFP process is handled well and there is competition for the bid, the district may get better pricing on its own than through the consortia.

By discussing purchasing consortia with your vendor and asking about comparative pricing discounts, you will demonstrate that you have another purchasing option. This can help ensure that the vendor gives you competitive pricing.

E-rate Eligible Services

As you are looking at potential solutions, be aware of which pieces of the overall solution are eligible for E-rate reimbursement.

There have been significant improvements to the E-rate rules starting in 2015, including straightforward eligibility for Wi-Fi equipment and services. The FCC Eligible Services List states that APs, controllers, and the required software are all eligible for reimbursement.

"Eligible Broadband Internal Connections Components

  • Access points used in a local area network (LAN) or wireless local area network (WLAN) environment (such as wireless access points)
  • Antennas, cabling, connectors, and related components used for internal broadband connections
  • Wireless controller systems
  • Software supporting each of the components on this list used to distribute high-speed broadband throughout school buildings and libraries"

In addition to these critical components, Tech Directors generally have questions about eligibility of maintenance contracts and advanced services appliances (location appliances, security appliances, etc). USAC has the ultimate authority over whether these items are eligible so you should contact them with your specific questions.

Under the modernized E-rate order, districts will receive $150 (before discount) per student over a five year period, to upgrade their LAN/Wi-Fi infrastructure. Along with the $150 per-student cap, a wider range of management platforms and services are potentially eligible for reimbursement, which may expand your options to best use E-rate funds. Of course, as you are planning a network upgrade, you should consider which network upgrades are best supported by the E-rate $150 per-student discount as a funding source, and adjust your budget plans accordingly. If your network’s switching and security systems are already up-to-date, you may have a larger budget to spend on wireless and may be able to use E-rate funding for more advanced services.