Technology and service evolution are affecting Billing and Charging process inside each mobile network operator (MNO), and contributing for IT and Telecom convergence. Progress in virtualization (NFV) and new services technologies (IoT, VoLTE, 5G) based on service API ecosystems will promote new revenue streams and distinguish business models.
Those advances are developing new opportunities for online charging and marketing offering flexibility. Both are key differentiators to unveil new services revenues for MNOs’ environment.
But are the technology standards and architecture ready for these new scenarios? Two main standardizations bodies are applicable for online charging, one mainly focused on network and another on business process, 3GPP and TM Forum.
The 3GPP groups define all interfaces and protocols allowing the online charging system realization on top of mobile and convergent core infrastructure. Its specifications define also the functional elements to allow session based and event based charging functions. They are main reference for the traditional platforms used for pre-paid charging control in a network based service environment.
The TM Forum Business Process Framework (eTOM) defines the processes for Manage Balances and Charging of products and events inside the Customer Domain. These processes are part of Billing and Revenue Management and covers online and offline charging. They are main reference for business systems inside the MNOs’ IT domains.
Both standards set are perfectly complementary in theory, but in the real world we are watching a technological evolution that will permit the merge of these under a freshly online charging systems (OCS) concept.
The future convergence is not only on platforms, but also on process and operations. We can foreseeing a future were all MNOs’ charging system will be online (OCS based), fully integrated into network authentication, policy decision resources and including all business processes ranging from subscription, advice of charging and reaching the billing invoice management.
On the vendors side this should represent a new solution development collapsing IT billing systems and Telecom platforms, open up opportunities and challenges in a new front between traditional IT and Telecommunications Equipment suppliers.
But, Are the actual MNOs willing to embrace these technologies and process evolution? This is a question with no simple and straight answer. This is a strategic decision based on where each MNO believe will be their role in the future.
We can imagine a future complex scenario where the MNOs will deal with full convergent service bundle, including voice, data, TV, IoT and OTT partners in a 5G environment. This could require a rich and flexible charging plans, able to be customized to each subscriber and robust enough to handle residential and corporate segments.
On the other far side are the MNOs that will be forced (or chosen) to offer only the data connectivity to its subscribers, with flat rate charging style “one size fits all”.
The two scenarios above are extreme ones and probably none (or quite a few) will evolve to them. The first one will demand a powerful OCS fully integrated into the business systems, plentiful of network protocols, configurable and flexible product definition interface. The second will demand a simple traditional (legacy) charging platform.
The real world will lay anywhere in the space under the extremes described above.
The OCS evolution for the MNOs will be strongly tied to their evolution strategy and their place in the future of connected people, devices and things. This could lead to a deep process redesign and paradigm shift, together with the adoption of all new technological standards needed to offer all services foreseen.
For the vendors, the real risk is not to be able to design a flexible solution qualified to adapt and grow to any MNO scale and requirements. The future service differentiation should be provided by the MNO product portfolio, not by the vendor solution boundaries.