Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 36

Introduction To Telecom Billing

Usage Events, Call Detail Records, and Bill Cycles

Avi Ofrane, Harte, Lawrence

Excerpted From:

Introduction To Telecom Systems


ALTHOS Publishing
With Updated Information
Introduction To Telecom Billing

About the Authors

Mr. Harte is the president of Althos, an expert information


provider covering the communications industry. He has
over 29 years of technology analysis, development, imple-
mentation, and business management experience. Mr.
Harte has worked for leading companies including
Ericsson/General Electric, Audiovox/Toshiba and
Westinghouse and consulted for hundreds of other compa-
nies. Mr. Harte continually researches, analyzes, and tests
new communication technologies, applications, and ser-
vices. He has authored over 30 books on telecommunications technologies on
topics including Wireless Mobile, Data Communications, VoIP, Broadband,
Prepaid Services, and Communications Billing. Mr. Harte’s holds many
degrees and certificates include an Executive MBA from Wake Forest
University (1995) and a BSET from the University of the State of New York,
(1990). Mr. Harte can be contacted at LHarte@Althos.com

Avi Ofrane founded the Billing College in 1996, a training


company addressing the converging market trends associ-
ated with telecommunications Billing and Customer Care.
The Billing College is a spin-off company of Mr. Ofrane's
technology consulting company, Jupiter Data, Inc., estab-
lished in 1990. Mr. Ofrane began his career in 1977 as an
analyst with the IBM Corporation and has since 1982 con-
centrated exclusively on the telecommunications industry,
in which he is now a recognized expert in Billing and
Customer Care. Throughout his extensive career, Mr. Ofrane has been
involved in all aspects of the industry, from strategic planning and execu-
tive management to vendor evaluation and project implementation. Mr.
Ofrane lectures extensively on Billing and Customer Care issues, strategies,
methodologies, and practices. He is a frequently requested speaker at major
North American and European conferences. Mr. Ofrane is currently
President and CEO of the Billing College, as well as a master instructor of
the company's courses. Mr. Ofrane is the co-author of the book "Telecom
Made Simple" and has written numerous articles for international trade
publications. Mr. Ofrane holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
from Pennsylvania State University.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-ii-
Introduction To Telecom Billing

ALTHOS Publishing
Copyright © 2003 by the ALTHOS Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. Produced in the
United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of
1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any
means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the
publisher.

Some or all of the materials in this ebook also appears in the print version of the book :
Introduction To Telecom Systems ISBN: 0-9728053-9-7

All trademarks are trademarks of their respective owners. We use names to assist in the
explanation or description of information to the benefit of the trademark owner and ALTHOS
publishing does not have intentions for the infringement of any trademark.

ALTHOS electronic books (ebooks) and images are available for use in educational, promo-
tional materials, training programs, and other uses. For more information about using
ALTHOS ebooks and images, please contact Karen Bunn at kbunn@Althos.com or (919) 557-
2260

Terms of Use

This is a copyrighted work and ALTHOS Publishing Inc. (ALTHOS) and its licensors reserve
all rights in and to the work. This work may be sued for your own noncommercial and per-
sonal use; any other use of the work is strictly prohibited. Use of this work is subject to the
Copyright Act of 1976, and in addition, this work is subject to these additional terms, except
as permitted under the and the right to store and retrieve one copy of the work, you may not
disassemble, decompile, copy or reproduce, reverse engineer, alter or modify, develop deriva-
tive works based upon these contents, transfer, distribute, publish, sell, or sublicense this
work or any part of it without ALTHOS prior consent. Your right to use the work may be ter-
minated if you fail to comply with these terms.

ALTHOS AND ITS LICENSORS MAKE NO WARRANTIES OR GUARANTEES OF THE


ACCURACY, SUFFICIENCY OR COMPLETENESS OF THIS WORK NOR THE RESULTS
THAT MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE USE OF MATERIALS CONTAINED WITHIN
THE WORK. APDG DISCLAIMS ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING
BUT NOT LIMITED TO IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS
FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

ALTHOS and its licensors does warrant and guarantee that the information contained with-
in shall be usable by the purchaser of this material and the limitation of liability shall be lim-
ited to the replacement of the media or refund of the purchase price of the work.

ALTHOS and its licensors shall not be liable to you or anyone else for any inaccuracy, error
or omission, regardless of cause, in the work or for any damages resulting there from.
ALTHOS and/or its licensors shall not be liable for any damages including incidental, indi-
rect, punitive, special, consequential or similar types of damages that may result from the
attempted use or operation of the work.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-iii-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Table of Contents

BILLING AND CUSTOMER CARE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1


INTRODUCTION TO BILLING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Types of Services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Standard Billing Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4
Real Time Billing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6
Multilingual Support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Multiple Currencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
Inter-carrier Settlements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
BILLING PROCESS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Event Sources and Tracking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Mediation Devices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
Call Detail Records (CDRs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
MAJOR BILLING FUNCTIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The Rating Engine: Processing the Usage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13
The Invoicing Engine: Month-End Processing . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
Clearinghouse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
Invoices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Management Reporting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Invoicing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Processing Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
Posting to the Financial System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20
CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT (CRM) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Account Activation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Account Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-iv-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

BILLING SYSTEM COSTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22


Hardware and Software . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Billing Cycles (Batching) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Bill Printing and Mailing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Call Center . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
Collections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
BILLING STANDARDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Exchange Message Record (EMR) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26
Automatic Message Accounting (AMA) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26
Carrier Inter-exchange Billing Exchange Record (CIBER) . . . .26
Transferred Accounting Procedure (TAP) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27
Network Data Management – Usage (NDM-U) . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Interim Standard 124 (IS-124) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
THE FUTURE OF BILLING AND CUSTOMER CARE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Applications Service Providers (ASPs) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
Local Number Portability (LNP) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Customer Self-Care . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-v-
Billing and Customer Care

Billing and custom care systems convert the bits and bytes of digital infor-
mation within a network into the money that will be received by the service
provider. To accomplish this, these systems provide account activation and
tracking, service feature selection, selection of billing rates for specific calls,
invoice creation, payment entry and management of communication with
the customer.

Billing and customer care systems are the link between end users and the
telecommunications service provider. Telecommunications service providers
manage and setup the networks to allow customers to communicate (provi-
sioning), and bill end users for their use of the system. Customers who need
telecommunication services select carriers by evaluating service and equip-
ment costs, reviewing the reliability of the network, and comparing how spe-
cific services (features) match their communication needs. Because most
network operations have access to systems with the same technology,
Because most Telecommunications Service Providers offer essentially the
same types of services and network facilities, Billing & Customer Care are
becoming key differentiating factors and play a critical role in the cus-
tomer’s carrier selection decision.

There are many different types of services to be supplied and billed. These
include traditional voice and data communications, short messaging, fax,
and information services. The billing process involves receiving Usage
Detail Records (UDR) from various network elements, determining the
billing rates associated with each UDR, calculating its charge, aggregating

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-1-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

the records periodically to produce invoices, sending invoices to the cus-


tomer, and recording (“posting”) payments received from the customer.

Customer care systems, sometimes known as provisioning systems, are tools


that assist the Customer Service Representatives (CSR) in their communi-
cation with customers.

Billing system costs can “eat up” a substantial percentage of revenues col-
lected. In addition to the initial acquisition cost of computers and software,
operational costs tend to be very high. Of the service provider’s staff, typi-
cally 20%-30% are directly or indirectly engaged in providing billing and
customer care support.

There are many billing standards that have been developed for telecommu-
nications networks. Because the services offered by different types of net-
work operators (e.g. cable television compared to local telephone companies)
are beginning to overlap, billing standards are also converging.

Future trends and challenges for billing systems include the proliferation of
new types of services to support, telephone number portability that compli-
cates account identification, and increased customer self care to reduce the
burden (and cost) of billing systems.

Figure 1.1 shows an overview of a billing and customer care system. This
diagram shows the key steps for billing systems. First, the network records
events that contain usage information (for example, connection time) that is
related to a specific call. Next, these events are combined and reformatted
into a single call detail record (CDR). Because these events only contain
network usage information, the identity of the user must be matched (guid-
ed) to the call detail record and the charging rate for the call must be deter-
mined. After the total charge for the call is calculated using the charging
rate, the billing record is updated and is sent to a bill pool (list of ready-to-
bill call records). Periodically, a bill is produced for the customer and as
payments are received, they are recorded (posted) to the customer’s account.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-2-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Figure 1.1, Billing and Customer Care System


Source: The Billing College

Introduction to Billing

The control of a billing system is usually under the finance department.


Billing systems are often viewed as accounts receivable as the billing system
assists in the collection (receipt) of money from customers. Billing systems
are also part of accounts payable (for inter-carrier settlements) as customers
often use services from other companies such as wireless roaming, long dis-
tance, and call completion through other networks. The network operator is
usually financially responsible for services provided to its customers by
other networks regardless of whether or not the customer pays for the ser-
vice.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-3-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Types of Services

There types of services that a customer may use in a network include net-
work access (basic information transfer), voice and data services over fixed
line and mobile networks, Internet Protocol (IP) service (such as email), and
content delivery (current traffic information for example). When the com-
munication service involves system access through different networks, the
event is normally routed through a toll center and a toll charge may apply.
A toll is any message telecommunications charge for services provided
beyond a local calling area.

Examples of system access services include Plain Old Telephone Service


(POTS), Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), Digital Subscriber
Line (DSL), and other data connectivity services that transfer information
between points. Information processing services include prepaid or postpaid
phone card (Telecard), voice mail, fax (store and forward), and other services
that involve the processing of information passing between two or more
points. Content delivery involves linking customers to sources of informa-
tion content and transferring the content to the end customer. Examples of
content delivery include weather advisory services, stock quotes, and the
delivery of other sources of information that the customer requests.

Standard Billing Process

The typical billing process involves collecting usage information from net-
work equipment (such as switches), formatting the usage information into
records that a billing system can understand, transferring these records to
a Rating Engine, that assigns charges to each record, receiving and record-
ing payments from the customers, and creating invoices.

Figure 1.2 shows a standard Billing and Customer Care process. In this dia-
gram, the customer interacts with Customer Care or works with an activa-
tion agent to establish a new wireless account. The agent (CSR) enters the
customer’s service preferences into the system, checks for credit worthiness,
and provides the customer with a phone number so that the customer may

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-4-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

make and receive calls through the mobile telephone network. As the cus-
tomer makes calls, the connections made by the network (such as switches)
create Usage Detail Records (UDR) of the activities. These UDRs include
the identification of the customer and other information relevant to the
billing system. The billing system also receives records from other carriers
(such as a long distance service provider, or roaming partners). The billing
system then reformats the UDRs into an internal layout that is proprietary
to the carrier, guides and updates the UDRs with correct customer and rat-
ing information. After each UDR has been rated according to the customer’s
rate plan, it is stored in a “Bill Pool”. The Bill Pool is a data store contain-
ing all UDRs that have been rated and are waiting for the month-end cycle
billing process to aggregate them and display them on a customer’s bill.

Figure 1.2, Standard Billing Process


Source: The Billing College

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-5-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

The customer then sends his payment to the telecom service provider.
Payments are recorded (posted) in the financial system. Customer’s bills
are archived in “Billing History” files. These files are used heavily by vari-
ous organizations within the enterprise: Customer Care (inquiries, adjust-
ments, service order, etc.), Marketing (product analysis), Finance (revenue
management, revenue projections, profitability, etc.), Audit, and Revenue
Assurance.

Real Time Billing

Real time billing involves the authenticating, authorizing, accounting, infor-


mation gathering, rating, and posting either at the time of service request
or within a short time after the event has been initiated (this actually may
be several minutes in “near real time” billing). Real time billing is primar-
ily used for prepaid services such as calling cards or prepaid wireless.

Many real-time billing systems use Remote Access Dial In User Server
(RADIUS) to limit access to the system to registered and authorized cus-
tomers. RADIUS is network protocol that operates on a network server
(software program and database); it receives identification information from
a potential user of a network service, authenticates the identity of the user,
validates the authorization to use the requested service, and creates event
information for accounting purposes.

Real time billing may also provide for better customer care and Provide
Advice Of Charge (AOC) information. AOC provides the ability of a
telecommunications system to advise of the actual costs of telecommunica-
tions event either prior to or after the occurrence of the event. For some sys-
tems, (such as a mobile phone system) the AOC feature is delivered by
Short Message Service (SMS).

Figure 1.3 shows a real time prepaid billing system. This diagram shows
that the customer initiates a call to a prepaid switching gateway. The gate-
way gathers the account information by either prompting the user or by
querying the incoming call for an Id (e.g. prepaid wireless telephone num-

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-6-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

ber). The gateway sends the account information (dialed digits and account
number) to the real time rating system. The real time rating system identi-
fies the correct rate table (e.g. peak time or off peak time) and determines
the account’s remaining balance. Using the rate information, the call desti-
nation, and balance available, the real time rating system calculates the
maximum allowable duration for the call. . This information is sent back to
the gateway and the gateway completes (connects) the call. While the call is
in progress, the gateway maintains a timer so the caller cannot exceed the
maximum amount of time. After the call is complete (either caller hangs
up), the gateway sends a message to the real time rating system that con-
taining the actual amount of time that was used. The real time rating sys-
tem uses the time and rate information to calculate the actual charge for
the call. The system then updates the account balance (decreased by the
charge for the call).

Figure 1.3, Real Time Billing

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-7-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Multilingual Support

Multilingual support involves providing invoices and customer care services


in multiple languages. There is a growing trend to aggressively seek multi-
national customers and it is becoming crucial for the billing system to
invoice customers in their chosen languages. Multilingual support may also
be required by government regulations. Customer service representatives
(CSRs) with multiple language skills should be available to communicate
with customers. Some of the key challenges associated with supporting
multiple languages include single-byte versus double-byte character set
support, invoice design, equipment compatibility (printers, monitors, key-
boards, etc.), and software drivers.

Multiple Currencies

Multiple currencies used in different countries can complicate the billing


system as the billing and customer care system must be capable of record-
ing and processing in units of multiple currencies. Multinational companies
will most likely process in multiple currencies. Some of the complications of
multiple currencies include: rounding rules, significant digits, timing of rate
conversion, payments made erroneously in a different currency, and rapid
changes in exchange rates.

Inter-carrier Settlements

Inter-carrier settlements are the sharing of revenue between carriers that


provide services to each other’s customers. Because hundreds of carriers
may be providing services with each other, inter-carrier settlements are
often provided on a wholesale basis between network operators based on
prearranged agreements between the carriers. In the United States, inter-
carrier settlements are enabled through the use of carrier access billing sys-
tem (CABS) or independent clearinghouses.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-8-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Inter-carrier settlements are becoming more complicated with deregulation.


To encourage fair competition, some governments are requiring existing
(incumbent) telecommunication companies to unbundle their network ele-
ments (UNE). Unbundling is the process of separating portions of a
telecommunication network that are owned or operated by a service
provider. It is a common term used to describe the separation of standard
telephone equipment and services to allow competing telephone service
providers to gain fair access to parts of incumbent telephone company sys-
tems. An example of an unbundled service is for the incumbent phone com-
pany to lease access to the copper wire line that connects an end user to the
local telephone company (Local Loop). The competing company may install
high-speed data modems (such as ADSL) on the copper line to enhancing the
value of the telecommunications service.

Billing Process

Billing systems have software and optional hardware components that


receive UDRs from various network elements, validate them, rate them, and
aggregate them into an invoice that is sent to the customer. Events may be
received from many sources such as: a switch, a data router, a gateway, a
clearinghouse, or an Application Service Provider (ASP); consequently they
must be converted into a standard format that is recognizable by the carri-
er’s internal processes (including billing).

Billing and customer care systems may be developed and managed by inter-
nal staff or contracted to other companies (outsourced). Companies that
provide complete managed billing and/or customer care services (called
turnkey) to other companies are called service bureaus.

Event Sources and Tracking

Billing system events are measures of network usage. Events can be stored
in the network device (Data Collector) for transfer at predetermined time
intervals, when a specific value has been reached (event trigger) or when the
billing system requests the information (called polling).

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-9-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Some common event sources include central office switches, routers, and
application servers. Central office switches are devices that route calls from
one subscriber to another. They track the time one port is connected to
another port. Routers are intelligent switches that forward packets toward
their destination based on their routing address (and possibly type of con-
tent). Routers can track the amount of data that is routed between two
ports over a period of time. Application servers are computers that process
information at the request of a customer (called a client), and can track the
beginning (launching) and termination of an application.

Mediation Devices

A mediation device receives, processes, and reformats event information in


a telecommunications network to a suitable format for one or more billing
and customer care systems. This processed information is either continu-
ously or periodically sent to the billing system. Mediation devices are com-
monly used for billing and customer care systems as these devices can take
non-standard proprietary information from switches and other network
equipment and reformat them into messages billing systems can under-
stand.

Switches usually record usage information (e.g., switch connection time) in


Binary Coded Decimal (BCD) format and these record formats are often pro-
prietary to the manufacturer of the switch. Each record may be variable
length and several events (e.g. switch points) may be recorded in the same
system for a single call. There are at least 60 switch manufacturers and
each has several models of switches that may result in different billing
record formats.

There are other network parts or devices that may be involved with con-
necting a call or providing Value Added Services (VAS). These devices also
can produce cal detail records and these records are in a different format.

Figure 1.4 shows a mediation system that takes call detail records from sev-
eral different switches and reformats them into standard call detail records
that are sent to the billing system. This diagram shows that the mediation
device is capable of receiving and decoding proprietary data formats from

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-10-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Figure 1.4, Mediation System

three different switch manufacturers. The mediation device converts these


formats into a standard Call Detail Record (CDR) format that can be used
by the billing system.

Call Detail Records (CDRs)

Billing information regarding specific calls is contained in Call Detail


Records. (CDRs) and includes: origination and destination address of a call
(who), time of day the call was connected and duration of the call (when), the
call type and its details (what), the connection location(s) of the call (where),
and the cause of event recording (why). As not all events are voice or data
“calls”, the record generated by the network element is often referred to as

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-11-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

“Usage Detail Record (UDR)” and often contains non-telephony billing infor-
mation such as: a downloaded movie, or IP content.

Figure 1.5 shows the basic structure of a call detail record. This diagram
shows that a UDR contains a unique identification number, the originator
of the call, the called number, the start and end time of the call. This dia-
gram also shows an additional charge for operator assistance and that a
UDR dynamically grows as more relevant information becomes available.

Figure 1.5, Usage Data Record (UDR)

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-12-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Major Billing Functions

Typically there are two major components to Billing systems: the Rating
Engine (sometimes known as “front-end”) and the Invoicing Engine (some-
times known as “back end”, “Cycle Billing”, or “Month-End Process”). The
Rating Engine accepts UDRs from a service providers’ own switches or from
other providers or billing companies’ systems (sometimes called incollects,
or in-roamers), checks the validity of billing records, matches billing records
to customers in a database, and provides billing details to other systems
(sometimes called outcollects, or out-roamers). The Rating Engine also
guides billing records to specific customer accounts. Guiding uses the
event’s identification information such as the calling telephone number to
match the billing record to a specific customer account.

The Invoicing Engine aggregates billing records for a specific period (billing
cycle), calculates recurring charges (e.g. monthly charges) and total usage
charges (minutes or quantity of usage), and produces invoices.

The Rating Engine: Processing the Usage

As part of the billing system, the Rating Engine receives call details from
various sources (event records), reformats and edits these into UDRs,
assigns a customer account to the UDR (guiding), calculates call charges for
each UDR, and gets the UDR ready for Invoicing.

In a traditional voice telephony environment, The Rating Engine processes


UDRs in a batch mode (or at best in near real-time). There may be several
UDRs for each event. For example, a call may be originating at a local
switch, translated by an 800 number service, and routed through a long dis-
tance switch. Billing and call processing can require a substantial amount
of computer processing time because there may be many events for each call.

Each UDR is rated individually after having been assigned a rating band or
category first. After a UDR has been rated and the actual charge for the call
is calculated, it is stored in a “pool” of billing records that are ready to be
invoiced (called a bill pool). A bill pool is a group of call records that have

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-13-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

been updated by the Rating Engine to include charging rate information.


The bill pool usually contains records that are ready for the final stage of bill
processing.

Figure 1.6 shows the basic functions of the Rating Engine. This diagram
shows how different event sources are received from various network ele-
ments or from other companies that have provided services to your cus-
tomers. These records are reformatted to a common UDR format and dupli-
cate UDRs are eliminated. Identification information in each UDR is used
to guide (match) the record to an account in the customer database. The
customer’s information determines the rate plan to use in charge calcula-
tion. The rating process uses rate tables, the customers selected rate plan,
and other information (e.g. rate band, distance, time of day) to calculate the
actual charge for each call. All of the information is added to the UDR and
it is either placed in the bill pool (ready for billing), or it is sent to another
company to be billed if the customer identification is not part of this net-
work’s customer database. If there are any problems as the UDR is being
processed, it is sent to Exception Investigation for further analysis.

Figure 1.6 The Rating Engine


Source: The Billing College

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-14-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Billing systems contain many databases of information. Some of the key


databases hold customer information, usage records, rate information, and
billing records that are ready to be invoiced. A customer database holds
unique identification information about the customer. This includes a cus-
tomer account identification number, telephone number (may be the same
as the account number), authorized feature list, rate plan identifier (which
rate plan the customer subscribes to), service activation dates, and other
information specific to a customer or account. A rating database holds the
rate plan identifier codes and charges associated with each rate plan.

It may be necessary to divide the UDR into several components parts. For
example, a call from a mobile telephone may be divided into airtime, land-
line usage, and long distance usage.

UDRs are commonly processed using a single rating software module. This
module uses rate plan identification information found on the UDR (deter-
mined after the guiding process) to match to rate tables that allows a per
unit increment rate. Rate increments can vary based on the time of day
(TOD), day of week (DOW), holidays, and other factors. After the call rate
has been determined, the Rating Engine places an initial value on the call.
It may be necessary to re-rate the call based on information received after
initial rating was calculated. Examples of this include: usage discounts
(free minutes), toll free calls (called party pays), and calls billed using an old
rate table after a customer has selected a new rate plan.

The Invoicing Engine: Month-End Processing

The Invoicing Engine uses data from the updated bill pool and adds non-call
related billing charges and financial adjustments. The billing system then
adds fixed recurring charges (such as monthly service fees and taxes),
applies payments that have been received, produces invoices, and maintains
a history database.

Figure 1.7 shows the basic activities performed by the month-end process.
This diagram shows that the first step in this process is the selection of cus-
tomers whose cycle is to be billed during this “bill run”. For each customer
to be billed, all usage having occurred before the cutoff date is then select-

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-15-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

ed. The next step is for the usage to be aggregated according to the way in
which it will appear on the customer’s bill; this step also includes the calcu-
lation of any volume discounts to which the customer has subscribed. Fixed
charges – both recurring and non-recurring – are then calculated according
to the product information retrieved from the product portfolio database.
Taxes and surcharges are then calculated (Federal, State, Local, FCC,
Universal Service Fund, etc.) and the financial chart of accounts is updated
with the debits and credits. Finally marketing and other messages are
inserted into the customer’s invoice, which is then sent to a production facil-
ity (print shop, CD-ROM duplication, Internet website, etc.) for delivery to
the customer. The invoice is then archived in the Billing History database,
and various reports are generated, such as financial reports, reconciliation
reports, analysis reports, etc.

Figure 1.7: Back End – The Invoicing Engine


Source: The Billing College

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-16-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Clearinghouse

A clearinghouse is a company or association that transfers billing records


and/or performs financial clearing functions between carriers that allow
their customers to use each other’s networks. The clearinghouse receives,
validates and accounts for telephone bills for several telephone service
providers. Clearinghouses are particularly important for international
billing because they convert different data record formats that may be used
by some service providers and convert for the currency exchange rate.

Clearinghouses provide a variety of services including processing propri-


etary records (e.g. switch records) into formats understandable by the mem-
ber carriers’ billing systems, validate charges from carriers with intersys-
tem agreements, and extract unauthorized or un-billable billing records.
Clearinghouses transfer messages in a standard format such as Exchange
Message Record (EMR), Cellular Inter-Carrier Billing Exchange Roamer
(CIBER), or Transferred Account Process (TAP) format. The EMR format is
often used for billing records in traditional wired telecom networks and the
CIBER and TAP formats are used for wireless networks. The records may
be exchanged by magnetic tape or by other medium such as electronic trans-
fer or CD ROM.

Clearinghouses receive billing records from companies (outcollects - some-


times called in-roamers) and submit billing records to companies (incollects
- sometimes called out-roamers). Outcollects are billing records that are sent
to other systems to collect for services provided to visiting customers.
Incollects are billing records that are received from other systems for ser-
vices provided to their customers that have used the services of other net-
works.

Inter-carrier billing systems must be capable of handling billing system


errors. There are many events per call and the possibility exists for dupli-
cate records or missing details in the billing records. Charges or records
may be received for customers that do not exist in the local system or the
inter-services (or roaming) agreement between companies may not be valid.
Charges or records may be received from other companies (incollects) that
have crammed or slammed bills. Cramming is the erroneous or fraudulent

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-17-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

addition of charges for services that were not agreed to by the end customer.
Slamming is the unauthorized transfer of customer’s preferred service
provider to a different service provider. When errors or omissions are
detected, individual UDRs or entire batches of billing records may be
flagged for return to the sender and they may be tagged for further investi-
gation.

Invoices

Invoices contain the details of how much the customer should pay to the car-
rier, when the amount is due, and other information regarding the bill.
Invoices usually provide a customer with detailed information regarding the
source of the charge (date and location), reasons for the charge (service pro-
vided), and the amount of the charge. Figure 1.8 shows a sample invoice.

Figure 1.8, Sample Invoice

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-18-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Management Reporting

Management reports provide information to finance, sales, and operations


on the performance of the system. Reports can identify problems such as,
silent churn, potential new services, and network congestion. Churn is the
process of customers disconnecting from one telecommunications service
provider. Churn can be a natural process of customer geographic relocation
or to may be the result of customers selecting a new service provider in their
local area. Silent churn is the process of customers disconnecting from one
telecommunications service provider due to a competitor’s influence. Silent
churn is usually the result of inadequate customer service or lack of com-
petitive rate plans. Customers that are transitioning to competitor’s services
will show rapid declines in usage of service.

Management reporting can also be used to discover new services. By review-


ing call patterns, churn and silent churn patterns, and customer feedback,
managers can determine which new services may be good candidates for
their system. UDRs and network activity can also indicate areas of network
congestion and corrective measures (rerouting or adding resources) can be
accomplished to overcome the challenge.

Invoicing

Invoicing is the process of gathering items to be billed (rated UDRs) that


have occurred over an invoice period, adding additional charges and credits
that are not related to specific calls, and preparing the information (format-
ting) so it may be presented to the customer in a clear way. Invoices may be
delivered by mail or in other formats such as CD-ROM or email.

Processing Payments

Processing payments involves collecting assets to settle the customer’s


invoices. The typical forms of payments that are received from customers
include checks, cash, wire transfer, credits, and credit cards. However, other
payments or credits may be applied to the customers account.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-19-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Recording the payment to the customer’s account is called “posting”. Posting


usually involves using a payment coupon that has an account number on it
and logging the received amount of money to the account. Ideally, the cus-
tomer has provided the payment coupon with the correct amount. In some
cases however, the customer might not have included the payment coupon
or might have paid a different amount than indicated. In this case, posting
of payments may result in errors such as posting to the wrong account or
applying payment new invoices instead of old invoices.

Posting to the Financial System

The billing system records financial details (receivables) for the carrier.
Periodically, summary information is transferred into the General Ledger
(G/L) of the carrier’s accounting system. This summary posting groups dif-
ferent types of billing charges into summary totals to be posted to different
financial accounts. These types of accounts include receivables or expenses,
and each financial account is assigned a unique number (in the financial
chart of accounts). For example, payments received by credit card are usu-
ally categorized differently than payments received by cash and these totals
will be recorded in accounts with different account numbers.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), of which Customer Care may


be a sub-system, is the process of communicating with the customer regard-
ing their establishing accounts, service feature activation, handling cus-
tomer inquiries adjusting accounts for disputes (account management),
technical support, selling additional products and services to the customer
(post sales support), and collection services.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-20-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Account Activation

Account activation is the acquiring and entering information that is


required for the system to provide services to a customer. The account acti-
vation may involve many steps prior to the entry of information to the sys-
tem. Account activation steps may require the customer to complete an
application for service, credit check, and copying of documents that validate
the identity of a new customer (to prevent fraud). Account activation also
involves assigning the customer to specific rate plans for service charges.

Account activation involves informing the network of customer account


information and what services they are authorized to use. This is called pro-
visioning of the network.

Account Management

Account management involves communication with the customer for sales


related and collections activities. Typically, all communication with the cus-
tomer is recorded in various formats such as call records and voice record-
ing.

Account management also involves creating records to track technical prob-


lems the customer may be experiencing with the service. These records of
trouble (often called “trouble tickets”) are routed to technical support. These
trouble tickets remain open so managers can review progress until the prob-
lem is solved.

Account managers may also receive inquiries or billing complaints that


require message investigation. Message investigation reviews billing
records to resolve customer disputes. In some cases, account managers may
be used to assist in the collection of outstanding invoices.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-21-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Billing System Costs

Billing system costs include the initial hardware, software costs of the sys-
tem along with the operational costs such as invoice processing, bill print-
ing and mailing, intermediary clearing house settlement companies, cus-
tomer care (call centers), and collection services.

Hardware and Software

The hardware usually includes high performance computers that operate


proprietary software. Due to the complexity of hardware and software
billing systems, continuous training is required in order to ensure quality
services to the customers and to provide revenue assurance.

Billing Cycles (Batching)

If a company has many customers, they are typically divided into cycles (or
“billing cycles.”) The billing cycles are different for groups of customers.
This allows the billing system to bill only a portion of the customers at a
time.

Bill Printing and Mailing

In most cases, invoice records are sent to a bill printing facility or they may
be sent by email or printed by the customer when the payment is made
online. Bills that are sent to the printer and mailing house usually cost
between $1-$3 per bill. Sending bills by email helps to reduce the cost of
providing the customers with bills and receipts.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-22-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Call Center

A call center is a place where communication occurs between a carrier and


its customers. Call centers assist customers with requests for new service
activation and help with product features and services. A call center usual-
ly has many stations for call center agents that communicate with cus-
tomers. When call agents assist customers, they are typically called cus-
tomer service representatives (CSRs).

Call centers use telephone systems that usually include sophisticated


Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) systems and Computer Telephony
Integration (CTI) systems. ACD systems route the incoming calls to the cor-
rect (qualified) Customer Service Representative (CSR). CTI systems link
the telephone calls to the accounting databases to allow the CSR to see the
account history (usually producing a “screen-pop” of information).

Call center telephone systems can cost over $3,000 per CSR station. The
average telecommunications service provider has 1-2 CSRs for every 10,000
customers. This results in an average customer care call costing $7-$10 per
call.

Figure 1.9 shows a typical call center. This diagram shows that calls may
be received or originated from the call center. The customer traditionally
communicates with the call center by telephone. When a call is received by
a call center, the user is typically provides with a list of options by an auto-
mated interactive voice response (IVR) unit. As the user selects from the list
of options, an ACD system routes the call to a CSR station that is qualified
to assist the customer (e.g. sales agent or technician). When the CSR agent
answers the call, some of the customer’s account information may become
available on the CSR’s computer screen (“screen pop”). The CSR will com-
municate with the customers and should make notes in the customer’s
account regarding the activity that progressed.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-23-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Figure 1.9, Call Center

Collections

Collections are activities that a service provider performs to receive money


from their customers. Ideally, all customers will receive their bills and pay
promptly. Unfortunately, not all customers pay their bills and service
providers must have a progressive collection process in the event customers
do not pay their bill.

When customers are first added to a system, they are “scored” on the prob-
ability that they will pay their bills. Using information on their application
and reviewing the credit history as provided by an independent credit
reporting agency accomplishes this.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-24-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

The collection process for delinquent customers usually starts by sending a


reminder messages to the customer be mail or recorded audio message. If
initial attempts to collect are unsuccessful, more aggressive collection mea-
sures are taken, such as: restricted calling, service disconnection and send-
ing or selling the uncollected invoice to a collection service.

Some carriers automatically re-route all calls made by a delinquent cus-


tomer to a collections operator. This is called “Hot-Lining”. Hot-Lining is
typically used when a telephone is first sold or activated to allow activation
after the customer has provided the information to register for service or
when the customer has not paid their bill.

If all attempts to collect from a customer have failed, a service provider may
write off the uncollected revenue as bad debt, retain a collection agency or
sell the uncollected invoice(s) to a collection service. If the account is writ-
ten off as bad debt, the customer’s information is usually placed in a nega-
tive file to avoid reactivation and their poor payment history is reported to
a credit reporting agency. Various collection companies (collection agencies)
offer collection services that work on a percentage of collected revenue.
Some collection companies will pay for uncollected invoices. When uncol-
lected invoices are sold to collection services, the service provider is usually
prohibited from working with the customer in the future regarding payment
on the account.

Billing Standards

Billing standards define the measurements, record format and the methods
of transfer for billing related information within a network. New services
are being offered by network operation because of deregulation of the
telecommunications industries around the world. As a result, billing stan-
dards are continually being revised and they are converging. Because com-
panies can use different billing standards or different revisions of billing
standards, clearinghouses often provide translation services between differ-
ent billing standard formats.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-25-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Exchange Message Record (EMR)

Exchange Message Record (EMR) is a standard format for the exchange of


messages between telecommunications systems. The EMR format is often
used for billing records. The records may be exchanged by magnetic tape or
by other medium such as electronic transfer or CD ROM.

Automatic Message Accounting (AMA)

Automatic Message Accounting (AMA) is a standard record gathering and


billing format that is used primarily by local telephone companies to process
billing records and exchange records between systems. The AMA format
was created by BellCore and is now managed by Telcordia.

Carrier Inter-exchange Billing Exchange Record (CIBER)

Carrier Inter-Exchange Billing Exchange Record (CIBER) is a billing stan-


dard designed to promote inter-carrier roaming between cellular and other
wireless telephone systems. The CIBER format is developed and main-
tained by CiberNet. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association
(CTIA) owns CiberNet. Figure 1.10 shows some of the information (fields)
contained in a CIBER record.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-26-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Figure 1.10, Ciber Billing Record Structure


Source: The Billing College

Transferred Accounting Procedure (TAP)

Transferred Accounting Procedure (TAP) is a standard billing format that is


primarily used for Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) cellular
and Personal Communications Systems (PCS). There are currently multiple
versions of TAP: TAP II, TAP II+, NAIG TAP II, and TAP 3. Each succes-
sive version of TAP provides for enhanced features.

Due to the global nature of 3G wireless and GSM, the TAP billing standard
provides solutions for multi-lingual and multiple exchange rate issues.
TAP3 was released in 2000 as a significant revision of TAP2. TAP3 has
changed from the fixed record size used in TAP2 to variable record size and
TAP3 offers billing information for many new types of services such as
billing for short messaging and other information services. The GSM asso-
ciation (www.GSMmobile.com) manages the TAP standard.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-27-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Network Data Management – Usage (NDM-U)

The network data management – usage (NDM-U) is a standard messaging


format that allows the recording of usage in a communication network, pri-
marily in Internet networks. The NMD-U defines an Internet Protocol
Detail Record (IPDR) as the standard measurement record.

The IPDR structure is very flexible and new billing attributes (fields) are
being added because Internet services are now offered in almost all commu-
nications systems. The NMD-U standard is managed by the IPDR organi-
zation (www.IPDR.org.)

Interim Standard 124 (IS-124)

The Interim Standard 124 (IS-124) standard allows for the real time trans-
mission of billing records between different systems, primarily between
wireless systems in the Americas. IS-124 messaging is independent of
underlying technology and can be sent over X.25 or SS7 signaling links.

The development of standards is primarily led by CiberNet, a division of the


cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA).

The Future of Billing and Customer Care

Good billing and customer care systems are a key part of the success of a
telecommunications service provider. The key issues for future billing and
customer care systems include offering network services, the ability to cap-
ture customers from the competitor, and cost effective management of cus-
tomers.

Applications Service Providers (ASPs)

An Application Service Provider (ASP) is a company that provides an end


user with privileges to use applications hosted on the ASP’s servers. An

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-28-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

ASP company owns or leases computer hardware and software systems that
allow one or more users to access applications and information services on
its server. ASPs usually have use or have relationships with telecommuni-
cations service providers to offers application services to their (the Telcos’)
customers. Examples of applications services include weather reporting,
stock quotes, and Internet telephony services.

Local Number Portability (LNP)

Local Number Portability provides the ability for customers to keep their
telephone number independent of their local service provider, services sub-
scribed to, and geographic location. This creates a variety of challenges for
billing and customer care, such as the ability to determine whether the ter-
minating number is “ported” and calculating distance-based rates.

There are three key parts to number portability, local carrier portability,
service portability, and geographic portability. Local carrier portability
allows the customer to switch from one local carrier to a competing local car-
rier and keep the same telephone number. Service number portability
allows customers to keep their phone numbers when they change type of
service. For example, a customer could transfer his wired home telephone
service to a mobile wireless telephone service provider who is located in his
local area. Geographic number portability allows the customers to take
their telephone numbers (area code and local exchange number) with them
regardless of their location within the country.

To offer number portability, two numbers are required. The first number, a
Location Routing Number (LRN), identifies the new location, new serving
switch, and type of service of the customer. The second number is the “old”
telephone that the customer is known by to the outside world. When a “port-
ed” customer’s telephone number is dialed, the customer’s LRN is used to
determine the location of the switch that will terminate the call.
Local number portability complicates the billing system’s ability to identify
the customer and apply location-sensitive rates.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-29-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Customer Self-Care

Customer self care is the process of a allowing the customer to review, acti-
vate, or disable services without the direct assistance of a Customer Service
Representative (CSR). Customer self care can be as simple as providing
account billing information to the customer by telephone through the use of
an interactive voice response (IVR) system to providing interactive service
activation menus on an Internet web site.

Although customer self care can increase customer satisfaction (although it


very frequently achieves the opposite!), it is primarily implemented to
reduce the cost of customer care services. Some of the challenges of cus-
tomer self-care include the non-real time nature of billing systems (account
status), limited customer knowledge of key features, services, and available
rate plans.

Figure 1.11 shows that a customer self-care system can be used to review
product or service options, check billing records, and change customer fea-
ture options (called “provisioning”). This diagram shows that the customer
can contact the billing and customer care system via a gateway. The gate-
way may contain Internet web access (for graphic displays) or interactive
voice response (IVR) systems to allow the customer to select their account,
receive billing and customer care information, and possibly change features
and options.

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-30-
Introduction to Telecom Billing

Figure 1.11, Customer Self Care

Copyright ©, 2003, ALTHOS, Inc


-31-