Telcos today are facing margin pressures through more intense competition, ARPU erosion, customer churn and cost issues. While designing new business models, Telcos can leverage their network capabilities, such as mobility, messaging, location, presence, profile and call control, and combine these with internet-style services such as social networking, search, advertising, direct marketing and mapping, thereby enabling richer, more compelling and more personalised services than the Internet players can offer. Furthermore, by exposing these capabilities in a secure, controlled and automated manner, Telcos can generate revenues from selling service enablers, as well as their own services, allowing them to fully exploit their network assets.
In light of the above Telco Execs need to understand that :
•The design and bundling of applications, content and devices to generate revenue from broadband networks is based upon a deeper understanding of the customer’s data consumption habits
• The business and technical logic underlying services delivery platforms because telecoms networks have evolved from voice-centric “legacy” technologies such as SS7 and IN towards data and multimedia-centric technologies based on IP, such SIP , Daimeter and IMS
•The critical role of converged billing and CRM engines and how to convert BSS/OSS into revenue generating assets and the need to introduce attractive, profitable new services to subscribers with minimum time-to-revenue while controlling costs
Telcos can greatly benefit from implementing convergent customer care and billing systems because investing in a new stovepipe billing system for each type of service is an expensive and obviously sub-optimal proposition. The systems would help them bring new services to the market quickly, enabling them to improve customer loyalty and reduce customer churn, especially in an environment, where customers jump from provider to provider to get the best deals.
Given the challenges operators are facing with their legacy charging and billing infrastructure, they must evolve it if they want to create profitable next generation services, effectively monetize the rising demand for data, and generate revenues from third party application and content providers that are emerging as competitors. Both the customer management system and the billing system contain vital pieces of customer data. It is only when these two applications are tightly linked, and provide an assembled vision of the customer, that a superior customer experience can be achieved.
An ideal billing platform has a multi-tier architecture. Each tier communicates with other tier through published API’s on the TCP/IP protocol. The Network layer constitutes a range of network devices including Access Servers, UMTS, GGSN and many more such devices.
• The Mediation layer constitutes the Provisioning server, RADIUS and Mediation Engine. Components at this layer interact with elements in the Network layer via varied protocols such as SOAP over HTTP/XML, AAA, SNMP, FTP/FTAM. Mode of exchange can be in real-time or in batch mode and can be through push or pull techniques. A new device added in the Network Layer enables services by adding a new plug-in in the Mediation and Provisioning layer. All components at this layer can run on multiple instances and also on different machines. Thus it facilitates billing to be distributed as well as scaleable.
• The Billing Platform is the central hub of the overall architecture which interacts with every layer through published APIs on TCP/IP layer. The Billing platform constitutes Billing, Rating and the Database store. The Billing platform interacts with mediation through published APIs. This gives tremendous benefit of being open and expandable.
• Rating collects formatted xDRs from Mediation layer, filters them, correlates them, applies rates, usage discounts, promotions, submits rated usage records to billing engine. Rating can run on multiple instances and also on multiple machines for scalability requirements. Rating can be done in batch or real-time.
• Billing takes input as rated records, applies taxes, discounts, calculates charges and finally generates invoice records for every customer. Billing can take rated records from 3rd party rating engine, 3rd party billing system and can also exchange invoice records to 3rd party systems like FAS, Billing Printing. All these are possible because of well published APIs of Billing. The Billing Engine can also run as multiple instances and in multiple servers.
• Customer Care includes, CRM, Customer Order Management and interface to external messaging systems. This layer is also independent of other layers of the system. Thus CRM as a whole layer can be in public LAN which is direct interface to customer and call centre. Customer care interacts with billing, customer management, 3rd party messaging system through well published API’s.
In both the wired and the wireless arena, convergence offers an opportunity for the service providers to differentiate themselves from their competitors through creative bundling of services and billing strategies. Which in turn would increase customer loyalty. Thus, as service providers add newer services to their offering, it becomes imperative for them to develop an integrated billing mechanism. As complex as it may sound , billing in the context of convergence is one more crucial piece of the strategic puzzle telecom service providers need to grapple with as they evolve into strong marketing organizations in a hypercompetitive world.
Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )