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August 1999


A Quick & Dirty Look At IP Billing

[click here to skip to Services News]
[click here to skip to "Using Session Information To Generate IP Network Billing"]
[click here to skip to "Re-Architecting Inter-domain Settlements For IP"]

BY GREG GALITZINE

As the dog days of summer settle in, a young man’s thoughts turn to…Billing? Well sort of. You see, in our forward-thinking, next-generation world of Internet telephony, one of the most crucial and yet, most overlooked elements of the complete Voice-over-IP (VoIP) solution is billing. In fact, it keeps me up at night. Let’s face it, even if it’s been said a thousand times, the fact remains that if you can’t bill for a service, you don’t get paid; and if you don’t get paid, what’s the point of being in business? And that probably keeps some of you up at night.

As voice and data networks converge, yet another element of difficulty is thrown into the mix. While the established voice carriers have robust and functional billing applications (and a century’s worth of experience in billing their subscribers), next-generation, IP-based service providers still have a ways to catch up on the billing front. As the industry has moved beyond the initial phases of deregulation, and as customers have demanded more and more in the way of bundled services, convergent billing solutions have begun to make more sense — for both service providers and the customers they serve.

ADVANTAGES
Convergent billing solutions, when taken from the perspective that they entail multiple services provided and contained on a single invoice, offer multiple advantages. For the customer, the advantages are straightforward. The convenience of a single, unified bill, a single point of contact relating to matters of customer service, the vast array of new bundled services, and the ability to receive these services from the provider of choice are all among the benefits to consumers.

Service providers also realize benefits such as a complete “view” of the customer (including demographic information — and we all know how much companies love demographic information), lower cost to acquire new streams of revenue, and perhaps most importantly, reduced amounts of customer churn.

SERVICES
Another driving force behind convergent billing is the desire on the part of service providers to create and offer brand-new bundled services — with the ability to bill for them — on the fly. Such provisioning is also very attractive to customers, especially with the added bonus of self-provisioning enabling them to pick and choose the services they want and need, when they want them or need them.

Such on the fly provisioning is crucial to the competitive service providers who seek to differentiate themselves by being the first to market with a particular value-add. As the number of services that a customer subscribes to increases, so conversely does the potential for that customer to churn away decrease. It’s common sense: If as a customer, I subscribe to a half-dozen useful services at a reasonable price, why would I go through the hassle of finding a new service provider with the concomitant hassles associated with that process?

Among the issues faced by today’s next-generation service providers, interfacing with legacy billing systems and indeed legacy networks is right there near the top of the list. And while they attempt to tie in to the legacy systems, they also need to future-proof their new applications. Strategies for this type of future proofing must certainly entail a fair amount of open APIs and hooks so that developers would be able to integrate with the applications and networks of the next generation.

So who’s working on these types of solutions? Who is charged with integrating tomorrow’s applications with the networks of yesterday? Following is a look at just a few of the companies actively involved in defining the future of IP billing.

RODOPI
Rodopi Billing Software recently announced their Rodopi 4.03 billing/management software for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the telecommunications industry. The new version of the product adds a number of new features such as an integrated customer care module, automated provisioning for Domain Name Servers (DNS), integrated knowledge database, billing for VoIP, support for prepaid calling cards, and several other new and improved billing features.

Rodopi Billing Software is a completely Internet-enabled solution. It provides billing, automated provisioning, customer care, and management support. Rodopi runs on Windows NT and takes advantage of Microsoft’s SQL database, making it a scalable solution for medium and large size ISPs, and telecommunications service providers (RBOCs, ILECs, CLECs, etc…) who wish to provide Internet telephony and other IP-related services.

The solution features online subscription, billing, bank reconciliation, customer care, e-mail to customers, online account management, a RADIUS interface, and automated provisioning on a variety of Unix- and NT-based servers. Version 4.03 also supports open interfaces for billing, including the XML interface to allow for easy customization, adoption, and co-existence with legacy systems. For more information, contact Rodopi at 619-558-8522.

KENAN SYSTEMS
In early 1999, Kenan Systems Corporation was acquired by Lucent Technologies  in a deal valued at approximately $1.5 billion. The deal gave Lucent access to Kenan’s technology and customer base, which features a who’s who of communications service providers, including British Telecom, MCI WorldCom, France Telecom, Cegetel, Optus, AT&T Worldnet, GTE Interworking, and others.

Kenan’s Arbor/BP multi-service customer care and billing solution enables service providers of all shapes and sizes to consolidate service charges for wireline and wireless telephony, Internet, broadband, and even energy services on one consolidated bill. One of the greatest benefits of this consolidation is that it allows service providers to promptly bill for bundled services and for new services that can be deployed as fast as the service provider can deploy them. As for scalability, Arbor/BP can support as many as 20 million subscribers and bill as many as 1 billion usage events per month. Several other features offered by Kenan include support for major UNIX servers including Hewlett Packard, Sun, and Compaq; a robust set of application programmer interfaces (APIs); and an HTML self-care client for customer self-provisioning. The product also supports Java.

Most recently, Kenan and Telcordia Technologies , unveiled a cooperative agreement to deliver integrated operations support systems (OSS) and billing solutions for communications service providers of all sizes. The combined offer encompasses Telcordia’s Next Generation Network order management and provisioning services, and Kenan Systems’ Arbor/BP product. The alliance integrates key elements for today’s converging communications technologies in a solution designed to support both circuit- and packet-switched networks. The company can be reached at 1-800-77-KENAN.

MIND CTI
Another emerging player on the Internet telephony billing scene is Mind CTI, and the company has enjoyed some significant recent wins in the converging voice and data space. Just weeks ago, Mind declared Ericsson’s  IP Telephony (IPT) solution and Mind’s iPhonEX Internet Telephony Billing system product family to be interoperable. And, as mentioned before, the ability to integrate billing functionality into Internet telephony platforms is of extreme importance to provisioning and deploying value-added services. The company has also made some announcements with communications solutions providers such as ADC Telecommunications, Ascend (now a Lucent company), Cisco, and NetSpeak.

The thread tying together all of these announcements is Mind’s iPhonEX, a Windows NT-based billing and customer care system, designed to provide ITSPs, telcos, and other service providers with a comprehensive billing and analysis solution for Internet telephony and Internet fax services. iPhonEX features real-time cut-off of calls when call limit is reached, creation and management of prepaid calling cards, individualized customer rate tables, and flexible fax charge options by page, duration, or priority (both real time or store and forward). iPhonEX also provides monitoring of the load on each gateway and line and keeping track of excessive use, including fraud alarms. For more information on Mind CTI, call 201-569-6967.

PORTAL SOFTWARE
Portal Software is also no stranger to interoperability and significant alliances in the budding Internet telephony industry. They recently announced that their Infranet IPT Customer Management and Billing System fully interoperates with Cisco’s AS5300/Voice Gateway and AccessPath-VS3/Voice Gateway. The VoIP solution, based on Cisco Open Packet Telephony (OPT), is designed to enable service providers to access new revenue streams from new and enhanced IP-based services.

Portal’s Infranet IPT is a scalable platform for real-time service creation and management of Internet telephony services. The product provides a variety of competitive features critical to service providers offering prepaid calling and other enhanced services. These features include real-time authentication, authorization to help detect fraud, support for multiple currencies and multiple languages, zone-based rating management, customizable calling card and PIN creation, group calling cards, disposable cards, replenishable prepaid accounts, IP fax, and dial-up VPN.

Put simply, Infranet unifies the management of core Internet business operations including the ability to register, track, manage, and bill subscribers, and provides a platform for Internet telephony service creation and management.

Portal also recently announced that Hewlett-Packard has selected Portal as a partner for customer management and billing software for its new Commerce for the Millennium solution, a hosted e-commerce solution that enables service providers to offer e-services for electronic commerce to small and medium businesses. A key component in HP’s new solution, Portal’s software will provide merchant self-provisioning functions that enable service providers to quickly deploy multiple e-commerce sites and begin generating revenue. Feel free to contact Portal at 408-343-4400.

CONCLUSION
There are, of course, a number of other companies providing IP billing solutions, and in fact we ran a listing of 27 such companies in last month’s issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY. I urge the reader to do their research thoroughly, before committing themselves to any one vendor. Study the options, note the differences between the solutions, and make sure that the solution you purchase is a logical fit for your company’s needs.

I further urge you to take a look at the accompanying sidebars, entitled “Using Session Information to Generate IP Billing” and “Re-Architecting Inter-Domain Settlements for IP” for some insights into some of the other issues surrounding billing in an IP world. And keep an eye out for continuing coverage of this increasingly important topic in future issues of this magazine — maybe it will help you sleep better.


Services News

Open Port, Sun Collaborate on IP Messaging
Open Port Technology and Sun Microsystems have announced that they are teaming to deliver IP fax and unified messaging to service providers worldwide. The solution combines Open Port?s recently announced IP LaunchPad Internet services creation platform, IP LaunchPad Fax Suite, and IP LaunchPad Voice Suite with Sun-Netscape Alliance messaging server software and Java technology. The solution runs on Sun's scalable Enterprise servers and Netra carrier-grade servers powered by the Solaris operating environment for SPARC platforms.
No. 540, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Portal Software Announces Infranet FreeServ
Portal Software has announced InfraNet FreeServ, a solution delivering customer management capabilities to providers of free Internet-based services that do not require billing functionality. Infranet FreeServ provides the core customer management features needed to support a free Internet service environment, including the ability to register customers, collect and trace demographic profile information, and authenticate, authorize, and trace service usage. With Infranet FreeServ, providers also have the flexibility to seamlessly upgrade their solution at any time if they decide to offer a combination of free and fee-based, value-added services.
No. 541, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Vsys, Motorola Provide Carrier-Grade Solutions
Vsys has entered into an OEM agreement with Motorola’s Internet and Networking Group to deliver integrated, advanced voice-over-IP (VoIP) solutions for emerging and incumbent telecommunications carriers. Vsys’s intelligent software switch solution, partnered with Motorola’s advanced packet voice technology, provides a true carrier-grade platform for introduction of enhanced services and intelligent applications. This solution is designed to be protocol-agnostic on the network side as well as at the application interface layer.
No. 542, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Intellicall Features Low-Cost Prepaid Platform
Intellical has announced the new entry-level version of its N-GENIUS Network Switching Platform. The new N-GENIUS configuration has a base price of $99,000 and is an option for companies eyeing the prepaid arena. The smaller-scale N-GENIUS provides complete application functionality for prepaid card services. The platform is scalable from 72 ports to over 4,000, easily accommodating business growth. The N-GENIUS provides hot-swappable T1 interfaces, a powerful, real-time rating engine, and uses an integrated account management system that approves or denies callers’ transactions after card verification, avoiding fraud and free calls.
No. 543, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

PulsePoint Intros Next-Gen Messaging
PulsePoint Communications, which was recently acquired by Unisys, announced a new generation of the PulsePoint Messaging Application, its flagship application running on the PulsePoint Enhanced Application Platform (EAP). Designed to support SOHO, medium businesses, and mobile phone customers, the PulsePoint Messaging Application delivers the full range of features required by business customers. When combined with its recently announced PulsePoint eap.1000 and PulsePoint eap.2000 platform solutions, the PulsePoint Messag-ing Application delivers next-gen messaging solutions.
No. 544, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Motorola, Cisco Jointly Purchase Bosch Telecom Unit
Motorola and Cisco have announced an agreement to jointly purchase the fixed wireless assets of Bosch Telecom. Bosch Telecom is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Robert Bosch Corporation. In purchasing Bosch Telecom, Cisco and Motorola will create a jointly owned company called SpectraPoint Wireless, which will focus on delivering high-speed data, voice, and video capabilities to businesses over a fixed wireless infrastructure call Local Multipoint Distribution Services (LMDS). LMDS is a last mile technology that replaces the need for wired phone and cable lines.
No. 545, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Linx Launches Universal Number Service
Linx Communications has announced the availability of its Universal Number service throughout the New York Metropolitan area, expanding Linx’s local reach in the Northeast. Linx Universal Number provides business professionals with a single, local phone number that integrates voice, messaging, and fax communication. When a caller dials a user’s Universal Number the system rings up to three specified numbers simultaneously and announces the caller. The user can choose to take the call, send it to voice mail, or even transfer the call to a colleague.
No. 546, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

TimePlex Targets ESPs
The TimePlex Group has announced that it will market its Network Assurance offering to carriers and emerging service providers (ESPs) worldwide. The Network Assurance offering is based on a combination of expertise and technology that enables service providers to develop their business while TimePlex builds and operates their networks. The TimePlex Network Assurance offering includes network modeling, design, deployment, and maintenance; TimePlex SYNCHRONY family of access and gateway products; ATM core switching platform; multivendor network management operations; and 24-hour multilingual help desk support.
No. 547, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Open Port Announces IP LaunchPad Voice Suite
Open Port Technology announced the IP LaunchPad Voice Suite for the IP LaunchPad Internet services creation platform. The suite includes a number of applications such as voice mail bridging, offering interoperability of leading voice mail systems; IP-enhanced voice mail, offering the ability to integrate voice mail with other messaging such as e-mail and fax; and certified voice mail, the e-mail equivalent to phone mail. IP LaunchPad Voice Suite is a family of voice-over-IP (VoIP) applications that allow service providers to offer new cost and timesaving services to their subscribers.
No. 548, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Telcordia Provides Integration Services For GTE
GTE has unveiled a carrier-grade, IP-based unified messaging service available for wholesale to the U.S. service provider market. Telcordia Technologies (formerly Bellcore) served as the strategic consultant for the GTE offering, integrating components from eight hardware and software suppliers to create a comprehensive unified messaging solution. The solution Telcordia helped GTE develop is a scalable, protocol-driven, standards-based architecture deployed over GTE’s own high-speed IP network.
No. 549, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Lucent Intros Full Circle
Lucent Technologies has announced Lucent Full Circle, a program for software and Web developers that will unleash the capabilities of broadband networks by making it easier to quickly develop new services such as personal assistants, multimedia e-commerce, and broadcast-quality video for service provider networks. Lucent Full Circle encompasses a range of elements including several software platforms upon which developers will be able to create new broadband services. It also includes software development training, marketing support, and testing of new applications
No. 550, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

General Magic Enhances Portico
General Magic has unveiled a new set of features for its Portico virtual assistant service. The new capabilities include a customizable welcome greeting, which allows the Portico subscriber to personalize what callers hear when they reach the subscriber’s Portico toll- free number; inbound fax receipt, which makes the subscriber’s Portico number also serve as a fax number; and selectable caller screening questions, which allow the Portico subscriber to customize what callers experience when they first reach Portico. General Magic also disclosed plans for additional Portico features to be rolled out in the coming months. These enhancements include phone and e-mail-based notification.
No. 551, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

3Com Intros FoIP Unified Fax-E-Mail
3Com has introduced its carrier-class store-and-forward fax-over-IP (FoIP) and integrated fax-e-mail messaging capabilities for the 3Com Total Control multiservice access platform. FoIP with the unified fax-e-mail inbox enables service providers to deploy IP-based enhanced fax services such as desktop faxing, low-cost fax delivery, fax outsourcing, fax broadcast, fax clearinghouse, and Web fax. The Total Control FoIP solution was co-developed by 3Com and LANSource Technologies, using the ITU/IETF T.37 standard for store-and-forward FoIP.
No. 552, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Edutek Uses e-Net In Wireless Voice Over Data Network
e-Net has announced that Edutek Education Solutions has awarded it a contract with an initial value of approximately $2.1 million to supply the VoIP technology necessary to create a wireless local area network (WLAN) product that will allow telephone voice communications in addition to the data that such systems carry. The first market targeted for the product is local educational systems to which Edutek is a leading provider of technology. Concord Telecommunications will provide value-added telecommunications design and installation services as a part of this effort. The initial order is expected to represent revenues over the next 12 months.
No. 553, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Priority Call Commits To Open Standards For ORYX
Priority Call Management has announced a new open architecture for their ORYX platform, which will support emerging open standards. Priority Call will use the new architecture to design services with transparent synergy among legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), Intelligent Network (IN) elements, and New World IP-centric carrier infrastructures. Priority Call’s ORYX platform will communicate with Media Gateway Controllers, Proxy Server, and Media Gateways to set up, tear down, and manage voice and data calls in the IP network.
No. 554, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Magellan Intros Mariner
Magellan Network Systems has introduced an enhanced telecom services system that fully integrates customizable enhanced voice services, telco-class programmable voice switches, and true real-time billing and fraud control applications. Based on open standards, the Mariner system will enable CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers) and other “new world” service providers to develop and deploy a wide variety of differentiated services over the PSTN, VoIP networks, or hybrid PSTN/IP networks.
No. 555, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Amplify.net Debuts “Back Office” Software Suite
Amplify.net has announced three new products that enable integration of front-end bandwidth provisioning with robust back office service management capability. iSurfSplitter and iSurfRanger.ec will join the company’s other flagship product, the iSurfRanger in the iSurfFamily of end-to-end IP bandwidth service management solutions. The newly introduced iSurfBOSS is the company’s “back end” software suite. The iSurfFamily is designed for IP bandwidth service providers, from telecommunications carriers and competitive local carriers (CLECs), to Internet service providers (ISPs) and corporate enterprises.
No. 556, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Level 3, broadcast.com Announce Broadband Delivery Agreement
Level 3 Communications and broadcast.com have jointly announced a strategic five-year agreement that provides broadcast.com access to bandwidth at favorable pricing. Under the terms of the agreement, broadcast.com will use Level 3’s international IP network to deliver its audio and video content to mass, scalable audiences at reduced fees. In addition, Level 3 will use broadcast.com as its exclusive provider of turnkey Internet broadcasting solutions of live and on-demand corporate communications for Level 3 and its customers.
No. 557, www.itmag.com/freeinfo


Using Session Information To Generate IP Network Billing

BY ANIL UBEROIi

The IP networking market is changing so fast that it can be difficult to keep up. Not so long ago, the terms IP network and Internet access were all but synonymous. The typical ISP customer paid a flat fee of about $20 a month to gain unlimited access to the Internet. Service was uneven at best, since ISPs offered only “best effort” service with no quality of service (QoS) guarantees or service level agreements (SLAs). This pricing and service model is really only profitable for billing customers who use low-speed modems for asymmetric applications, such as e-mail, online chat, and downloading fairly simple Web pages, where the bulk of the transmission is downstream to the user.

Today, use of the Web is exploding, and more and more people are using the Internet for bandwidth-intensive business applications such as voice over IP (VoIP), video conferencing, Web hosting, and electronic commerce. These new services are symmetric — bandwidths upstream and downstream are equal — and use substantially more resources than earlier Internet applications. An hour of high-quality, 24-frames-per-second, IP video conferencing, for example, can cost a carrier 100 times more than an hour of e-mails or Web surfing, and require a far higher level of network performance. Businesses can not afford to have such applications degraded or interrupted because the network is congested or the ISP’s router has failed.

CHARGING FOR USE AND VALUE
At $20 a month, ISPs can not make a profit on these resource-intensive applications. Instead, they need to charge customers for actual network use and service value, based on detailed information about IP sessions. Such a usage-based billing model is similar to that traditionally employed by carriers, which offer a variety of services, and bill users for them based on a number of parameters such as time of day, day of week, and distance and duration of call. Carriers use sophisticated business support systems (BSS) such as customer care and billing (CCB) to collect usage information from their network infrastructure and generate itemized phone bills.

If ISPs are to make money on the new bandwidth-intensive IP networking services, they need to generate an IP equivalent to the itemized phone bill. The problem is, this requires detailed information about IP sessions, and although data networks generate vast amounts of information about IP sessions, until recently, it has not been available in usable format. Indeed, one of the major challenges to creating usage-based bills has been the lack of standards for IP session data. With no industry-wide consensus on performance metrics, there is no way for customers to know the level of quality and service they are receiving. While standards organizations are now trying to develop parameters for service provisioning, session-based accounting, and network metering, no one standard or group of standards has emerged as a clear leader.

This situation is now changing, thanks to the emergence of IP metering and mediation systems that are able to collect and use actual IP session information such as type of application, time of day, QoS, user identification, and more, from all elements in the network, regardless of the data format. These systems use IP session information not only to help generate accurate, usage-based, itemized bills, but also to create innovative, flexible pricing models, and to quickly develop and offer a broad range of new network services.

SOURCES OF IP SESSION INFORMATION
IP metering and mediation systems collect IP session information from all network elements that are involved either in transporting network sessions, or in providing information about the parameters of the network session. These elements include routers, switching hubs, firewalls, Web servers, proxies, multicast servers, name and directory servers, and more, all of which have logs or mechanisms that record the traffic that flows through them. The systems also collect information from all layers of the network, from the physical layer to the application layer.

Ideally, an IP metering and mediation system has a seamless two-way interface between the IP network infrastructure and the CCB system. It not only provides billable data to the CCB, but also enables the CCB to communicate with the IP network infrastructure. Carriers and ISPs thus can automate service provisioning by using the IP mediation system to pass service activation, authentication, and authorization information between the customer management system and the network elements. This two-way capability also allows carriers and ISPs to offer pre-payment contracts and differentiated service levels for QoS, security, and accountability.

The multi-source, multi-layered approach that IP metering and mediation systems take to gathering IP session information and creating SDRs enables ISPs for the first time to “right price” their services based on actual network utilization. This capability has the power to completely change the economics of the Internet. Suddenly, ISPs have the economic incentive to invest in creating powerful new services or offer QoS guarantees, because they know they can charge for them appropriately. And customers are willing to pay a premium for services when they are backed up by detailed, accurate bills. c

Anil Uberoi is vice president of marketing for XACCT Technolo-gies, Inc. XACCT develops software solutions that enable Network Service Providers (NSPs) to bill for value-added IP-based applications, profitably. For more information, visit XACCT’s Web site at www.xacct.com.


Re-Architecting Inter-domain Settlements For IP

BY PHILIP MUTOONI

Internet traffic continues to grow in dominance within global service provider networks. Accompanying this growth is the increasing number of data types relying on IP as the bearer service. Rolling out enhanced IP services such as fax, telephony, video, and conferencing will continue to require more stringent end-to-end network requirements for QoS on metrics such as latency and packet loss within one network domain, as well as across multiple domains. Acknowledging this challenge is the industry’s primary motivation for the next generation of emerging, carrier class, IP-based settlements solutions.

In the traditional PSTN environment, the settlement model consists of the formation of bilateral agreements between carriers that exchange traffic. In this case, when inter-domain traffic flows occur, accounting records are compared and reconciliation is done periodically, varying from monthly to quarterly to, in some cases, annually. In the ISP environment, the settlement model consists of a “sender-keep-all model” whereby, traffic is primarily uni-directional, and the upstream service provider — generally the content owner — gets to keep the bulk of the revenues. The “reconciliation” frequency here is generally on a monthly basis.

Clearly, the PSTN bilateral settlement model could be used in the new packet-switched world. However, given the inherent multi-service, multi-provider nature of IP-based communications, the unscalable nature of a one-to-one bilateral approach makes it a non-pragmatic approach. In a network with N providers, each provider would need to have a bilateral agreement with every other carrier resulting in (N2–N)/2 relations formed per carrier. Global VoIP carriers are looking at clearinghouse models to solve this inter-domain billing problem. At a basic level, a clearinghouse reduces the number of billing relationships from order N2 to N, because ITSPs form bilateral relationships with the global carrier. In this way, the carrier assumes the burden of negotiating multiple bilateral agreements with its ITSP partners.

THE iNOW! INITIATIVE: A POINT SOLUTION
One clearinghouse approach is to facilitate settlements in conjunction with inter-gateway/gatekeeper interoperability. The iNOW! (interoperability NOW!) profile drives Annex G of the H.323 protocol, and bundles gatekeeper/clearinghouse interoperability with session-level interoperability. However, as an H.323-based settlements protocol, iNOW! has significant drawbacks:

  • It does not scale beyond one clearinghouse, making true inter-domain billing unachievable.
  • It is tied to H.323, and consequently, limited to settlements on H.323-based services. With the emergence of the session initiation protocol (SIP) and media gateway control protocol (MGCP), a scalable solution requires a protocol-independent settlement mechanism.
  • It requires gatekeeper-routed call signaling and H.323, v2 fast setup. In a network without gatekeepers (or gatekeepers that use H.323, v2), inter-domain billing is not possible.

OSP: A STANDARDS-BASED, SCALABLE SOLUTION
Given the inadequacies of the iNOW! initiative, and the absence of a broader solution to the inter-domain billing problem, the industry has set out to develop a robust, carrier-class, standards-based settlement architecture: Open Settlement Protocol (OSP). OSP (Figure 1) is a standard led by ETSI/TIPHON’s Working Group 3 that broadly enables settlements between ITSPs that are members of a clearinghouse, as well as allows true inter-domain billing for any QoS-based, IP-based service.

Figure 1
billing.GIF (44194 bytes)

The OSP implementation involves a dedicated settlement server — an OSP server — to perform inter-domain authentication, authorization, and reconciliation. And unlike iNOW!, OSP inherently supports a multi-service, multi-provider environment typical in an IP-centric world.

OSP OVERVIEW
At a high level, a call traversing multiple networks will consist of several network transactions made up of various messaging elements. At its core, OSP uses HTTP, SSL (or TLS), TCP, and IP for the messaging required in its transactions, which contrasts with the UDP-based iNOW! implementation. The typical XoIP call (where “X” is any QoS-based IP application), once originated, requires authentication, authorization, rating, and accounting. In OSP, the following key transactions occur when a call is initiated, prior to its completion:

  • Authentication: Once it is determined that the call will be terminated outside the originating network (from the dialed destination digits), the caller must first be authenticated to use the terminating network’s facilities.
  • Authorization: The settlement server needs to ascertain whether the call can be terminated on a peer network where a settlement relationship has been established. A set of possible terminating endpoints are then provided by the server, and a token sent to a specified chosen target terminating endpoint.
  • Pricing: Basic call rating information needs to be communicated, and may be established beforehand through pre-rating. In cases where a guaranteed level of QoS is required, it can also be negotiated.
  • Usage: A record detailing the service is utilized, including relevant session information like time stamps, endpoint IP addresses, caller ID information, and if necessary, level of QoS and protocol are sent to the settlement server for reconciliation.

MULTI-SERVICE IP SETTLEMENTS
Aside from VoIP, settlements are required at interconnection points for a wide range of value-added IP services such as multicast and conferencing. Generally, any XoIP service requiring a guaranteed level of QoS and electronic commerce— in which the problem revolves around the settlement of content — broadly defines the requirement boundaries of what a necessary and sufficient settlement solution should meet.

In the OSP framework, voice, and indeed any XoIP or e-commerce service, may be viewed as additional forms of content, which enable the service provider to extend settlements beyond voice into services such as gaming, and traditional Web content. This inherent service-neutral settlement approach is the single critical success factor that OSP brings to the table. OSP represents a significant leap forward to help global IP providers meet the challenge of offering a scalable and sustainable settlement infrastructure that is tied to layer 7 operability, rather than layer 3 interoperability.

Philip Mutooni is a product manager for VIP Calling, Inc. VIP Calling provides reliable, quality, IP telephony service to telecommunication carriers around the globe. The company has deployed The VIP Calling Network, a network of high-capacity POPs strategically located across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at www.vipcalling.com.







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