In my twenty odd years in the telecommunication and media industry, the last five or so have seen challenges mount for communication service providers (CSPs). Major players have struggled to monetize the massive amount of data flowing through their networks. Consumer demands grow continually as rapidly as expanding digital media promises to democratize content distribution. At the same time, over-the-top (OTT) service providers seem poised to cement their dominance in core services like voice and messaging that has traditionally been a CSP’s forte.
Given this backdrop, CSPs are on the lookout for new service opportunities that can offer competitive advantage while generating newer sources of revenue. For instance, billing— once restricted to the purely functional process of calculating usage and generating invoices — can now enhance customer loyalty and attract new business prospects. We find that a majority of telcos are keen to change or replace their revenue management systems to drive more value.
For telecom business support systems (BSS), billing is one of the most critical active systems in the life cycle of a customer. One bad experience can push a customer to switch to a competitor. Thus, there is the need to handle it expertly. As CSPs move toward delivering data-heavy services to their customers, they require high-end, flexible, and agile billing systems that can generate accurate invoices, facilitate real-time revenue assurance, enhance customer experience, and drive up their chances of generating revenue. Moreover, to excel at core BSS operations, they must ensure the constant availability of up-to-date information that can help accurately track a customer’s activity and better provision new subscription services.
Blockchain combined with analytics and machine learning can transform billing for CSPs.
Transforming billing with Blockchain
With emerging technologies like Blockchain, CSPs can gain a strong foothold in these areas. Blockchain opens new avenues for CSPs to create a repository of recognized identities for every customer and their corresponding billing information. For customers, this provides unparalleled convenience. They no longer need to repeatedly provide personal information to service providers while setting up new accounts or opting for new services. These virtual identities also lower the chances of identity fraud and billing inaccuracy, a key billing challenge.
Billing inaccuracy can be resolved through public-private cryptography, to create a virtual identity for each subscriber when encrypted can be stored as a smart contract. These smart contracts can automatically authenticate and authorize a billing settlement from the customer’s end on a real-time basis.
Blockchain-based virtual subscriber identities curb roaming fraud as well. Permissioned Blockchain solutions between visited public mobile network (VPNM) operators to set up micro contracts with network users, require permission from the host network providers and VPNMs to enable roaming. The contracts can continually feed updates to the subscribed network operator from the individual user, allowing for immediate billing and invoicing.
Adding analytics and machine learning to the mix
The ubiquity and ready-access of digital content has fueled the demand for flexible subscription and billing plans. For instance, a customer may want access to premium content for a limited period and ask the provider to charge the additional fee directly from a credit card for immediate usage. Customers may also temporarily enhance the download speed to a premium-service level to be able to watch a high-definition movie without changing their monthly subscription plan. To address and monetize these small but important opportunities, CSPs need their billing to be flexible and accommodating. It is here that analytics and machine learning can help them.
Transactional data from billing systems contain a wealth of data on customer usage behaviour. CSPs can consider implementing advanced analytics and machine learning models to unlock a range of real-time subscriber intelligence from this data lake. What applications or services are they using? Are they encountering network downtime issues? When are they most active? These insights give CSPs an opportunity to offer more targeted, personalized services to customers that leads to a better experience. These satisfied customers then become key prospects for CSPs to upsell and cross-sell, as they are more likely to respond positively to additional service offers.
Agile and transparent Blockchain-based billing solutions combined with analytics have the potential to transform the relationship between CSPs and their subscribers. The faster organizations acknowledge this and act on it, the better their chances of becoming market leaders where service differentiation and customer experience reign supreme.