How to make billing systems fit-for-purpose in digital era

Carriers’ pursuit of greater operational efficiencies, swifter time-to-market, and better customer experiences – through digital transformation programs – will not get very far if their charging and billing systems are not up to scratch.

One common problem is complexity. As carriers have expanded their range of services from 2G/3G/4G through to 5G and Internet of Things – as well as fixed broadband - billing systems have generally been added in a piecemeal fashion.

The need for convergence

“Multiple legacy billing systems make the network very complex,” said Bin Feng, Director of Software Marketing & Solution at Huawei, in a recent interview with Light Reading. “Carriers want their networks simplified and they want more billing convergence.”

Feng noted that some operators can have as many as six separate billing systems, each operating as a silo, as they embark on serving both consumers and businesses. One for pre-paid, another for post-paid, and further individual billing systems for ToB (business-to-business), fixed, IoT and 5G.

“The integration and interaction between and outside of these silo billing systems is very complex,” added Feng. “It’s also difficult and expensive to maintain. Triple- and quad-play services will be very difficult to support, for example, and require much longer time to market.”

Going cloud native

Given that all operators want to reduce opex and introduce services quickly – in days rather than months – Feng highlighted the benefits of cloud-native architectures.

They offer the ability to quickly scale and adapt to changes in business volume, explained Feng, and can better take advantage of public cloud environments. Moreover, by adopting end-to-end implementation of open-source CI/CD (continuous integration, continuous delivery), it’s much easier and quicker to incorporate the latest software releases. Billing systems will always be up to date.

“Cloud native is a necessary means to ensure that operators can innovate quickly, efficiently and at low cost,” asserted Feng.

Adoption of cloud-native architecture does not necessarily mean an immediate push to the public cloud, however. As Feng pointed out, many Tier-1 operators still have reservations about public-cloud reliability and security when it comes to mission-critical apps. They prefer instead a step-by-step approach, opting first for cloud-native transformation of billing app software to achieve better cost efficiency, and leave the public-cloud option open until later.

Smaller operators, however, tend to have higher acceptance of the public cloud. Mobile virtual network operators added Feng – determined to be as asset lite as possible – are generally keener on a SaaS model and willing to outsource management of their cloud-native billing and charging systems.

“Our customers have a lot of different requirements, and we listen to them,” said Huawei’s Feng. “Our billing systems’ R&D is directed at what the market wants and needs.”

Prepare for 5G SA

Future-proofing billing systems, as operators evolve from 4G to 5G, is key in Feng’s book. “If the existing billing system is already EoS [end of service] or will soon become EoS in one or two years’ time, operators should be looking at least five years ahead with their new billing system,” he said.

By adopting a more modular approach, argued Feng, operators are then best prepared for introduction of the standalone variant of 5G, which is a new requirement on top of the non-standalone version.

“Huawei CBS is able to guarantee smooth evolution of the network from 4G to 5G SA, by adding on a 5G SA charging system to legacy,” said Feng. “5G SA monetization can be realized within three months at the soonest.”

Next generation cloud native convergent billing system

Huawei spends about one-fifth of annual revenue on R&D. It has enabled continuous development of the supplier’s Convergent Billing System (CBS).

According to Feng, CBS ticks three important boxes for carriers. First, clearly, is convergence – the ability to pull together multiple legacy systems and break down silos. Second is agility. While new service launches can take anything between three and six months in a legacy billing environment, remarked Feng, Huawei’s CBS can whittle down time-to-revenue to a matter of days. Cloud native is the all-important third box providing increased operational efficiencies.

CBS advances are ongoing. Release 22 – CBS history traces back to 2007 and already has over 200 operator customers worldwide – was launched last year. It includes bare metal container solutions, which, said Feng, can reduce hardware resource consumption by up to 50% compared to virtualization. Full containerization of applications and data, which can achieve rapid elastic scaling to support dynamic expansion of business volume, is another R22 feature.

R22 also supports N-Live, a distributed database that enables swift disaster recovery. “Vendors normally provide four or five nines reliability, but with N-Live we can support six nines,” said Feng. “It means that over the course of a year, system downtime is reduced from seven minutes to 30 seconds. This is vitally important.”

This content is sponsored by Huawei.

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