Open Development Corp. introduced a network-based prepaid cellular service it says will increase revenue for cellular service providers between 15 percent and 30 percent.

Prepaid cellular service is booming. To carriers, it translates into a new market where there is plenty of money to be made-$1 billion by the end of 1996, according to Boston-based Yankee Group. The openMEDIA Cellular Prepaid product targets the 20 percent to 50 percent of people denied credit for cellular service or asked for a sizable deposit, said Bill Millward, vice president of advanced technology at Westwood, Mass.-based Open Development. Prepaid cellular also attracts businesses that want a way to manage and limit employees’ wireless phone calls.

Marketed to carriers and resellers, the prepaid cellular product is a close cousin of Open Development’s prepaid long-distance calling service, launched in 1994 through GTE Card Services. Only slight modifications were required to configure the system for wireless networks, said Millward. In fact, the company said openMEDIA is capable of operating with paging, personal communications services and satellite networks, too. GTE Mobilnet Inc. is Open Development’s first cellular customer. More contracts will be announced in coming weeks, said the company.

A Windows-based system, openMEDIA can manage administrative functions and customer service as well as rating and billing-in real time. “Everything is done on the fly and on a call-by-call basis,” explained Millward. Activation of accounts can be conducted through interactive voice response.

Also, the system is adaptable to suit variations requested by carrier clients. For instance, one carrier may bill calls at a flat rate while another bills on a distance rate. And service providers or resellers can design their own customer prompts. “We want to give carriers control over how they market the system,” commented Brad Bishop, Open Development’s vice president of marketing.

To place a call, a prepaid cellular user dials the destination phone number and hits send. The carrier’s mobile switch receives the call, identifies the caller’s mobile identification number and destination number, then forwards the information to the openMEDIA platform. Rating is figured for that particular call time and destination, and the caller is told how many minutes of talk time remain. From beginning to end, this takes between 5 and 10 seconds, said Millward. Once a caller’s balance nears zero, the IVR system informs the user, who has the option to recharge the balance while a call is on hold.

When the time is up, the call is disconnected, which suggests another benefit to carriers who offer secured accounts. Cellular fraud on a prepaid account is only as severe as that customer’s remaining balance. Also, said Bishop, the system sorts information and can verify some other types of fraud. One example is “velocity checks,” where the platform’s technology detects one call which originates from a phone in Boston, and five minutes later a different call originating supposedly from the same phone, but in San Diego. The system can detect that impossible situation and shut down the call. In addition, Open Development is developing a nationwide network to interface openMEDIA with clearinghouses to reduce fraud risk associated with prepaid cellular callers who roam. Presently, the risk lies with the carriers.

Open Development said an openMEDIA system can handle up to 100 million accounts, process 20 million call minutes per month and support more administrative features than other prepaid calling systems.


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