On-device billing, anyone?

Tony Poulos/TM Forum
Ten years ago I was a firm believer and early proponent of centralized online billing via an application service provider (ASP). With two colleagues and a small team of dedicated professionals sharing the same vision, Copernicus Global Billing emerged from the heady dot-com boom days only to die a premature death in the bust that soon followed.
 
The whole concept, now referred to as a cloud service, was revolutionary then. The idea of having a single billing infrastructure that could be partitioned and “rented out” as a white label service to anyone wanting to sell or resell communications services was sound, even when internet links left a lot to be desired.
 
Today, billing as a service (BaaS) is seeing a revival and even Tier 1 players are making the move to cloud-based online charging and billing systems as part of their transformation process. Leading billing vendors have adapted their software to run on virtualized environments, and operators with multiple properties spanning international boundaries are toying with using them to manage charging and billing activities almost anywhere.
 
We now find online charging systems (OCS) being used for all real-time pricing and balance management and billing systems being used primarily for post-paid invoice management. Let me clarify that my definition of each may not be shared by all, but having an engine that calculates a value is one thing; having another that collates those charges and applies them to an account balance and produces invoices and statements is another. In some cases, both functions are done on the same platform. But what’s next?
 
Five years ago I became besotted with the idea that billing could be decentralized from servers to the handset. At the time smartphones were emerging as powerful processing stations. I wrote a paper on the possibility of downloading an app to any mobile device that could perform basic rating of data, voice or any other service on the handset itself and provide the user with a running total of transactions and balances – whether pre- or post-paid. I saw this as the ultimate form of virtualization or processing distribution, but there were many reasons it would not be easy to do at the time. Managing multiple handset operating systems was one; preventing hacking and fraudulent use were others.
 

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