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Charging’s pivotal role in the digital transformation of the communications industry (Reader Forum)

Digital transformation continues to be a mission-critical objective and key result (OKR) for Communications Services Providers (CSPs) to increase revenues and remain relevant. We’ve witnessed how the macro-economic environment can change nearly instantaneously, and how CSPs must be able to pivot, mobilize and adapt to changing digital engagement trends and new technologies. At the heart of these changes lies an essential element: the ability to charge for and monetize in real-time and using a variety of unique pricing models. As such, charging becomes a foundational component of CSP digital transformation initiatives.

The way in which we “do business” has changed, and will continue to change, in dramatic fashion. These changes are being driven in part by evolving trends in the way customers engage with suppliers, including their CSPs. We can categorize these trends as:

  • Digital Transformation of Communications:
    • E-Business, online selling and self-service are default interaction patterns.
    • More of the CSP space consists of digital-natives and hyperscalers who are building, buying and partnering to provide disruptive communications solutions. Web-scale internet companies are becoming significant CSPs.
    • Covid-19 has accelerated the reality of remote work. Video conferencing is now the default way to communicate.
  • Technology Innovation and IT/Communications Convergence:
    • Communications services have become compound, multi-domain and multi-party, provided over virtualized, cloud-based networks.
    • Cloud native technologies are the norm, with many companies mandating their use.
  • 5G as an Accelerator of the Communications Service Provider’s IT Transformation:
    • CSPs will rely increasingly on B2B and B2B2X business models, particularly for IoT use cases.
    • Network slicing provides new service (and service monetization) opportunities.
    • CSPs are treating 5G as an inflection point to replace their outdated application suites.
  • Predominance of Cloud Computing:
    • The demand for SaaS as a deployment option is growing.
    • Cloud Native, a precursor to SaaS, is factoring into every CSP strategy today.

With this backdrop of dramatic business and technology change in mind, let’s now zero in on how a seemingly passive back-office capability can play a critical role in accelerating this digital transformation. The function I am referring to is charging, which for many years has been seen as the ‘last mile’ of revenue capture, decoupled from the delivery of the service to the end customer and associated with the unpleasant appearance of a paper bill at the end of each month.

However, with today’s increasingly rich array of digital communications, entertainment and on demand content services, users need real time control over their purchased services. Payment and credit management should no longer be seen as a once-a-month activity, but an ongoing engagement between customer and service provider.

The sheer volume of digital services on offer demands this new type of relationship between consumer and service provider; a dynamic that empowers the user to actively manage their core products and spend, and easily explore the long tail of service offerings with a minimum of financial risk. Service providers also need the ability to provide an instant and personalized channel to their customer.

In light of this, the charging system has morphed from a passive back-office function to an active customer experience engine, enabling personalized real-time notifications to manage spend, up-to-date balance enquiries and instant credit top-ups.

The mechanism of interactive pre- and mid-session charging control, known as online charging, has long been the mainstay of mobile prepaid subscribers. However, the value in applying the same benefits of this approach to post-paid contract-based users is compelling. Indeed, as innovation across communications network technologies (i.e. 5G), smart devices and creative applications continues to flourish, the benefits of the modern charging system will extend beyond the consumer to B2B2X and vertical industry segments.

Zooming a little further on 5G for a moment, this game changing technology upgrade will not only allow communications service providers to offer ultra-high bandwidth, low latency mobile connectivity to consumers, but through modern cloud technologies enable complete virtual networks, or slices as they are known, to be sold to industries. These slices will have the potential to be monetized based on many criteria, for example quality of service, latency and performance. Examples of industry and consumer revenue generating use cases that this transformative slicing technology could enable include private networks for AI driven robotic manufacturing plants, agriculture solutions supporting autonomous planting, harvesting and crop monitoring, ubiquitous low latency cloud gaming and sensor based smart home solutions.

The key industry body responsible for the 5G standards, the 3GPP, has defined the Converged Charging System (CCS) as the real-time architecture for capturing 5G revenue for all future use cases. Charging has become as much a part of the service delivery chain as the other critical 5G network functions, no longer relegated to the “back office.”

As all of our lives continue to be influenced in so many ways by technological transformation, each digital interaction represents a monetization opportunity, and not only directly from the paying customer. With a modern charging system increasing engagement between customer and service provider, the resulting increased volume of usage will provide valuable training data to feed future machine learning algorithms that will be able to drive increased levels of zero touch operational and business efficiencies and faster time to revenue.

With rapid transformational change comes a great degree of uncertainty — but whether tomorrow’s 5G+ digital service providers are looking to monetize low latency cloud gaming services, factory automation slices or smart home networks with real-time user controls, the need for converged charging is a sure thing.


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