India's 3G Billing Challenge
With the race to grab India's next-generation mobile airwaves over, those mobile operators holding the precious 3G spectrum now need to concentrate on deploying new network elements and ensuring their Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) capabilities are up to scratch. (See India's 3G Auction Ends, Raises $14.6B and India's BWA Auction Ends in $8.2B Drama.)
But are India's 3G players ready, willing, and able to bill for the expanded set of services they'll be offering over their new airwaves?
India's mobile new entrants, such as 3G spectrum-holder S Tel Pvt. Ltd. , are well placed, having only recently deployed the latest back-office systems to support their startup 2G services.
For those new entrants that weren't successful (or didn't participate) in the 3G auction, any recently deployed business support systems will also support the introduction of new value-added mobile data and converged services.
"Our billing processes are 3G ready," says Rajeev Batra, CIO at Sistema Shyam TeleServices Ltd. (MTS India), one of the new entrants that decided not to participate in the auction, but which is focusing on the development of data services. (See MTS India Puts Its Faith in Data.)
“We have got differential billing platforms where I can give you multiple types of billing for data. I can bill on time, I can bill on content, I can bill on volume. I can do everything that others have not been able to do yet,” says Batra.
Those are the kind of capabilities that the 3G players, such as Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), Idea Cellular Ltd. , Reliance Communications Ltd. , Tata Teleservices Ltd. , and Vodafone India , will need, especially if they are to offer content and applications from third-party suppliers with real-time charging requirements, and support multiple marketing strategies that suit the needs of a growing customer base.
Billing could be linked to the duration of a session, for example, or the volume of data downloaded, notes Anshoo Gaur, head of India for Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX). "Delving further, one could bill on a flat-rate basis, or charge for content consumed, as will be the case in bundled services," adds Gaur.
The incumbent operators, though, have legacy system issues to deal with, and many have yet to upgrade, or completely overhaul, their billing systems for a 3G service environment.
Some, though, are already prepared. Aircel Ltd. , which successfully bid for spectrum in 13 circles at a cost of 65 billion Indian rupees (US$1.4 billion), completely overhauled its SPIT capabilities as it implemented a new expansion strategy starting in 2008, and deployed service management, billing, and charging systems with 3G in mind. (See SPIT Week Spotlight: Aircel's Transformation and Aircel's CIO Talks Innovation .)
"[Our] current billing systems are ready for new data services," said Aircel's CIO, Ravinder Jain, adding that the operator's "service delivery platform is already live, with standard charging function enablers."
He says the operator is also deploying a differential charging gateway that will enable the operator to introduce a range of revenue models for mobile data services, including those that include the delivery of third-party Web-based services from Aircel's partners.
"With 3G, the SDP charging gateway will be enhanced to [support] IMS-based rich media, IP voice, and content/application charging functions. Apart from these [additions], no significant upgrade is foreseen," Jain told Light Reading Asia.
In addition, Aircel has just one post-paid billing platform for all its customers, while many of the long-standing operators have up to eight post-paid billing systems running side by side.
Having so many platforms is a problem likely to be made worse with the advent of new 3G-based data services: To achieve optimal operational efficiency, the incumbent operators should look to converge on a single system with a single view of their customer data, for post-paid and pre-paid customers.
"To begin with, all the different elements have to come together. The operators need to have an integrated view of all the data that they have, since now many services that were available only for post-paid customers will now be available for pre-paid customers as well," says Alice Bartram, assistant VP, marketing, at Comverse Inc. (Nasdaq: CNSI)
Integration of an operator's billing systems is also essential for "segmentation," which would help the operators address the needs of smaller, more targeted groups of customers.
According to feedback from the vendor community, India's incumbent carriers are addressing the situation by adding capabilities to their existing billing platforms, rather than installing new ones. However, in the long run, they may have no option but to deploy a totally new platform, as the integration of multi-vendor systems is a major, and sometimes impossible, challenge.
— Gagandeep Kaur, India Editor, Light Reading
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