We live in a converging digital world. But instead of being defined solely by consumer trends or the needs of business, this world is defined by connectivity – more specifically, the nature and quality of that connectivity and how it is managed. If communication service providers (CSPs) are to take full advantage of 5G and monetize it effectively, they need to be able to organize and distribute their service in a way that lends itself to a converged, holistic and easily accessible digital experience.
The experience demands more than stand-alone landline, broadband and mobile services. Consumers have more choices at their fingertips than ever before, and they are as ready as they will ever be to part with data in exchange for convenient, connected experiences. But how to fulfill and charge for those experiences is still something that many CSPs are struggling with. This is partly due to telcos hanging onto legacy systems that are simply not set up to deal with the breadth and depth of today’s digital services portfolio that covers not only connectivity but also digital lifestyle and OTT services.
Digital service providers putting pressure on telcos to step up their delivery and billing capabilities is nothing new. The concept of convergent billing was devised more than two decades ago between telcos and vendors. It allowed telcos to process several billing records and formats as part of one, consolidated invoice. Suddenly, instead of having to implement separate parallel systems for each service, a telco could bill a diversified range of products.
This partially solved the problem at the time for billing visibility, but it did not provide a converged offering across network types that require converged charging and product management. It certainly would not fly in today’s always-on digital landscape. Consumers expect a bundled and flexible offering, personalized to their needs, that is charged and billed in real-time, allowing for new experiences such as shared allowances across multiple services. New OTT and IoT use cases such as connected home security systems and smart central heating hubs are also contributing to users’ rapidly changing connectivity needs.
That is when telcos needed to evolve into CSPs, largely defined by a converged multiplay infrastructure which allowed them to expand their product offerings for connectivity and more. However, this was not met with great success as many CSPs still have siloed back-end architecture that hinders a true holistic digital customer experience.
To this day, charging and billing remain critical issues as CSPs attempt to expand their portfolio, forge new partnerships and engage new market segments. Opportunities are multiplying exponentially in the wake of 5G and its seemingly endless list of use cases. Omnichannel marketing strategies are commonplace, self-service capabilities through digital portals have become normalized, and mobile apps are being rolled out left, right and center. To keep up, CSPs are now looking to develop their business support systems (BSS) to allow them to efficiently and reliably offer complex, converged services to huge numbers of subscribers.
According to GSMA data, 5G connections are on track to surpass the 1 billion milestone in 2022. It puts mobile network operators (MNOs) and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in a unique position to capitalize on this layered, multiplay ecosystem, but only if their tech stacks and charging models allow it.
Take the sector’s slow but steady migration to the cloud, for instance. The adoption of microservices and API-first development has afforded telcos the ability to roll out new features and services with virtually no downtime, almost mimicking the capabilities of a hyperscaler or private enterprise. An API-oriented architecture will also make it easier for operators to build revenue-generating partner ecosystems without needing to reinvent the wheel or make concessions every time.
However, for some of these monetization benefits to be realized, operators will need to take a similarly holistic approach to their charging and billing capabilities. Whether their subscriber base is thousands strong or millions strong, they will need a configurable charging and policy management solution that can work across multiple services and be deployed in private, public or hybrid cloud environments. The key to building a seamless digital experience does not depend on the services themselves, but rather the converged connective capabilities that carry and deliver them.