What does Telecom Billing refer to?
Telecom Billing refers to the domain function that the telecom service providers use to rate and charge their customers based on the set of product offerings and pricing rules defined for those offerings. Telecom companies use billing software systems that help them accurately charge their subscribers for their recurring subscriptions as well as for the consumption usage of their services.
Telecom Billing Ecosystem
To understand how Telecom Billing functions, it is important to understand the ecosystem of application systems that a telecom company uses. A Telecom Company has many functions in its day to day operations which are required to run the business smoothly. These include functions ranging from sales, customer support, network operations to billing and collection etc. These functions are divided into two main categories, BSS (Business Support System) and OSS (Operational Support System).
The BSS or Business Support System covers the landscape of business side support systems, mainly covering the sales and customer service. The OSS or Operational Support Systems covers the more operational side to keep the services running, like the network operations and provisioning etc. The BSS / OSS functions encompass various software systems that work together to operate the business smoothly and seamlessly.
The diagram below shows an “Ecosystem” of Software systems involved in a Telecom Billing implementation and how the billing system plays a central role in this ecosystem. The diagram shows at the center of the diagram – jBilling as the billing system. It has been shown integrated with various other important systems of the Telecom world. It would not be wrong to call the billing system the “heart” of the Telecom Ecosystem.
Let’s list down all the software systems to get a complete perspective of a Telecom Billing Application Ecosystem:
- CRM System (Customer Relationship Management)
- ERP System (Enterprise Resource Planning)
- Provisioning System
- Mediation Engine (Postpaid Call Rating System)
- UGW (Universal Gateway)
- AAA System (Triple A System or Authentication, Authorization and Accounting)
- Online Charging System (Prepaid Call Rating System)
- Automated Payment Processing via a Payment Gateway
- SMTP Server to send E-bills or Invoice Emails and other emails
- Paper Bill Printing System
- Self Service Portal
- Financial Reporting (Handoff to Accounting System)
- Other Auxiliary Services
The Telecom Billing implementation is a complex system implementation that involves integration with various systems that are listed above. Let us look at some of the important software systems and understand how these are used, and how they integrate with the billing system.
1. CRM System (Customer Relationship Management)
The CRM system is integrated with the billing system in a way that the data can flow both ways. The CRM system creates customer accounts and service subscriptions and sends these into the billing system with plans, bundles and products. The billing system uses the data of subscriptions, plans, bundles and generates invoices and payments. The billing system sends the data related to invoices, usage history and payments back to the CRM system.
2. ERP System (Enterprise Resource Planning)
The Enterprise Resource Planning (or ERP) systems hold the inventory data, vendor information and purchase order information. As such the ERP system helps track the supply side for a Telecom company. The integration between an ERP and a billing system would ensure that the information and data about the various hardware/networking components is available in the billing system.
Such hardware/equipment data is required in the billing system for the purpose of charging and provisioning. For example, an ERP system could load the serial numbers of routers or also load the IMSI numbers of SIM cards into the billing system. When a mobile service is commissioned for an end customer, the SIM card is activated on the network by sending a provisioning request to the network.
The billing system also uses the SIM card number to charge the consumption usage from the billing mediation process. The Enterprise jBilling provides easy to use API and UI based upload options to load the assets/inventory information into the system.
3. Provisioning System
A provisioning system integrates with the network components and sends messages to the network to activate or deactivate the service based on the subscriber status. The billing system drives messages to the provisioning system based on certain events such as invoice remaining unpaid beyond the due date, or a payment being received on a suspended account. Thus, based on the subscriber status maintained in the billing system, the provisioning system is able to activate or deactivate the service on the network.
4. Mediation Engine (Postpaid Call Rating System)
Abstract: A mediation engine is a crucial component of the billing system. It accepts raw Call Data Records (CDRs) from the network side and rates these call/data events as per the pricing rules defined for the consumption/usage of the service. In jBilling, the billing mediation job processes millions of postpaid call events and rates them to resolve their charges into billable amounts. The billable amounts are then applied into the customer invoices.
5. UGW (Universal Gateway)
A Universal Gateway is a network side component that harbors both hardware and software together. It is used in conjunction with the AAA (triple A) and Online Charging System (OCS) to rate the real time mediation messages. Typically, it uses the Radius or Diameter protocol to send the messages to the AAA (triple A system).
6. AAA System (Triple A System or Authentication, Authorization and Accounting)
A Triple A (AAA) system provides the support required for the Authentication, Authorization and Accounting functions that ensure security and proper charging of the inbound consumption usage messages. The BillingHub’s Online Charging System can be used to replace your existing AAA systems, as it can provide authentication of the Radius messages and the OCS provides the support required for charging and quota updates.
7. Online Charging System (Prepaid Call Rating System)
Abstract: BillingHub’s Online Charging System (OCS) is a prepaid rating system, used for mediation processing of online, real time usage messages generated by a device such as the UGW, for a prepaid subscriber. The BillingHub’s OCS system can authenticate, authorize and provide accounting/charging support for the prepaid charging. This OCS system has been tested and certified to process millions of real time Call Data Records (CDRs) on a daily basis.
8. Automated Payment Processing via a Payment Gateway
Abstract: The Enterprise jBilling system comes with an automated Collection feature that can process thousands of payments securely with many out-of-box payment gateway integrations. The jBilling system provides API and UI options to process credit card information, bank account information (or ACH information) securely and safely over the payment gateway, and to tokenize the payment instrument such that the tokenized instrument can be used for recurring payments. The entire process is followed taking into account the PCI DSS compliance guidelines.
9. SMTP Server to send E-bills or Invoice Emails and other emails
Abstract: The Enterprise jBilling platform has different configurable options available for sending various notifications. These notifications include e-bill notifications to subscribers, payment notifications, dunning system notifications, credit card expiration notifications and internal notifications such as reset password, scheduled job notifications etc. An SMTP server needs to be configured to be able to send these notifications securely and without any risk of generating spam alerts.
10. Paper Bill Printing System
Abstract: The Enterprise jBilling platform comes with an internal Paper Bill Generation job which can generate batch PDFs that include thousands of invoices that are formatted as per your predefined bill format. The batch PDFs thus generated can be sent on to your printing jobs (either to an external provider or to your internal printing system).
11. Self Service Portal
Abstract: A customer self service portal is a portal application used by the subscribers to take a look into their service status, invoices, payment history, usage consumption and ability to request new services and cancel existing ones. Also, most Telecom providers now provide the ability to add/remove recurring payment instruments and carry out bill payments. A self service portal is also a great place to advertise about the recent schemes and upcoming plans. Some Telecom providers even offer the ability to upgrade or downgrade to different plans based on the current consumption patterns. The Enterprise jBilling platform seamlessly integrates with the customer self service portal and supports all the mentioned use cases, and does more.
12. Financial Reporting (Handoff to Accounting System)
The Enterprise jBilling platform comes with some in-built finance reports that could help Telecom Companies map to their existing financial reporting. The finance reports include Accounts Receivable, Ageing Balances Report, Top Customers, Detailed Billing Report, GL Balances Report, Unearned/Unbilled Report and more. The BillingHub services provides a platform for design and development for custom financial reports that help generate an automated handoff to your Accounting Systems.
13. Other Auxiliary Services
The Enterprise jBilling platform has easy points of integration through which the key asset information could be loaded into the system. It is possible to load the assets (or inventory) data into the jBilling system through the REST API integration or through simple CSV based uploads through the user interface.
Based on the country of implementation, the taxation, the currency and the language of implementation will change and this could bring in other systems such as third party tax engines to calculate and apply taxes, using live currency exchange feed in a cross currency implementation.
Some companies may prefer their own Invoice Presentation systems, in which case the billing system would handoff the invoices data to an Invoice Presentation system which will deal with formatting the invoice as per the branded invoice template before sending it to the customers.
Telecom Billing Challenges
As it is seen from the Telecom Billing Ecosystem explained above, the telecom companies maintain a complex set of systems tightly integrated with each other. This leads to many challenges in the day to day business operations, and also with respect to defining the roadmap and how to align the development/improvements in each system with how the business wants to function.
In the day to day functioning of the various systems, support and operations teams play an important role. They tackle issues occurring in systems, customer complaints and ensure that the issues in software systems are resolved through maintenance releases.
The BillingHub team specialises in support and operations, and even provides an option of using ‘Billing As A Service’, which means that our team is in charge of running all the billing system operations. This involves running billing jobs, sending e-bills and paper bills, running collection jobs and generating financial reports etc.
Our clients can count on the support and operations provided by our team and feel the difference compared to other system partners or vendors. This in particular with respect to the availability of the team, and taking complete responsibility with respect to ensuring smooth running of the system.
Features & Roadmap
With respect to the development of the billing system to align with the direction of the business, the major challenge that telecom companies face is with regards to getting flexibility of the solutions, how quickly the solutions become available and how quickly new features can be taken to the market.
Many times, it is seen that the established vendors are too slow to move on new features and by the time they bring in the features, the time to market has increased and may not then provide as rich a dividend as it would have if the feature had reached the market in quick time.
The BillingHub team brings in it’s solutioning prowess, thinking quickly on its feet and agile working methodology to come up with the most optimum and simple solutions that can save you big bucks and also allow you to operate with a roadmap that can be adhered to the liking of the business.