There is a tremendous opportunity for operators to exploit the rapidly growing demand for mobile data services where they
can offer premium services for both individual and corporate users, charging through post and pre paymentÂ
However, such services will only be profitable for operators if they are able to accurately bill for them. A simple enough statement, but in the 2.5G and 3G environment, the sheer volume of call data and the number of applications that use that data, means that accurate billing becomes a complex and sophisticated task.Â
Value-adds Lead to Complex Relationships
As we hear from industry pundits, there is ‘no killer application’ that’s going to guarantee high revenues. Because of this, operators are forming partnerships with content providers or content aggregators to provide new services to their customers that may attract new revenue streams. For these new services, it is not just the delivery mechanism but also the value and quality of content to the customer that is important. Information to enable billing for these types of services is no longer available for collection from one element within the network.
To provide the rating and billing systems with enough information, a correlation of transactions flowing through a variety of network elements is required. This is the process necessary to identify and bring together information from many different sources within a network and in many different formats, often related to a single event, for example, a customer watching a goal replay. For a transaction such as a customer viewing a football clip, the provider may also need to capture information about the quality of service, which could have an effect on how the event is rated or billed. In this illustration, it is not only the rating and billing systems that require this information. When an operator has partner relationships, it is necessary to manage those and the revenue sharing rules behind the partnership agreements. To support up to 20 percent of all mobile usage today that’s content related, operators must manage anywhere between 50 and 200 content partners, with many of those partners holding multiple contracts and revenue sharing agreements. As with rating and billing, quality of service may be used within the revenue sharing rules to define if the amount of revenue shared should be reduced because of poor quality to the customer.
It is predicted that the introduction of multimedia messaging services (MMS) alone will lead to an increase in the volume of usage data by a factor of 10 to 30. This, on top of an expected 50 to 100 times increase in usage data with the introduction of general data services, starts to make for some big numbers, and mediation is the key to making sure that all of this information is captured, correlated, edited, filtered, formatted and passed on to the relevant downstream systems.
Putting Together the Jigsaw Pieces
Mediation has to perform three key functions:
- It must collect information from many different network elements in many different formats. The connection details, schedules and formats must be user configurable and not require new coding of the product.Â
- The mediation platform must mediate! This sounds straightforward, but no longer is the mediation platform a black box that sits in the corner. It is being used more and more as a tool that can accept and act on business rules. Therefore, the ability to define these business rules for correlation, validation, filtering and editing is very important. And again, it must be possible for these rules to be created and maintained by the operator. These rules are most obvious when you look at the revenue assurance aspects of mediation. Mediation is the gateway through which a primary revenue stream for an operator is controlled. It is
vital that revenue assurance and fraud is considered during this step to make sure that revenue leakage and fraud can be identified as early as possible.
- Distribution is the last step in the mediation process. At this point, it must be possible to distribute
the collected, correlated, validated, filtered and edited usage events to many downstream systems
in many formats. The information sent to downstream systems will provide not only the information
necessary for billing but will include any other data collected from the network that will enhance a CSRs ability to answer queries through customer relationship management
applications. This also includes data that will help a customer get more value directly through
As the traditional per second rating is replaced with more complex combinations of duration, file size and value, the mediation system needs to be able to provide data in formats that are compatible with the needs of the billing system
Reduction of customer churn is a key driver for development of more intelligent CRM systems. The CRM function must provide the CSRs with the information they need not only to answer queries accurately using real-time account details, but also intelligent real-time analysis of the customer’s likelihood to churn or their profitability. This predictive analysis is based on billing activities and usage data. The ability to provide accurate and speedy delivery of usage data to the analytical engine used by the CRM function is therefore an important part of the mediation workflow.
Mediation for Convergent Networks
Scalability, not only in terms of the volume of data that mediation can handle, but also in terms of the range of network technologies from which it can pull data–IP, wireless, and fixed line–is crucial in a convergent environment. With new services being introduced all the time, operators expect to be able to configure the system themselves without the need for hard coding so that services can be rapidly deployed. New services create additional usage data and any mediation system needs to be able to manage this increased volume. As the traditional per second rating is replaced with more complex combinations of duration, file size and value, the mediation system needs to be able to provide data in formats that are compatible with the needs of the billing system. This convergence also drives the need for more flexible rating options for customers. Even though many operators are trying to simplify their products and billing based on the requests of their customers, the systems and business processes behind the services are getting more complex. It is no longer just the billing system that must be adaptable to this change but also mediation and
There is a maxim in telecom billing which states that ‘if you cannot identify it then you cannot
bill for it’. Mediation is a key piece in the network jigsaw puzzle, to gather call data, correlate and
format it for billing and CRM. To be effective, any mediation system must be accurate, flexible, configurable and scalable.
Raghu Prasad, chief technology officer (Asia-Pacific and China) CSG Systems