Converged billing

Telcos can gain an edge by investing in more sophisticated charging and billing platforms.

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Converged billing Gopal says telcos can increase revenues through converged billing.
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By  Roger Field Published  June 24, 2011

In the Middle East and Africa, where some 90% of mobile subscribers are pre-paid, operators can find themselves hampered by a lack of flexibility to offer real-time charging and billing services.

Traditionally, operators have handled their pre-paid customers’ billing requirements using the IN system, which gives limited scope for telcos to offer any kind of ‘real time’ services other than top-up warnings and balance checks.

Meanwhile, operators usually cater to the remaining 10% of post-paid customers using a more complex billing system, or a modified version of the IN system.

But now a new breed of billing and real-time charging systems is giving operators the opportunity to offer more complex billing services to pre-paid customers and to converge pre-paid billing systems and post-paid systems.

Krishna Gopal, VP MEA at Tech Mahindra, an India-based systems integrator, says that operators are increasingly looking to merge the two systems in order to offer new types of billing services to their customers, including packages that consist of pre-paid and post-paid services.

“The billing system is only for 10% of users, while IN (Intelligent Networks) is used for about 90%. What operators are trying to do is merge these two together, and that is called convergent billing,” he says.

Gopal says that the systems can be merged by the IN provider, or the post-paid billing provider. The IN provider can add extra functions to the IN system that make it capable of handling post-paid subscribers, or the post-paid billing provider can expand its offering to encompass pre-paid subscribers.

“This battle is still out in the air – the jury is still out whether it is an IT solution or IN solution that is better for convergence,” Gopal says.

He adds that key players in the converged billing space include Ericsson, which acquired billing specialist LHS in 2010. Other billing companies such as Oracle and Convergys have done pilot tests for converged billing successfully.

Meanwhile, Tech Mahindra has implemented a converged billing system in Indonesia for Hutch using an Intech billing system, and an e-serve IN platform, according to Gopal.

Reaping rewards

Converged billing systems can bring in numerous advantages to operators, which can offer more flexible packages, such as family plans that combine post-paid and pre-paid mobile services with a fixed-line service.

“I have a postpaid connection, and my son has a pre-paid connection, and it is possible to merge these two. I can give an instruction in the mid-course that if he runs out, up to another 50% he can top up,” Gopal says.

“I could also have that linked to fixed-line and everything else – internet and IPTV. You can do cross-schemes and swap things around.”

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