As data becomes the main focus for many mobile operators, there is an on-going debate about the future of traditional batch based billing for post-paid and Intelligent Network (IN) pre-paid charging infrastructures. A recent survey by Openet has compiled operators’ views on this, highlighting some of the key challenges they have been facing with IN pre-paid charging platforms as well as how and when they intend to replace these systems.
Whilst some operators have already initiated the replacement of their legacy IN charging and billing infrastructures with real-time, online charging systems (OCS), many more are expected to follow year after year. 89% of the respondents think that as LTE is introduced, most operators will replace IN pre-paid charging platforms within the next 4 years and 70% said that they will be replaced by real-time, online charging systems (OCS). The same goes for billing systems, with 87% thinking that most operators will replace billing systems with real-time charging systems within the next 4 years.
The operators surveyed also highlighted some of the key challenges they have been facing with IN pre-paid charging platforms. According to the majority, 64%, IN charging platforms were initially designed for voice services and are restrictive to operators at four key levels: data service innovation, time to market, customer experience and cost.
About 60% of operators view IN charging platforms as complex, time-consuming and costly to charge for data. This goes back to the fact that they were initially designed for circuit switched voice and not ideal for the complex charging requirements that data has introduced.
Getting new products and services launched can also be an issue and 66% of operators see time to market impacted as they depend on IN vendors to develop and configure new services. With regards to what operators want, 76% want to develop and configure new services with minimum vendor involvement.
Furthermore, a number of operators seem to struggle to deliver the level of experience they would like to offer customers; 45% of the respondents find it difficult or very difficult to provide all services to both pre-paid and post-paid customers. This often results in customer frustration and potential churn as some services are restricted depending on the payment type; this also means loss of revenue opportunities for operators. Also 45% find it difficult or very difficult to have a unified view of customers, linking multiple services and payment types to the one single customer; this then affects operators’ ability to offer a unified and consistent view of all their services to each customer which represents a key loyalty driver. This also affects operators’ ability to deliver an effective customer service and maximize up/cross-sell opportunities.
These restrictions combined with the high total cost of ownership associated with IN charging systems, highlighted by 59% of operators, are driving operators’ plans to replace them.
One of the most recent examples is T-Mobile Netherlands; they are deploying a real-time/online charging system featuring a centralised offer catalog as their future charging platform for mobile services. This new deployment will make it possible for T-Mobile Netherlands to quickly define and launch dynamic pricing models, innovative device plans and support comprehensive combinations of services for its pre-paid and post-paid subscribers. A1 Telekom Austria also deployed convergent, real-time charging and policy control platforms making it possible for their subscribers to benefit from enriched and innovative services that will enhance the customer experience. In North America, Bell Mobility had deployed an online charging system to roll out a broader array of personalised pre-paid and post-paid services. This new deployment was a key enabler for revenue growth for Bell and consisted of a 3GPP compliant Online Charging System which incorporates Convergent Real-time Charging, Rating, and Balance Management.
There are similar examples across the world as operators want to put in place the right revenue-generating infrastructure, which will enable them to accelerate data service innovation and maximize their revenue potential.