Convergence. It’s a word that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Many in the industry would argue that, applied to billing, convergence is principally about supporting pre- and post-paid charging on the same system. Others would suggest it should be expanded to include the ability to charge for both fixed and mobile services, or business and consumer services, on the same bill or device. According to B/OSS solutions provider Amdocs, it is all of these and more, which is why it is advocating a new term it has coined: “Omni-Convergence”.
In recent years the strain on traditional revenue sources has driven service providers to reconsider their approach to consumption- and pricing-models. In addition, communication service providers are having to re-evaluate the types of partnerships they need to have in order to create the new experience that their customers are expecting. Amdocs’ omni-convergence takes this into account and encompasses the various types of convergence that are becoming necessary to operators’ businesses, the firm says.
“There’s a lot of new customer expectation; around real time, consumption experience, across devices, access technologies or services that are being consumed,” explains Guy Hilton, director of product marketing at Amdocs.
“As a consumer, you don’t want to be bogged down with whether you’re on a 3G, 4G, fixed line, cable network, on a smartphone or a tablet or using IPTV. You want to have a seamless experience across all of these. In order to support that, it means that the convergent charging and billing elements that need to be supplied to cater to that type of expectation.”
It is not just consumers who are looking for a unified experience, businesses that have increasing numbers of temporary, contract and itinerant employees are also looking to embrace a unified offering. In the past it was acceptable that operators’ back offices were a lot more siloed than is considered ideal today; prepaid and postpaid customers were dealt with on separate systems and different companies offered mobile and fixed line internet services but now the old boundaries are blurring, with single systems and multi-play service providers.
“For consumers to get this unified experience, it doesn’t just mean getting one bill from a single provider at the end of the month – it’s really about integrating the experience that can be consumed transparently in real time across all of those networks,” says Zur Yahalom, VP for business development for Amdocs revenue management.
When operators attempt to identify new revenue sources, there are several directions that they can take. Increasingly, the new types of business models they are beginning to look at will necessitate partnerships, often with non-telcos, which is where omni-convergence really kicks in. An omni-convergence scenario that is already familiar could be when a retailer teams up with operator to offer promotions or loyalty discounts for their customers.
For example, a customer could be driving in their connected car, using the built-in GPS connected by their operator to navigate along the way. They would then see a real time alert about petrol prices at a petrol station en route to where they are heading. Furthermore, the petrol station is offering a promotion whereby if the customer purchases a certain amount of petrol from that company, they will gain a reward, such as a free data package to listen to internet radio or watch a movie in the car. Supermarket chains are striking similar partnerships with operators, so that if a customer spends over a certain amount before the weekend, they are provided with, data, voice minutes or SMS bundles for that weekend.
Another example where an operator would benefit from taking an omni-convergent approach is in its relationships with OTT providers, such as NetFlix or Hulu, as they could strike similar deals. Operators could offer a movie package or a package of video by minutes on behalf of these OTT providers, since megabytes are not necessarily an intuitive measurement. Therefore, an operator could enable a customer of these services to buy 100 video minutes as part of a package.
“It could be two episodes of Family Guy, or House M.D or whatever it is that you fancy. Or it could be 100 minutes which is basically a movie, but it’s easier for you as a consumer to figure out what 100 minutes are than 700MB,” explains Hilton.
It is this ability to “abstract” the network services from the underlying network technology towards the BSS that is the key element in making omni-convergence work, says Amdocs. The real time charging, policy control element and service delivery platform elements need to be properly integrated.
Operators need one repository that gives them a clear view of this entire stack; be it promotional offers, policy rules, charging rules or data plans. All of the elements need to be held in one unified product catalogue.
Operators are beginning to see the value in omni-convergence, Amdocs says. While some are embracing the concept, others are gradually increasing the amount they rely on convergence in their billing systems, and are progressively adding the components needed to provide true omni-convergence.
“Are they moving that way? Yes; we definitely see mobile operators moving in the right direction, and that’s globally. Are they going for the full scale solution? It depends on the service provider,” explains Hilton.
There are many paths to reach omni-convergence, other than to perform a full blown transformation, he adds.
“Operators are all gradually adding the necessary components, whether it’s adding real-time visibility for the services they offer, or just bundling wireless and wireline into the same system. But all of them intend to eventually add the missing elements to get, cumulatively, to omni-convergence.”