opinion


Why billing will be better with BCE

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Paulo Zanotto, Product Director – Partner Settlement at Subex, extols the virtues of Billing and Charging Evolution.

The digital communications landscape has changed and evolved in the 30-plus years that GSM mobile technology has been active. Evolving from simple circuit-switched voice to superfast 5G capable of managing billions of connected devices, the potential of today’s networks is unrecognisable from those early 1990s implementations.

However, although the increased bandwidth, flexibility and speed of mobile networks have enabled myriad new business cases, the mechanism for roaming billing and settlement has not moved forward at the same pace.

Since 1991, the telecoms world has used TAP – Transferred Account Procedures – for roaming and billing settlement. Designed primarily for voice, the advent of ever more sophisticated and extensive data networks, including 5G network slicing and the rapidly growing IoT, means that the TAP process will not be able to cope. With Juniper Research predicting the number of roaming subscribers using 5G will increase to 210 million in 2026, up from just 4.5 million in 2021, it is impossible to transfer the records of all that data use between the party operators. The TAP process is too inflexible to support today’s flourishing data networks and associated use cases.

Complex and cumbersome, the TAP system requires the physical exchange of subscriber activity records between the home and roaming operator networks to enable charging. TAP cannot provision for wholesale roaming settlement in IoT and 5G, mainly because it is too complicated and too expensive to upgrade. Furthermore, the GSMA will no longer evolve TAP in order to cater for new services and technologies

Roaming traffic is valuable – delays in settlement and the extended time required to address any disputes means that the money does not move quickly between operators. A legacy system that cannot manage the innumerable data transactions means operators will literally lose money that is rightfully theirs.

Unless the roaming and billing settlement process changes, operators risk missing out on $billions by not being able charge correctly for the myriad business cases that 5G is enabling. Take an IoT system with millions of sensors – each activity on its own is worth very little but add them all together and the activity becomes hugely valuable – if you can charge for it correctly. A business case is not a business case without an accurate billing process.

Foreseeing this issue, the GSMA has introduced a new way of billing called BCE – Billing and Charging Evolution – and is beginning to wind down support for TAP. BCE is a flexible GSMA next generation simplified process/approach for reporting and/or invoicing for inter-operator settlement.

BCE can unlock a huge amount of wholesale chargeable activity from the machine-to-machine networks that are proliferating worldwide. By giving more control to operators, BCE has the capability to accelerate the creation of new generation use cases and new revenue streams for operators worldwide.

The BCE approach to roaming settlement means that TAP files or raw call detailed records (CDRs) do not need to be exchanged. Instead, BCE is driven by new formats such as Usage Data Report (UDR), Usage Summary Report (USR), and Billing Statement Report (BSR), among others. The serving party shares these BCE reports to the served party, which are then used to generate the invoice by the serving party.

Apart from simplifying complex multi-party settlement processes, BCE also supports new generation use cases catalysed by 5G. This support is enabled through characteristic features such as eliminating the need to exchange raw files within specific timelines as well as the need for special editors to read different TAP file formats like ASN1. Reports generated in BCE are in XML format, and these can be seamlessly exchanged to support settlement as well as reconciliation processes.

With BCE, there is no rigid file exchange or settlement windows. Operators have more control, meaning outsourcing requirements are reduced. BCE enables a new standardised reconciliation process – reconcile usage or charge or both. TAP only has a reject procedure (RAP), not reconciliation.

Disputes are the major roadblocks in a telecom operator’s revenue cycle. With TAP, while the bills can be settled every month or earlier depending upon the agreed cycle, dispute resolution can take months or sometimes years. Operators can take up to 15-45 days for dispute identification and confirmation on average. These disputes mainly arise due to data issues at the mediation level, arbitrations, or recommendations.

With the introduction of new technologies such as 4G, 5G, IMS and MIoT, both the parties already have access to the same usage from their own network nodes. Hence, the exchange of detailed roaming usage information via the TAP process is not necessary. The BCE process standardises the exchange of aggregated report between parties.

BCE is tailor-made for wholesale roaming settlement in 5G and IoT. Settlements can be as agreed between operators – monthly, quarterly, annually or bespoke, and the process is also extendable to other services such as Wi-Fi roaming and Interconnect. According to the GSMA, a number of operators are finding BCE meets their requirements of MIoT wholesale billing, and some have already started implementing the process.

Leveraging the undoubted potential of 5G and its ability to offer network slicing, and the predicted massive growth of the IoT, operators’ wholesale business and new opportunities for revenue will depend on building trusted and seamless relationships with customers and partners. The success of those relationships will rely on the transparency and efficiency of the billing process, and the ability of operators to rapidly resolve disputes.

The introduction of BCE, used together with blockchain-based reconciliation and AI and ML-augmented robust fraud prevention, looks set to be the launchpad for a plethora of new use cases for the connected world. The telecoms industry needs to embrace BCE in order to reap all the benefits of these new business models and ensure that the full value of the billions of data transactions is released – and correctly charged.

 

Paulo has over 18 years of experience working with technology and telecom companies worldwide as a product leader. He brings immense cross-culturally competencies and strong business acumen, with a wide range of skills that contribute to optimizing the development and implementation of successful business strategies.

Tags: , ,

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Polls

Do you agree public funding should be used to support mobile operators to more broadly deploy Open RAN?

Loading ... Loading ...