Supporting the Next Generation of Handsets

We’ve spent zillions of dollars on BSS, but who is in need of a bill?
And increasingly, those two things that a smartphone embodies—phone and tiny computer—are converging to become one thing. 

The rise of VoLTE and products and services like Google’s Project Fi (which Elgan calls Google’s “gateway drug to the post-phone world”) create an ongoing opportunity for carriers with a solid grasp on data analytics, real-time charging, and flexible deployment capabilities to handle rapidly escalating data consumption demands through well-planned networks and agile business models. The key concepts, of course, are agility and flexibility, as the old models come into question. 

The Death of Billing?

Much was made of the panel at TM Forum Live in May wherein representatives from the c-suites at KPN, Telefonica, and Orange all declared that billing is an unnecessary relic in today’s communications landscape. It’s oft-quoted at this point, but here’s the zinger from Erik Hoving, group CTO at KPN:

“We’ve spent zillions of dollars on BSS, but who is in need of a bill? No over-the-top company sends a bill and nobody ever uses the data of the billing system. Why do we have a billing system at all?”

That’s not the only bad press that billing is getting lately. The class action suit and legal action by the State of Minnesota against CenturyLink are rooted in allegations of deceptive charging and billing, and the Spectrum merger has brought to light some shortcomings in the billing arena for the constituent companies in that deal as well.

And this has all been framed as a blow to OSS/BSS vendors who rely on traditional billing models as a major component. There is no doubt that that’s true to an extent, but any forward-looking BSS vendor has also spent the last decade or more looking past billing at comprehensive real-time charging and rating models that can meet customers where they are in an agile and accurate way. The aforementioned panelists all agreed that personalization, customer care, flexibility, and data liberation were all desirable and essential, and those have all been components of proactive BSS models for years.

Good thing, because there is a lot riding on converged charging. According to a recent IDC whitepaper by Andy Hicks (and sponsored by Amdocs), carriers surveyed expected to use their converged charging models to personalize offers, create single-bill relationships with customers, create better bundles, provide billing and charging capabilities to partners, and launch targeted sub-branded offerings to certain segments. A sizable minority (39 percent) also expected to launch QoS-based offerings.

Granted, these findings are not specific to smartphone users or mobile users, but is there any greater device for personalization opportunities and partnership ecosystems? Or any more indispensable a device in the lives of the average user?

So is this the end of billing as we know it nigh? Probably, for many customers. But the elevation of that reality to some sort of crisis for providers of products and services under the BSS umbrella is overwrought.

I am not saying smartphones will be the centerpiece of the communications landscape forever. The amount of change that has occurred in the last few decades alone suggests that that would be a baseless assertion. But given the potential for change and massive increases in data usage, there’s an awful lot to plan for with the current big thing before we fully look past smartphones to the next big thing.



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