By Vinay Mehta
The Foundation of Customer-Centric IMS
IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is expected to radically alter the way in which communications services are delivered and accessed. By facilitating a single, coherent network capable of delivering services across a variety of access channels, IMS will enable operators to break from their traditional reliance on separate networks for fixed and mobile voice, data and video services. Among the many hoped-for benefits, IMS will generate new revenue streams, permit deployment of new and multiple services with faster time to market, increase average revenue per user (ARPU), eliminate duplicate systems and reduce costs.
The flip side is that IMS will raise the bar on customer support and service requirements. As new offerings proliferate, customers will demand a single sign-on to all their services, a single customer care contact point, personalized price plans and convenient payment methods. In sum, they will want a “customer-centric” approach to service and support. Therein resides the potential weak spot of some operators’ IMS plans.
Responsibility for support and service functions resides in an area that, for most operators, has evolved little over the last 20 years: business support systems (BSS). Though perfectly adequate for the days of POTS – “one circuit/one service” – most traditional BSS systems lack the flexibility and scalability to support customer requirements in a complex IMS environment.
Service providers need to address this challenge if their IMS ambitions are to take root in the marketplace, and they have little time to act. Dwindling revenue from legacy services, rising competition, higher costs and the need for new efficiency gains all have increased pressure on operators, fueling big wagers on IMS.
To make IMS work, providers must adopt a new customer-centric model of convergent, network-independent BSS with the scalability and responsiveness to support rapid change and complex, content-rich services. This new model will require significant commitment to a BSS that delivers on a spectrum of requirements, ranging from flexible pricing and online charging for customers, to measures that improve risk management for the operator. But, the end result will be a fully-realized vision of IMS: long-term, profitable relationships with customers who remain loyal to the operator’s brand.
Pricing and Charging Flexibility
An IMS-ready BSS and billing system must incorporate a flexible rating or charging engine that is able to support any basis of pricing, and whatever services may emerge in the future, including value-based pricing models. For example, streamed music purchases, videoconferencing sessions and interactive games may need to be priced by different measures – such as by transaction or duration.