Editor’s Note: Welcome to our weekly Reality Check column. We’ve gathered a group of visionaries and veterans in the mobile industry to give their insights into the marketplace.
One of the great promises of mobile technology is the consumers’ ability to connect to the Internet or mobile Web via any number of different types of mobile devices (e.g., feature phones, smartphones, tablets, handheld game consoles, laptops and even some calculators). That promise though comes with a price: complexity.
Whether it is one person or a family with multiple devices, or an IT manager dealing with large numbers of devices across an entire workforce, users want the best pricing for their plans, and they want to minimize the number of data contracts to service their various devices. In the case of personal or family use, users typically want one monthly statement that covers all of their devices. They may also want to manage data allocation across those devices or access to certain websites. For example, parents can allot themselves higher data allowances than their kids.
For businesses, there are far more considerations with multi-device support. To optimize pricing and plans, businesses want to pool data and services on all the devices that they manage across their employee base. Plus, they must deal with new telecom paradigms, such as the recent bring-your-own-device trend whereby employees bring their personal mobile devices to their workplace and use them to access privileged corporate assets (e.g., e-mail, files, databases, etc.), which only further complicates network management. The question quickly arises: How does an IT manager cut costs and maintain productivity given the increasing complexity with tracking lots of mobile devices, some owned by an individual employee and some by the company?
The complexity also extends to service providers and outsourced entities (e.g., value-added resellers) that serve those IT managers. Of course, the need to help businesses accommodate the sharing of data capacity at scale represents an opportunity to rollout innovative services. But those service providers and outsourced entities must be agile enough to take advantage of the opportunities.
While it may seem as if it is easy for service providers to offer new multi-device plans and different billing models for sharing data, it is not. Generally, service providers have been slow to come up with flexible billing plans that take into account the proliferation of devices, use of bandwidth and different business models that may address different users’ specific needs (i.e., personalization). One of the reasons for this slow response is that their billing systems are complicated, frequently take years to update and are not well-suited for the accelerated speed-to-market for new services that are required in today’s competitive landscape.
Often when supporting enterprise businesses, service providers require help on the backend BSS/OSS infrastructure side to enable more effective billing for shared devices and plans. At a conceptual level, this sharing occurs by creating a “service bucket” that allows any device that has been granted permission to access bandwidth on demand – say 100 megabytes – from a pooled data plan.
Similarly, families can divvy up data allocations from their tiered service plan, granting different usage perimeters to the various plan members.
Whether for business or personal, family use, the key to success with implementing this “service bucket” concept is real-time rating, charging and policy enforcement.
Real-time charging and policy solves a lot of service provider issues when it comes to rapid service delivery and ensuring the proper billing for multi-device support. These solutions support the management of the account and balance of all services in a product catalog, and each plan in that catalog can be comprised of services that could be shared between multiple devices depending on a service provider’s channels and customers. Lastly, it supports a range of charging types, including flat rate, tiered rating and policy- and activity-based tariffs.
For businesses, real-time charging and policy gives IT managers and network administrators’ much needed control over device and bandwidth usage. For example, to better manage bandwidth and promote network offloading, IT managers can limit access to large amounts of data by employees to WiFi-enabled locations or only permit certain workers to have unlimited data access. Additionally, network administrators could control access by employees to bandwidth-intensive video-streaming sites, such as Hulu or Netflix, while allowing unlimited and free access to the enterprise corporate website.
For families, the same principles apply. Certain family members can have access to larger data amounts and certain websites depending on the controls that real-time charging and policy empowers. With some tier-one carriers announcing family plans with new billing models, this type of control will be more critical than ever to prevent overages on data usage and the resulting “bill shock.”
To cope with the complexity of multi-device support and data sharing across many users, some service providers have turned to alternative billing solutions to address their need to be more responsive to market and competitive pressures. Because it can feel like trying to “turn the Titanic on a dime” when it comes to modifying legacy billing systems to implement new multi-device plans, service providers have augmented their current BSS/OSS infrastructure with project-oriented alternative billing solutions to enable strategic service deployments without affecting the larger system.
In these situations, service providers should work with technology vendors that possess flexible, scalable solutions as well as deep telecom and mobile expertise. For more information on what to look for in a prospective real-time charging and policy technology provider, stay tuned for the next installment of this Reality Check series.
Ellen Schwab possesses more than 20 years experience in business development, sales and marketing for telecommunications and data communications infrastructure companies. Schwab has successfully guided a range of public and private, large and small companies toward high-impact growth and profitability. As CEO of Telespree Communications, Schwab leads Telespree’s advancement in data enablement and self service solutions for the wireless industry as well as oversees all aspects of corporate strategy.