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Cometa & CSG Team on Billing

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Wireless LAN hotspot startup Cometa Networks Inc. this week announced another billing deal, this time with telecom billing firm CSG Systems International Inc. (Nasdaq: CSGS).

Cometa, a hotspot network startup backed by AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), IBM Global Services and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), says it's worked together with CSG to developed an outsourced billing and customer care system aimed at service provider customers that don't want to build systems of their own to track hotspot usage (see Rainbow Unveiled)

According to Randall Cardinal, CTO of CSG, the billing system that the companies have been working on will be "pre-integrated" with the service provider systems and allow them to log the time used by customers that subscribe to a wireless LAN service plan and charge for time used to a customer's credit card.

Cardinal says that a user's authentication or credit card details will be passed from the hotspot via a Radius server to CSG's customer care center, which will handle the authentication and accounts receivable elements of the transaction.

What is not clear at the moment is what software will initially -- and securely -- collect the customer's details at the hotspot so that they can be passed on to the CSG system. "The CSG retail billing solution does not reside in any Cometa hotspot site or AP," a Cometa spokesman told Unstrung in an email reply to questions on Friday.

This would indicate that it must be another piece of software. But the question is, which company supplies it? Neither Cometa or CSG had replied to further questions about this aspect of the billing process by press time.

Cometa already has a "temporary" billing arrangement in place with startup AuthDirect Inc. However, the spokesman for Cometa says the AuthDirect system is concerned with billing for wholesale usage of the system, while CSG system is intended for service providers that sell to consumers (see Cometa Leans on Startup).

The spokesman also says that the IBM and AT&T wholesale billing system that Unstrung reported on back in July is still in development (see Cometa's Hotspot Hassles).

CSG's Cardinal says the deal between Cometa and CSG was made at the highest level. Gary Weiss, CEO of Cometa, and Neal Hansen, the big cheese at CSG, go way back, Cardinal explains. Weiss helped to install a lot of backend infrastructure for CSG while he was at AT&T.

"Gary has a lot of confidence in CSG's solution," says Cardinal. He adds that some carriers have already signed up for the billing system, but, naturally, he can't name them.

So far, Cometa has publicly announced that it is working with [ed. note: Surprise!] AT&T and has signed a roaming deal with Sprint PCS (NYSE: PCS) (see AT&T Launches Fast-Food WiFi and Sprint PCS Launches Hotspots).

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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