By Jennifer Kyriakakis, Director of Marketing, Portal Software
As fixed mobile convergence and ubiquitous connectivity surges forward, much has been discussed about WiMAX and Wi-Fi mesh networks competing with and potentially replacing 3G and cable/DSL broadband access.
Juniper Research predicts that WiMAX subscribers will skyrocket from 1.7 million in 2007 to 21.3 million in 2012. A recent study by ON World also states that the number of mobile VoIP users will reach 100 million by 2011, with a large portion of those accessing services via WiMAX networks.
WiMAX presents an interesting opportunity, not only for last-mile connectivity, but also for a ubiquitous services environment where the telco, ISP, or next-generation service provider can offer services and applications anywhere their subscribers may roam, resulting in increased revenues and subscriber loyalty.
Since WiMAX provides not only wider coverage, but also better service quality at faster speeds, service providers can charge for applications and services such as video conferencing or mobile TV in addition to access. This presents interesting consumer billing challenges.
These billing challenges can be seen in two scenarios: municipal city-wide networks for broadband Internet access and mobile VoIP for dual-mode handsets and WiMAX-enabled devices such as PDAs and iPods.
With municipal or city-wide WiMAX deployments, an ISP wins the municipal contract, deploys the network, and bills the city for access. However, it is unclear how cities will pay for or subsidize this service. To help the city justify spending, the city or the ISP will need to consider if and how to charge city government, businesses, and citizens.
The ISP or city may either track departmental usage in detail and incorporate charge-backs to government agencies or offer free access to local businesses and consumers, subsidized by advertising.
The average citizen or small business may not want to pay for access, prompting the need for an advertising subsidy model. By agreeing to accept ads on their mobile phones, laptops, or iPods, users are granted access to the network, paying only for the application or content consumed.
Each of these business models - departmental charge-backs, advertising-subsidized access, and charging for premium content or applications - provides an extra layer of billing complexity for the WiMAX provider.
This turns even more complex if the subscriber can choose to receive only the ads he is interested in. It is then in the WiMAX provider's court to track how many times specific ads are chosen in order to properly charge the advertiser and maximize ad revenues.
Adding mobile VoIP creates additional complexities. If a subscriber initiates a cellular call from home and then goes to the office, which provides WiMAX and VoIP, the call should be handed off seamlessly to the WiMAX network and potentially take on PBX functionality once the user is on office premises.
While on office premises, the subscriber may choose to conference in several colleagues, continue the call, then eventually terminate it. Assuming the subscriber has one provider for cellphone service and the company uses a different provider for WiMAX and VoIP services. Who bills and who gets billed for which part of the call becomes unclear. And how will the WiMAX/VoIP providers exchange roaming information with the cellular operator‾
Currently, the first Wi-Fi-enabled fixed mobile convergence deployments are all based on one carrier, so no exchange of call records or settlements is needed. But once WiMAX starts larger-scale deployments, both broadband and mobile companies will be presented with a host of billing challenges, not only on the consumer level, but on the settlements side as well.
Enabling hand-offs will require roaming agreements between broadband and mobile service providers, with the broadband company able to handle exchanging usage information, similar to what mobile companies do with current TAP and CIBER exchanges for roaming.
WiMAX providers - whether they are traditional telcos, mobile companies, broadband providers, or city governments - will need flexible billing solutions to support not only different consumer charging models, but also billing and settling with content and applications providers, as well as establishing roaming processes and settlements with mobile operators.
They also need more flexibility than traditional telco systems to accommodate emerging IP service charging, multiple payment models for content, and on-demand purchases.
WiMAX service providers, broadband service providers, city governments, and cellular operators will need to work out how to both charge and bill the consumer and perform settlement across the service delivery chain, before applications and voice will be a reality over WiMAX.