Topping the bill

The advancement of network services being made available by service providers has proven both a blessing and a burden for the service providers, as customers become increasingly discerning. Ronan Shields examines how operators are responding to the changes posed when charging for converged data services.

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By  Ronan Shields Published  June 4, 2007

The wave of advanced data applications available to the market poses network operators with a series of challenges, as end-users demand enhanced services and increased value for money.

Falling ARPUs in the voice and SMS segments further compounds the financial pressure on network operators to develop innovative services, many of them based on infotainment-type applications.

Recently the strongest growth in the MEA telecom markets for converged billing solutions has been driven by the mobile segment.

Industry pundits suggest that converged billing solutions are now a necessary tool in the contemporary market as they help decrease churn, attract new customers, and enable operators to offer differentiated services such as per second billing.

"Recently the strongest growth in the MEA telecoms markets for converged billing solutions has been driven by the mobile segment," states Ghassan Hasbani, principal, Communications and Technology Practice, Middle East Leadership Team, at Booz Allen Hamilton.

"The gap in technology adoption between MEA and European telecoms markets has been shrinking over the past few years. Demand for convergent billing solutions could witness growth, mainly driven by integrated operators in order to differentiate their service offerings and compete against the larger pure players," Hasbani adds.

This trend was recently evidenced by regional operator Wataniya Telecom penning an agreement to deploy HP's Convergent Charging billing solution in Algeria. The move sees Wataniya's Nedjma become one of the first mobile operators in the global market to deploy a fully convergent billing solution that manages both voice and data services on prepaid, and postpaid plans.

"Wataniya is increasing its competitive advantage through unmatched customer service and seamless billing will play a leading role," comments Joseph Ged, chief operating officer, Wataniya Telecom Algeria.

Commenting on the deal Elisabeth Rainge, programme director, next-generation OSS and billing, IDC, states: "In today's fast-moving market, mobile operators know they can't launch data and multimedia services without an advanced billing system that is efficient, and highly adaptable."

France-based billing company Evistel plans to leverage its expertise in advanced markets to prove a point of difference in the MEA. Having paired with operators such as Mauritel and Maroc Telecom, Evistel claims that many of the region's new market entrants are looking to convergent billing solutions to aid their fortunes.

"A lot of the latest market entrants in the region are investing in the latest billing solutions as they are eager to prove a point of difference from the market incumbents," says Thierry Lafue, head of marketing in the pre-sales department at Evistel.

"This has led us to have great confidence in the market and has encouraged us to look at expanding our business into the Middle East where we are aiming to team with various local partners," adds Lafue.

Network traffic in the MEA consists mostly of voice and SMS but Evistel suggests that an increasing number of network operators in the region are starting to invest in advanced billing solutions for services such as MMS and IP-sessions.

"Market liberalisation in the region has led to an acceleration of service deployments making operators more vulnerable to cost competition. Operators that are not prepared for these changes in the market dynamics risk deploying multiple, service specific, point billing solutions that are integrated at the back end of the network," says Lafue.

Billing expert LogicaCMG also believes the regional shift towards market liberalisation has increased demand for converged, advanced billing services.

Operational in a variety of MEA markets, LogicaCMG states this trend is set to continue as mobile penetration steadily rises.

"The number of mobile connections in the Middle East is growing at 50% on an annual basis with marginally higher growth in the prepaid segment," says Neil Campbell product manager, convergent solutions, payments business unit, LogicaCMG.

"In order to profitably sustain growth, operators will be looking to maximise the value from their existing solutions and we see many ways to extend features of solutions already deployed in region. We also see major opportunities for new adjunct solutions that are able to deliver new capabilities alongside operators existing infrastructure," he adds.

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