Streamlined billing hasn’t really been “a thing” until recently, thanks to the ever-more-complicated operational ecosystems of communications service providers (CSPs).
With 5G, IoT, convergent charging systems, and other relatively new technologies changing billing requirements for CSPs, their supporting legacy technologies are starting to fail, sometimes catastrophically, and as they desperately try to keep up, they are having to throw together the half-baked strategy of adding more layers to their already over-complicated tech stacks, resulting in even more headaches and frustrations.
Not good for anyone—including the average telco customer.
Streamlined billing, though, presents a real opportunity to make it all much easier.
First—let’s define our terms.
What is streamlined billing?
Streamlined billing is a method of billing that focuses only on core activities by stripping out all functions that can be done elsewhere, such as rating and recurring charge calculations. It’s a new approach to billing that will allow CSPs to respond to the demands of 5G and greatly improve their services for the customers.
Why now for streamlined billing?
Billing has been at the center of CSP business for many years, directly influencing and shaping many business processes. But these legacy billing systems are now far too embedded in operator ecosystems to be easily upgraded or replaced, leaving CSPs no other choice but to add more technology layers.
To meet the new billing demands of new products, services, or customer segments, many CSPs have started to add new billing systems to avoid the pain and costs of modernizing existing systems. It’s not uncommon to find a CSP with 10 or even 20 billing systems, all serving a specific segment or product billing need.
This has presented the need to simplify billing while allowing billing systems to fully capitalize on the real-time data opportunity that 5G presents.
Real-Time data driving real-time needs
The advent of online charging and new customer demands for post-paid charging and real-time spend visibility throughout the billing period has shifted much of the rating functionality from the billing function to the charging function.
However, few CSPs have been able to devise a system that can efficiently consolidate all the rating and recurring charge calculations from those various billing systems. Not having such a system leads to complex product roll-outs that require updating multiple billing and charging systems with product and pricing information, leading to repetitive work that sucks up valuable internal resources and increases the potential for errors. Many CSPs have tried lengthy and very costly billing transformation programs over the years and many of these attempts have failed.
How 5G is changing the telco billing game
5G’s impact on offline charging has spilled over into billing. 5G standards will require CSPs to have a converged charging system (CCS) that manages real-time interactions with the 5G core for all charging transactions, both offline and online.
In previous generations, the network was responsible for generating usage records for offline billing, which knew nothing about rating or the products customers had signed up for, and consequently, left billing to do the rating of these events.
However, with 5G, the CCS now has responsibility for offline record generation and it has the rating and charging knowledge for all products and services. Therefore, it makes sense for the CCS to be responsible for all charging and rating regardless of the payment method and to generate rated records for offline charging. This will give subscribers real-time visibility into spending and allow CSPs to meet regulatory mandates for anti-billshock and significantly reduce the time to deploy new product offers because there will only be one place to configure and find all product and pricing information. This approach also allows the CSPs to offer multi-product discounts and also allows subscribers to choose different payment methods for different services.
5G also enables new product offerings and charging models as well as new B2B vertical opportunities for CSPs. Many of these new opportunities require real-time charging decisions to ensure transparent, context-relevant charging for end-users (be they consumer or enterprise), so it isn’t sustainable to add yet more billing systems to handle these. The CCS needs to be responsible for the charging and rating of all services for all subscribers and devices on the network.
In short, the new age of telco billing is here
Given that charging is now responsible for all product, tariff, and rate configurations, today’s billing systems need to rapidly evolve from “hard-to-maintain monolith” to well-oiled engines offering agility and flexibility of services. Essentially, billing should only be responsible for what it does best: Invoice generation from the rated information provided by charging (all usage and recurring charges), debt collections, dunning cycles, reporting to financial institutions, etc…
Billing is ripe for modernization. It’s time to replace the many monolithic legacy systems with a single modern, cloud-native streamlined system that focuses on what billing needs to do while leaving charging to do what 5G requires in real time.