Billing. What do you think of when you hear this term? Is it somehow connected to Bill Gates? Fortunately, he did not have the time to stick in oar in the telecommunication industry. Just kidding. If we take it seriously, let us consider the genesis of the word billing. The word “bill” can be translated as “check” (other variants: promissory note, bank note). “Billing” can be translated in a phrase “drawing up an account”.
What is a billing system?
Systems which calculate the cost of communication services for each customer and storing the information on all tariffs and other monetary characteristics which are used by telecom carriers to draw accounts to subscribers and for intercarrier accounting can be called billing systems; their operating cycle is called billing. Billing system (BS) is an accounting system, software developed for carriers. Which carriers? Telecommunication ones. That is, we are not only talking about mobile carriers. BS can also be used by carriers of ordinary (fixed, wire) communication. In small offices, for instance, one can bring in the telephony billing and analyze who and when calls were made, how much did the talk last). IP telephony is another way of implementing BS. What about internet providers? They also use billing systems, for instance, to draw accounts on traffic usage. Any billing system is created on the basis of a certain data base management system (DBSS). Most billing systems use Oracle as a basis. Among other DBSS we can highlight Sybase and Informix as designed for big volumes of data. Here are the names of other billing systems: BIS, Flagship, CBOSS, Arbor, Bill-2000-prepaid. We should note that a system firmware participating in billing can also be referred to billing systems.
I will try to consider all major terms and definitions related to BS. I will put the most emphasis on BS used by mobile carriers. But most definitions are relevant to BS used in other industries. I will try to make everything as clear as possible so that most readers understand the information. If you have anything to add to mentioned terms, e-mail me.
There are several names for billing systems: automated billing system; information billing system.
One of the most important features of billing system is its flexibility, that is, an ability to adjust to changing circumstances. A flexible system is not only adjusted to instantaneous needs of a carrier; it allows solving perspective tasks due to its alignability, modularity and openness. The more setting opportunities a system has, the better. What is modularity? Module system design is a principle when a system is designed out of separate parts (modules), like as a house is built in separate bricks. BS consist of the same modules which are subsystems. billing system can include, for instance, a subsystem of a preliminary data processing, a subsystem of operation billing management, a subsystem of customer notification (read below on the structure and functions of BS). Openness implies the exposure of a source code of a software which allows being independent of a developer and independently serve and update a system. Scalability is also closely linked to the flexibility of billing system.
Scalability on load. With the number of subscribers and additional services accelerating one should not feel the need to modify or update the programming part of a BS. The increase in opportunities of billing system should be achieved by means of modification of a hardware component. What you should keep in mind when designing scalable systems? You need to use DBSS designed for big volumes of data. DBSS should be compatible with different computer platforms to provide multiprocessor operation.
Reliability is one of the major requirements submitted to any system. Reliability of a billing system is determined by reliability of DBSS and technologies used with the development of a system. Reliability of a developer (a supplier) of software is crucial: its length of service and, as a side index, the percentage of the developed systems in the market. Why is the index oblique? Is Microsoft Windows the best and the most reliable operating system? And with that it occupies a substantial market share. However, reliability is also provided by complying with certain development standards and regulations (read below).
- Multi-language support – an opportunity to select different languages to present the information.
- Multi-currency support – an opportunity to work with any currency.
- Delayed billing – when all calculations are done after a call in made.
- Hot billing – a change in current account balance happens during the talk and you can see the information on your balance after a call.
- Billing optimization – improvements of existing BS made by carriers.
- Big billing systems are systems implemented by big carriers.
- Billing posting is a fixation of billing results; after all calculations results are available to customers (they can be sent or printed).
What a BS is capable of and responsible for?
Do you use a prepaid service? Have you thought about how it can be that immediately after a call you can find out about the change in your account balance? Are you provided services on a credit basis? Who calculates the total sum you need to pay for the provided services? These are “responsibilities” of a billing system. Do you use an imprest system? Have you ever noticed that subtle amounts of money disappear from your account? Have you ever encountered this: you want to find out your account balance, but an interactive voice response tells you irrelevant data? These are “bugs” of a billing system.
Since a billing system is designed to automate all payments, it should provide this automation correctly from negotiating a contract to drawing accounts for mobile services. With the help of subsystems of automated services and automated data harvesting a billing system should provide subscribers with an opportunity of self-service. Some BS allow placing connection orders and paying for services via the Internet.
Structure and functions of billing systems:
Billing design is simple: information on connections and their duration is recorded by a commutator and after a preliminary processing it is transmitted to a billing system. A billing system knows all tariffs. It identifies a call and makes all necessary calculations thus drawing a bill to a subscriber. It is obvious that the system memory should not only store regulations, tariffs and the information on services; it also stores the information on customers, contracts with subscribers and third-party service suppliers (if any), and on the cost of the transmitted information through different channels and in different ways (a system should involve dealers: they may have different connection fees). Besides, any BS should have a payment base: this information only allows controlling the payment process and automating the so-called activation or deactivation of subscribers. This function can be called a protective one since it does not allow users who did not pay for services using them.
Billing system can be divided into three groups according their functional opportunities: designed for transnational carriers, national and regional ones.
The first class of BS should provide international cooperation of networks in different time zones, so they should support different languages and currencies.
National systems are being designed for a certain carrier. A carrier may need new billing system compatible with the existing one. The price of such systems is very high of course.
On scale of a region one can do with a standard billing system. However these systems should also have the qualities mentioned above: flexibility, scalability, reliability.
Any billing system is designed and set up to business processes of a certain carrier, has its own function package relevant to the technological cycle of providing service, and can word with certain network equipment providing a billing system with the information on calls and connections, so that a billing system is not a packaged product. There is a standard set of functions supported by almost all BS, among which there are the following:
- Operations executed on the stage of preliminary processing and analysis of the source data, for instance, data acquisition on connections and services provided (commutator requests);
- Operation network equipment management: activation/deactivation (blocking/unblocking) of subscribers and subscription changes transmitted directly to a commutator;
- Major functions of DBSS applications including: pricing the commutator records on calls and services; formation and editing of tables of billing system database; rendering and printing invoices; credit control of accounts; making reports; archiving.
As it was mentioned before, a billing system should be flexible and designed of modules. Each element ensures the actualization of a technological cycle of customer services. Major subsystems distinctive for billing are: subsystem of a preliminary processing of data on connections, operating billing management and a subsystem of customer notification.
Subsystem of preliminary data processing.
This application analyzes the source information on connections, determines the class of the provided service and the traffic parameters (the direction of a call, a source, mutual payment zones, roaming conditions). This subsystem includes a decoder of the source information on connections. One of the most difficult procedures of this subsystem is roaming support. The point is that roaming records in different formats from different commutators and from different billing systems should be converted in a format that is used by a certain billing system. Software rates all records on intercarrier connections (according to passing traffic) and creates subordinate tables used by other subsystems to make calculations with subscribers and carriers, and for making reports. Modern billing systems allow processing different telecommunication services ensuring convenient billing (one customer – one balance – one bill). This is achieved by means of using intellectual systems of preliminary processing the source information on connections, traffic and services which rate services regardless of the connection type.
Subsystem of billing operating management.
This subsystem gives an opportunity to automatically or via the billing system carrier change the subscription terms on a commutator, that is, to block the connection of a certain subscriber or unblock it, to switch the service on or off. You call your provider and tell: “Could you switch my voice mail on, please?” The provider replies: “Tell your phone number please”. After an exchange of niceties your voice mail is switched on.
Customer notification subsystem.
An inherent part of modern billing is a subsystem of customer notification with the help of voice or electronic messages. The information for notification and announcement mailing is taken from base tables by a subsystem.
The listed functional subsystems are not strict for all billing systems. This is just an example of “classic” billing system.
To ensure mutual understanding among different billing systems of different carriers (for instance, it can be required in roaming), three international groups of billing standards were developed.
In 1998 the American institute of standards ANSI confirmed the standard ANSI 124. The following improvement and support is executed by TIA. After that CIBERNET created a working party to determine the specificity of business processes during messages transmission in the ANSI 124 standard which were dubbed as NSDP-B&S. Such specifications set up a correspondence between business processes of telecom carriers and the information transmitted during the data exchange between ANSI 124-compliant commutators.
In the year 1998 the first description was published of the north-american billing standard called CIBER which is currently supported by CIBERNET and its CAC-IS committee. This committee unites billing system developers and telecom carriers. The key are of CIBER application is cell networks of the AMPS standard.
The European (by origin) standard called TAP appeared in 1992. It is supported by the working party called TADIG. Most European carriers use TAP2 even though there exists the third version. Since 1995 a modification of TAP2 known as the specification TD.27 or NAGTAP2 has been used in the USA.
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