Billing in Bern

Talking to operators about billing is completely different to talking to anyone else about billing. Journalists are hugely influenced by the press releases and the reports they receive, full of promises and growth. Vendors have a job to do, which includes pushing their products and visions of the future. Operators have the worst job, they have to keep sending out accurate bills for the services that consumers are consuming – today. It is a different world.

To have the opportunity to talk to operators about what they are focused on is always worthwhile and oddly humbling.

This particular meeting, hosted by ETIS, was as useful as always.

I gave a light hearted presentation about how huge M2M will be and how good a cultural fit it will be with an operator’s existing operations. It will succeed on scale, on micro billing and on creating solid yet flexible partnerships with a range of new ‘MVNOs.’ The group of operators thought it was interesting (I hope) but certainly not immediate or particularly relevant to their current concerns.

In answer to a question about investment plans to address M2M there was laughter and waving of hands into the unknown future. The operators that were in Bern certainly have no immediate plans to design billing systems to address M2M.

In answer to a question about current investments, the consensus was ‘policy management’. This bodes well for policy management vendors but still begs the question: ‘what is the policy that needs to be managed?’

There is still a focus on fair usage policy. There was laughter and division over the admirable concept of using systems that manage policy to ‘upsell’ and ‘cross-sell’ customers. ‘Why,’ asked one manager, from a Very Big Operator, ‘would we want to upsell customers. We can’t give them enough bandwidth now.’ We discussed this further and went into the issues around managing customers and their expectations in a world where this group of operators is pretty sure that the ‘network problem will always be with us.’

Should we offer customers extra data for the rest of the month, if they have hit their limits in a ‘one-off’ usage extravaganza? Conclusion – good idea, and feasible within the systems that exist.

Should we offer customers a ‘boost’ if they require extra speed or capacity? Conclusion – good idea, but at the moment completely impossible to provide. If you promise a boost then you have to deliver that boost and be able to prove you have provided it. If the customer in question is going through Bern – or any – station late on Friday afternoon then it is difficult enough to offer any kind of service, but would be impossible to offer a ‘guaranteed’ turbo boost.

The discussion became wider, and turned to those ‘awful’ OTT players. From an IT perspective the majority ofOTT offerings are thieves in the night (my expression), stealing bandwidth. Even though some OTT players are now turning to operators to help them with specific problems – more about carrier billing later – the issue is complex. In order to offer a better quality of service to some customers willing to pay, you have to let (or wait for) the quality of the network drop to begin to offer that extra quality. While you are doing this, your customers are churning to the network that is still providing better quality everywhere.

Some operators are looking at throttling certain services, particularly those that are taking away SMS and other messaging services – more about messaging later – but this, too, has its problems. If you want to ‘manage’ Facebook access for instance, how do you manage a YouTube clip that is being watched within the Facebook environment?

There was then a discussion about life from the point of view of the OTT player. They will not be happy with a bad customer experience of their service or product and that is out of their hands at the moment. The question became whether Apple or Google will buy a carrier and launch iNetwork or Goo T&T. Apparently Google and AT&T are working on a bandwidth layering plan for Google customers. How that will work will be interesting to follow.

This discussion was followed by simpler challenges such as how you mine minerals from Asteroids.

Thank you, Swisscom our hosts, and thank you ETIS – I always come away from these sessions full of good food and common sense.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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