Wireless networks are driving dramatic growth in offerings beyond traditional voice and SMS-oriented services with the introduction of wireless data, mobile marketing, and IMS technologies.
Operators are upgrading billing architectures to quickly roll out new value-based services, targeting the appropriate subscribers and providing users with real-time personalized services and flexible billing options.
The Seven Laws of Converged Billing includes best practices and tips for operators worldwide, as they seek to improve their offerings and reduce operational costs.
First, operators should have a firm foundation for the future. The communications industry will be embarking on a transformation characterized by ubiquitous broadband access, mobility, and low-power multimedia/computational capabilities.
In the classic paradigm, the network operator had direct control over the entire value chain where a limited set of well defined services were offered from a "walled garden" and paid for via established pre/post paid account structures.
The new paradigm will consist of fragmented and shifting value chains consisting of a wide variety of third-party service/content providers, chronologically- and demographically-specific services, and an array of payment mechanisms.
The implementation of a carrier-grade real-time rating and charging platform that can accrue a charge on a transactional level independent of access technology while integrating with existing pre-IMS or IMS-compliant infrastructure is critical to the long-term viability and success of wireless services and to the development and implementation of emerging data services.
Second, operators should name their value-based price. A real-time rating platform creates new revenue streams with individualized rating plans that reflect the pricing requirements of individual geographic regions as well as specific demographic groups.
Network operators require a robust and open infrastructure to offer innovative pricing plans. As wireless data networks expand to enable different types of new services, network operators require the flexibility to price according to content type, events, time, location, traffic type, and delivered quality of service.
Next-generation value-added services are founded on value-based pricing models, and include new business models that subsidize or reallocate service costs to other entities. Value-based pricing must support context-oriented mass customization where subscriber-centric services will be rapidly generated and priced on demand according to the subscriber's preferences.
Third, operators should use a unified rating structure, as a heterogeneous rating architecture where independent rating silos are used for different services or billing scenarios results in inherent cost-prohibitive inefficiencies and a lack of a consistent service-rating model.
A unified real-time rating architecture, on the other hand, allows for the support of standardized rating, charging, billing and invoicing practices across markets and services; support of streamlined processes that allows the automation of inputs into financial systems; and the improvement of fraud management through transaction traceability across the network operator's organization.
Customer care representatives and subscribers can also be provided with consistent and clear online presentation of invoices and transaction histories while eliminating administrative overhead and operational expenditures. Operators can reduce ongoing operating expenses by up to 42% when they remove multiple legacy billing systems in favor of a real-time platform.
Fourth, network operators should focus on instant and effortless gratification. Real-time converged billing solutions allow operators to activate and extend new services upon request as well as verify usage limits and view account balance status in real-time prior to providing a service.
They can also complement the customer-relationship-management experience by proactively offering notifications of depleted account balances or incentives to encourage subscribers to top up their accounts before the funds run out.
Fifth, mobile operators must attract new customers and retain existing ones with differentiated services and relevant pricing plans. To remain competitive, network providers must be able to differentiate their service offerings by delivering compelling features and capabilities quickly and efficiently.
Sixth, payment method should only be a form of convenience for subscribers. The traditional siloed approach to deploying services will not sustain the next phase of user sophistication.
Subscribers are not willing to accept a reduced suite of services in the context of acquiring a degree of cost control that is normally associated with prepaid accounts. Concurrently, postpaid users need better and more timely information to manage their spending on new services.
As new services continue to proliferate and homegrown content becomes the norm, users want to have control and visibility over spend limits and service packages and will want to explore other billing options including hybrid prepaid/postpaid accounts and pay-per-use options.
Seventh, operators should know that "the world is flat." Network operators are consolidating operations to stimulate revenues, increase operational efficiencies across access technologies, boost economies of scale, and enhance the market power of a given brand over a broader geographic region. Operators are also initiating and joining partnerships to collectively expand the reach of a common brand to derive similar benefits.
A real-time convergent monetization solution must necessarily accommodate for the expanding reach of network operators as they seek to provide for consistent features and capabilities that are simultaneously adapted to meet local considerations.