Abstract – This post Evolution – Telecom Billing & Charging was originally published on 26-February-2015 on Linkedin. This article is meant for discussion. Questions and answers are welcome.
Hotbilling  -> IN -> OCS -> CvBS -> NCS [coming soon]
Introduction – In today’s rapidly changing environment, service innovation and real-time capabilities are critical to maximising revenue. Real-time convergent charging enables service innovation, allied to real-time control of debt exposure for more partner services and the ability to rate and bill on behalf of partners. Online and offline charging are integral capabilities of any MNO/MVN. Prepaid services always require online charging for real time service authorization, rating and balance management. Postpaid services can use this online charging architecture for new service offerings. However, capitalizing on today’s tremendous opportunities can be challenging.
Telecom subscribers are getting smarter (so it’s not only the handset which is getting smarter haan!!!), demanding more and more and, at the same time many new players are entering the marketplace. To compete in this environment, operators have to not only maintain but also grow their part of the new value chain to gain loyal customers and adding new blended services which are ridding on their investment/infrastructure made during all those times.
Main Story – Subscribers are now getting offered Mobile Money, Converged/Hybrid billing model on the same line, Mobile Banking, Mobile Commerce, Mobile Trading and Chargeable Information on Mobile. Operators have ensured that Money can be distributed as they were doing it for Electronic Airtime and Airtime vouchers and now in same way, real money is also available in roadside kiosks which trade money (Cash in & Cash out Agents), water and cigarettes. This requires true service excellence – the ability to provide a constant stream of new, innovative services supported by robust and excellent completely modular systems with a short time to market. This allows for an almost real time rollout of new services and perfect execution.
The Evolution of Billing Systems
Billing systems started off with an archaic offline model which only allowed charging as an after event which resulted in severe revenue leakage. These drawbacks led to the widespread utilisation of intelligent networks which performed balance checks before granting access to service then carried out balance maintenance terminating service upon depletion of account balance. The increase in chargeable services gave rise to Online Charging Systems which separated charging capabilities from network capabilities. This empowered MNOs with revenue collection as well as service rollout efficiencies.
The convergent system has a centralized management of customer view, hierarchically stored product catalogue, flexible customized pricing options, freely assorted sub- and primary-account, facilitate and assure the marketing, customer care, and new business development. OCS enables easy shifting between pre-paid and post-paid, flexible service bundles and tariff packages aiming to different groups of customers that provides more promotion methods for the operators to exploit the market. This new generation of charging solution greatly attracts customers through its distinguished and improved benefits, and reduces the customer churn ratio, thus greatly enhances the customer loyalty and puts the telecom market expansion on the right track. The convergent and unified billing system enables customers to use all services at a time, and the customized price bundle caters well to customer needs at different levels.
While Convergent billing and the split OCS architecture tend to present many benefits to the operator, they could bring out complexities where the implementation of business rules can prove to be very difficult, i.e. you lose flexibility in case you give freebies (airtime, data, sms etc). In Convergent billing systems, we have modules, which take care of Online Charging (Prepaid) and Interconnect billing (Batch/Postpaid) as part of a single housing system, like the OCS System and now there is need to integrate few more modules of which can cater for Mobile Financial Services though 3GGP has not defined/endorse anything yet for Mobile Financial Services integration on OCS
Convergent billing needs
A logical foundation is laid for service convergence since the OCS embraces event-based charging and session-based charging. This meets the charging criteria for both voice and data services, and for the bearing, subsystem and application layers. The charging network is evolving from postpaid BOSS or prepaid IN to convergent billing. The OCS rating engine comprises the cornerstone of this process, while Re reference points facilitate rating engine deployment and fulfil new service development requirements.
The convergent billing system plays a key role in data organization and coordination and forms the largest customer database. The OCS pulls best practice with respect to organizing billing data of all customers and services, which is essential given that the online charging data describes one of the most complex data streams. Several charging modes and their combinations are possible, including near real-time charging for postpaid or prepaid services, and charging for prepaid service.
Online charging (based on Ro and CAP interfaces) and offline charging (based on the Rf interface) describe the interaction between NEs and charging systems. Postpaid and prepaid indicate the interaction between account balance and user payment. As a result, user experience-based concepts i.e. prepaid, postpaid, near real time and real time – can be seamlessly mirrored to network-based concepts such as online and offline charging. Flexible maintenance and configuration through a web-based portal & support for multiple interfaces to external systems such as CRM, Billing, etc. The bill-based, postpaid BOSS and the independent prepaid IN charging system are evolving into a convergent billing system.
The OCS can develop by expanding itself in the context of account balance management. The OCS can also develop by integrating BOSS and IN, under which OCS serves as a core for them both. These define shortcuts for the development of a convergent billing system. Data organized in this mode in the convergent billing system provides enhanced support for various customer types and user-oriented services.
Any Online Charging System with convergence should have the capability;
- Real-time charging.
- Data charging.
- Modular, robust and scalable architecture.
- Flexible & Configurable Tariff & Services.
From Charging System to Charging Network– There are an IMS network charging system and a method. The method includes: when a special charging identifier which indicates making charging processing is not present in the charging request received from a network element (NE), the charging entity adds a special charging identifier to the charging response sent to the NE based on the charging policy; when a special charging identifier is present in the charging response, the NE adds the special charging identifier to the service request sent to the subsequent NE or to the service response sent to the previous NE; when a special charging identifier is present, the subsequent NE and the previous NE determine whether send a charging request to the corresponding charging entity based on the special charging identifier and the charging policy, and adds the special charging identifier to the service request sent to the subsequent NE or the service response sent to the previous NE; and after the corresponding charging entity identifies that a special charging identifier is present, it determines whether make charging processing based on the special charging identifier and the charging policy. Thus the repeated charging for the user service is avoided.
In convergent billing, charging technologies are going to be “Network Charging” as opposed to a “Charging System”. Network Charging is capable of being deployed as a standalone application or provide a foundation and evolution path for additional business requirements such as billing, invoicing, billing time discounts or re-rating, using the productized integration with Billing and Revenue Management. When the second generation OCS is deployed, the combined solution provides efficient data traffic management and revenue-generating opportunities to differentiate on personalized quality of service. The integrated policy and charging solution is intelligently driven by customer knowledge and value enabled by the shared subscriber profile repository residing on the online charging system. The charging system originally forms part of the support network and can be regarded as a supporting platform for networks or services. In a converged environment, the charging system is unable to complete the entire charging process. Many network evolutions, however, are stimulated by changes in charging requirements.
There’s no single answer to this without end-to-end architectural analysis. Let us open a discussion on this and build some intelligence around it. To date, the telecom industry has witnessed overwhelming success through commercial applications of the OCS. Operators from more than a dozen countries in Europe, Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa are integrating the OCS in their networks, and increasingly more are welcoming the product now its time to add other elements which are very crucial from future prospective to give new shape / definition to convergence. This is my own thought process on the basis of reading from google and work experience from last decade plus.
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