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Building Better Billing

By: Jesse Cryderman

Here’s a great way to kill a casual conversation: mention the words billing and telecommunications in the same sentence, and then smile. 

No one likes bills and communications service providers (CSPs), in particular, have often been at the receiving end of some harsh criticism related to their billing practices. Bills can be complicated, the impact of new service consumption isn’t always clear, and bill shock is still a very real phenomenon. For example, a math teacher based in England was recently charged more than $4,300 for downloading a Neil Diamond album while on holiday in South Africa. Headlines like these only add to the growing concern and confusion that surrounds billing today.

And yet, without advancements in billing, much of the mobile Internet and its pervasive on-demand content universe would not exist. Billing may not be a blockbuster topic fit for your next dinner party, but its impact on the telecommunications landscape is monumental. Today, that landscape is rapidly evolving and CSPs and their support partners must build better billing systems in order to accommodate the digital future and improve the customer experience.

A pain in the BSS

CSPs and their business support systems (BSS) vendors have taken great strides to improve and evolve billing systems, but it’s a challenging task. Legacy billing systems created and tallied call data records (CDRs) for rating at the end of each billing period then processed them as a batch which, in most cases, was expressed as a monthly bill. These batch billing systems were capable of accommodating various rating plans, but always in a post-hoc fashion.

As telecommunications evolved beyond terrestrial voice and mobility took center stage, new use cases and business strategies required billing evolution. Service consumption grew to include mobile data and one-time content purchases. Pre-paid mobile and anti-bill shock initiatives ushered in the need for real-time policy control and billing. At the same time, CSPs began offering triple- and quad-play service packages, creating a need for converged billing and charging.

The world has since shifted again. Today, the consumption of mobile data is generating the lion’s share of revenue. One look at how plans are structured reveals where the money is—most leading carriers zero-rate voice today, and structure mobile plans based on data consumption. Mobile subscribers consume multiple services from multiple content providers across numerous network domains every day. A multitude of third parties and advertising partners exist along the value chain. Simultaneously, the product mix is constantly changing, as CSPs struggle to rapidly launch new services to compete with over-the-top (OTT) pressure. Mobile billing can be summarized by two words: it’s complicated.

How can service provider organizations re-tool or supplement their current billing systems to better accommodate today's digital service environment and business landscape? Better billing systems exhibit the following four characteristics: 

  1. They must function in real time to enable the CSP to target, offer, and bill for incentives, upsells, and more; 
  2. they must enable CSPs to deliver new services and service packages rapidly; 
  3. they must be able to address business in new verticals that may have very different dynamics than traditional telecom; and 
  4. they must be able to accommodate new partnership models such as sponsored data and toll-free mobile services.

Getting Real with Billing Systems

Mobile subscribers consume services in real-time, so it stands to reason that better billing should be real-time. However, real-time billing is much more than simple counting all of the bytes appropriately; it is a platform for creating new revenue. With real-time capabilities, a CSP can target, offer, and upsell services as they are needed, creating new revenue and improving personalization.



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