From simple circuit-switched voice to superfast 5G capable of managing billions of connected devices, the digital communications landscape is virtually unrecognisable from its earliest implementations in the 1990s. While increased bandwidth, flexibility, and speed of today’s mobile networks have enabled numerous new business cases, the progress of roaming billing and settlement have not kept pace with network advancements.
Designed primarily for voice, telecommunications providers have, since 1991, used TAP – Transferred Account Procedures – for roaming and billing settlement. However, disputes, mainly due to record issues at the mediation level, arbitrations, or recommendations are a major roadblock in a telecom operator’s revenue cycle. With TAP, bills can be settled every month, depending upon the agreed cycle, but dispute resolution can take months or even years. In addition, on average, it can take operators up to 45 days for dispute identification and confirmation.
The introduction of sophisticated and extensive data networks, including 5G network slicing, as well as the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) is making TAP processes saturated and obsolete. To enable charging with the TAP system, the physical exchange of subscriber activity records between the home and roaming operator networks is required. Primarily due to the expense associated with upgrades and maintenance, this complex and cumbersome system is unable to provision for wholesale roaming settlement in IoT and 5G. Additionally, the GSMA has made the decision to no longer evolve TAP, as it’s been deemed too inflexible to support today’s data networks, new services, associated use cases, and technologies.
Roaming traffic is valuable
Given the monetary value of roaming traffic, delays in settlement and the time required to address disputes mean that money doesn’t move quickly between operators. This is becoming increasingly critical given a recent prediction by Juniper Research – the number of roaming subscribers using 5G will increase to 210 million in 2026, up from just 4.5 million in 2021 – making it impossible to transfer the records of data use between the party operators. Foreseeing this issue, the GSMA has introduced a new way of billing called BCE – Billing and Charging Evolution – a flexible next-generation process/approach for reporting and/or invoicing for inter-operator settlement.
BCE can unlock vast amounts of wholesale chargeable activity from the flourishing machine-to-machine (M2M) networks. By providing operators more control, BCE has the capability to accelerate the creation of new use cases and new revenue streams. It is driven by new record formats such as Detailed Data Record (DDR), Usage Data Report (UDR), Usage Summary Report (USR), and Billing Statement Report (BSR), among others. The serving party shares these BCE reports with the served party, which are used by the serving party to generate the invoice.
Aside from simplifying complex multi-party settlement processes, BCE also supports the settlement of 5G and IoT use cases. This is made possible through features such as eliminating the need to exchange raw files within specific timelines, as well as the need for editors to read different TAP file formats. Reports generated in BCE are in XML format, which can be seamlessly exchanged to support settlement and reconciliation processes. BCE doesn’t have rigid file exchange or settlement windows, giving operators more control, meaning outsourcing requirements are reduced. Additionally, BCE provides operators with a new standardized reconciliation process – reconcile usage or charge or both.
With the introduction of advanced technologies such as 4G, 5G, IMS and MIoT, both parties have access to similar usage data from their own network nodes. Essentially, the BCE process standardises the exchange of aggregated reports between the parties.
One of the many benefits of BCE over TAP is that it’s tailor-made for wholesale roaming settlement in 5G and IoT. As agreed, upon between operators, settlements can be biweekly, monthly, or bespoke. In addition, the process is potentially expected to be extendable to other services such as Wi-Fi roaming and Interconnect. As reported by the GSMA, many operators are finding that BCE meets their requirements of MIoT wholesale billing, and some are actively implementing the process.
Leveraging the increasing potential of 5G and its ability to offer network slicing, as well as the predicted massive growth of the IoT, operators’ wholesale business and new revenue opportunities will highly depend on their ability to build trusted and seamless relationships with customers and partners. The success of those relationships will rely on two things: the transparency and efficiency of the billing process and the ability of operators to rapidly resolve disputes.
The combination of BCE, blockchain-based reconciliation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML)-augmented robust fraud prevention is setting the stage to provide operators with a plethora of new connected world use cases. To realise the benefits of these new business models, the telecoms industry needs to embrace BCE in order to ensure that the full value of the billions of data transactions is correctly charged.
By Subrat Saurabh, Director- Business Consulting at Subex