Ready for the IoT? Better let Billing know

Alex Leslie and Tony Poulos/DisruptiveView
10 Sep 2015

As featured in DisruptiveViews

The battle for dominance in the IoT is hotting up. Last week, Google launched its innocent sounding Wi-Fi home hub. As many pointed out, faster than lab download speeds, it is clearly a play to seamlessly control the entire home environment. The operators, we thought, were being pushed aside in the lucrative home environment.

Meanwhile, a company called Sigfox has designed a network specifically to support the IoT, with low power monitors, long battery life and at significantly cheaper prices.

Investors include NTT and Telefonica, and we thought – once again – that operators had been bypassed on the highway to IoT success.

Then the GSMA announced that 26 leading operators, OEM and chip manufacturers have backed a collaborative project for a low power, wide area solution (LPWA), designed to support the “normal” IoT applications that need monitors to last a long time, sleep for much of that time, and are cheap to deploy and maintain. It would be fair to say, given the caveat that operators who do things by committee are rarely successful, that operators are at least keeping up with the competition. Commercial roll out of LPWA solutions will begin in 2016.

Operators are also preparing at the core network level. An interview with Tim Whitley, BT’s managing director of research and innovation, demonstrates that BT too is ready for the onslaught. Although he’s keeping an eye on the advent of video and graphics traffic, and having demonstrated an eye watering 3 Tbps over an optical network, Whitley sees most IoT traffic as low bandwidth traffic. He believes that the demands on the network, which are minimal now, will only become a challenge for operators when video and graphics become involved.

It seems that operators are in a good position to address the IoT – at least network-wise.

But someone should tell the guys in Billing.

It is an industry joke (albeit not a very funny one) that the guys in Billing are the last ones to know. Anything. There were the tales of Billing discovering that their company had launched a new product because they saw an advert for it on the bus on the way to work. Sometimes they were able to bill for it, sometimes not. The legendary MCI bundle “Friends and Family” had to be launched with reduced numbers of customers that could be chosen, because the billing system simply could not cope. Having announced it, and been told by Billing that the vision was not possible, the lights were on 24 hours a day in the Billing department.

So, once again, Billing seems to be waiting for instructions, or at least a meeting. In recent Billing and Revenue Management meetings, no billing executives had been asked whether they could bill for M2M or the IoT. It is on the agenda of the next ETIS BRM meeting because we know that soon a conversation along the following lines will take place:

“So, ah, this IoT business. We’re OK to bill for that, right?”

Hopefully, if we get the discussion properly focused now (to date, it has been a little too conceptual) the end of the conversation will be “of course, we’re ready to go. By the way, we have been discussing some innovations that we’d like to run by you.”

With the IoT, like many innovations before it, Billing is in danger of being the last to know. Yet Billing is there to support new business models, not thwart them.

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