Mobile Service providers & WiFi -- Who Does The Billing?
BY DARREN McKINNEY
Recently, Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) has become a hot topic among Mobile
Service Providers (SPs). WiFi is both a competing and complementary
technology to 2.5G/3G networks. Compared to 3G networks, WiFi technology is
relatively cheap, offers fast connectivity, and works today. As WiFi grows
in popularity, mobile SPs are evaluating its potential fit within their
network strategy in conjunction with the continuing move toward a 2.5G/3G
A key challenge for mobile SPs offering WiFi services is their ability to
bill for this usage together with usage over their 2G/2.5G/3G networks. In
addition to providing consolidated billing for subscribers, challenges
remain including information and revenue settlement with WiFi partners (many
mobile SPs are looking at partnering with WiFi network and service
providers). Providing consolidated billing, revenue, and information
settlement can be a key inhibitor to a hybrid WiFi and 2G/2.5G/3G network
Why is WiFi Important to Mobile SPs?
By integrating WiFi and 2.5G/3G technologies, mobile SPs are able to
provide their customers with broadband data access today. Mobile data access
is typically required in two scenarios:
- A person who is traveling at a high speed (e.g., in a car or train); or
- A person who is relatively stationary, but does not have access to a wired
network (e.g., in an airport lounge or cafe).
The rollout of 2.5G/3G networks allows mobile SPs to provide data access
in both scenarios; however, WiFi typically offers advantages (available
today, speed, price) for mobile data access when a person is relatively
stationary and in a high-density area.
The combination of WiFi and 2.5G/3G technologies enables mobile SPs to offer
their subscribers cost effective bandwidth (via WiFi) for relatively
stationary data access and broad coverage (via 2.5G/3G) for mobile data
access. It is clear that the combination of WiFi and 2.5G/3G networks makes
a compelling offering for the market. Bundling of WiFi and 2.5G/3G is likely
to be a key differentiator for leading mobile SPs.
Recognizing the need for superior customer relationships in the move to
up-sell existing subscribers and secure new ones, mobile SPs are hoping to
leverage their existing Operational Support Systems (OSS) and Business
Support Systems (BSS) for the deployment of an integrated WiFi/2.5G/3G
network. The alternative is not ï¿½owningï¿½ the customer with respect to WiFi
access, thus potentially diluting customer relationships for mobile data
services and increasing risk of churn.
Who Does the Billing?
Within the WiFi ecosystem, there are several business models that dictate
what party maintains the customer and billing relationship. WiFi business
models typically involve partnering and as a result require information and
revenue settlement. Four common WiFi business models include:
WiFi Micro-Carriers set up their own access points and maintain the customer
and billing relationship with subscribers. Starbucks is an example of a WiFi
micro-carrier ï¿½ many of the Starbucks coffee houses across North America are
outfitted with WiFi access points, allowing patrons to wirelessly surf the
Web while sipping their favorite Starbucks blend.
- MVNO; and
- Mobile Service Providers (SPs).
WiFi Aggregators establish relationships with several micro-carriers and
create a far-reaching network woven together providing seamless access
across all the micro-carriersï¿½ networks while maintaining the customer and
billing relationship with subscribers.
Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). It is likely virtual WiFi providers
will emerge utilizing a well-known brand (e.g., an airline) while
maintaining the customer and billing relationship with subscribers.
Mobile SPs can roll out their own WiFi network and/or partnering with
micro-carriers/aggregators while maintaining the customer and billing
relationship with subscribers.
Mobile service providers are in a unique position considering they are
typically the only ï¿½playerï¿½ in the WiFi environment that has the required
OSS and BSS infrastructure required to support the customer and billing
relationships that are central to these business models. As such, mobile SPs
have a competitive advantage with respect to obtaining and maintaining
customer ownership for WiFi services.
OSS applications and processes enable mobile SPs to manage their networks
(e.g., provisioning, resource management, etc.). BSS applications and
processes enable mobile SPs to manage their relationships with customers and
partners (e.g., customer care, billing, partner management, etc). The OSS/BSS
requirements for a mobile SP to support the customer and billing
relationships in a WiFi environment fall into four categories: CRM, Ordering
and Fulfillment, Partner Management, and Billing.
Communications specific CRM applications and processes must support the
sales and marketing, analytic, and service and support functions necessary
to sell to and service subscribers for WiFi services. Communications
specific Ordering and Fulfillment applications and processes must support
the product management, order management, and provisioning functions
necessary to create and manage WiFi services. Communications specific
Partner Management applications and processes must support the business
model management, and the carrier (e.g., WiFi micro-carriers) partner
management necessary to support WiFi partnerships, including information and
revenue settlements. Communications specific Billing applications and
processes must support the mediation, rating, billing, and assurance
functions necessary to bill and collect revenues for WiFi services.
These four categories of OSS/BSS applications and processes will require the
scalability and performance necessary to support not only services over
2G/2.5G/3G networks, but also the incremental subscribers and usage
associated with services offered over WiFi networks. In addition to
communications specific functionality, scalability, and performance, support
for the MVNO model will provide Mobile SPs with the opportunity to reach new
markets via brand channels. MVNO functionality requires support for distinct
branding within CRM, Ordering and Fulfillment, Partner Management, and
Darren McKinney is director of product marketing at Amdocs. Amdocs
provides information solutions to the leaders of the communications and IP
industry worldwide, offering CRM, billing and order management systems for
communications providers, and business support systems for directory
publishing companies. For more information please visit
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