By Barb Lancaster
The Billing Challenges of IMS
In the last issue of Pipeline, I wrote about Quality of Service in the IMS environment. QoS is one area where IMS can potentially deliver a strongly differentiated service offering compared to what might be available over a “free and unfettered” IP network such as the Internet or its descendant. And it’s the kind of differentiator that some customers logically may be willing to pay extra for. What is less clear is just how much more they’d be prepared to pay, and how many would pay it. As technology developments further improve the capability of smart edge devices to deliver QoS over unmanaged or lightly managed networks, it’s also important to consider how long customers will agree to pay that premium.
Understanding the actual value of QoS is just one of the complicated factors that service providers will have to take into account as they build their business cases for investments in IMS. Today, we’ll explore another putative benefit of IMS from the business case perspective: the ability to bill in more fine-grained ways for content and services.
In recent years, there has been a trend in telecom billing to make things simpler for the end customer. Flat-rate calling plans are now common for long-distance and even international calls. It was just a few years ago that calling plans were complex combinations of factors like time-of-day, day of week, lower rates for weekends and holidays, multi-layered discounts, and apparently infinite bundling options. Services like caller ID and voicemail that for years attracted supplementary charges are increasingly bundled with the basic line charge. Not to mention DTMF – yes, remember when “touch tone” cost more than pulse dialing?
There were charges for “special” services such as WATS lines and FX/FCO services - if any enterprises are still paying premium charges for such services in a world of good quality flat-rate VoIP, then their accountants are asleep. Leased lines were once charged using complex distance-related formulae; today’s VPN technology makes distance irrelevant. And if you think cellphone charge structures are complicated today, have a look back at some examples from mobile services ten years ago.
Today, from the perspective of the end customer, rate structures are much simpler. It’s not that we don’t have the technical capability to make things complicated; it’s just that we’ve learned that most of that complexity simply irritated customers. I suggest that billing complexity actually didn’t add a lot to the bottom line either.