Does the Internet of Things – actually everything – hinge on billing?

There seem to be an almost equal number of new opportunities for communications providers as threats. On the one hand we hear that the ‘bread and butter’ revenues of telecoms companies – voice and SMS – are being eroded by OTT players. One of the other hand we see a host of new revenue opportunities – from Direct Operator Billing to partnerships with OTT players, a new range of MVNOs and other wholesale players; as well as the whole ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).

At the same time, we love being cynical (shurely not, Ed) about the entrenched, siloed and ‘telco head’ thinking that stills exists in the majority of telcos. With everything going virtual, can the backend cope we ask.

And yet, real time charging and policy management systems are on the priority list of the majority of telcos. Openet has just announced that it has virtualised its entire BSS offering. The majority of telcos, according to research sponsored by the company points to the majority of telcos being in the process of virtualising policy as well as many of its network assets.

The question is this – are telcos actually able or ready to take advantage of the new opportunities to patch the gaps in their crumbling, historical revenues?

Our view is ‘yes.’

Purists would ‘hurrumph’ about now, and draw simple sketches of seamless architectures. The realists would smile fondly (in some cases) and get to work, plugging what works into what scales. The reality is that there will be many systems for many years, and those that need to be real time and virtualised will be real time and virtualised. The vast majority of mobile contracts are still billed monthly. Two operators we met recently were migrating their customer base onto older systems and doing clever things with real time for those transactions that need to be dealt with in real time. When telcos take on large transformations they now have an eye to the next one, they no longer “finish a major transformation and heave a sigh of relief.” We are getting better, much better at this.

What is clear is that things happen when those that drive the strategy of a company say things need to happen. Virtualise the network? Virtualise the backend. Become ever more agile, ever quicker and more flexible? Yes, and do more, with less and as quick as you like please. Stuff gets done if it needs to be done.

Many conversations, crusades and, frankly, rants over the years – several by us – have been on the theme that Billing must become strategic. Whether or not it does, those that drive the strategy of a telco do not care whether Billing becomes strategic or not. The direction they choose must be supported and commercialised.

What is encouraging is that whenever there is an interview or story about another opportunity for telcos, billing is now a natural part of the conversation, not an afterthought. 

Whether it is the opportunities in Enterprise M2M, zero rated Facebook and the problems of freemium or whether it is simply a drive to launch services quicker and adapt them faster, billing is always there, in whatever form. 

Telcos are building ‘platforms’ for innovation driven by partnerships. And billing is, and always will be, a crucial part of the value and functionality of that platform.

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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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