We’ve speculated on more than one occasion that all billing ultimately will move to real time. It makes sense when you consider factors like pre-paid/post-paid convergence; increasing demand for account and spend controls; more on-demand services that utilize real-time triggers and transaction capabilities; and expanding applications for real-time notification. While from a certain perspective the shift from traditional billing architectures to any new architecture can be painful, there is undoubtedly significant upside to be derived from the evolution to a real-time billing environment.
Real-time billing has existed in the prepaid market for quite a while. More recently, mobile data has driven more real-time requirements because of the risks associated with failing to measure, notify, and charge for data services as they are consumed at an accelerating rate. Standards like IMS and 3GPP have also introduced more real-time concepts as policy control, enforcement, and charging become essential to delivering application-based services that respond immediately to taps on a touch screen.
While these are telecom-centric examples, we have to remember in the telecom industry to stick our heads up and look around more often. Remember that our customers, whether they are consumer or business users by our own definitions, are influenced by the service experiences they receive from providers outside of telecom. If we look at what’s happening in the online, over-the-top, e-commerce, and pay TV environments, we see that the successful players are using communications technology to drive group-oriented social interactions that translate into more revenue and more lasting relationships.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that if I’ve built up a heck of a lot of credits in a game, or rewards points from jumping through the right hoops, I’m starting to be able to share them with – or gift them to – my friends and family members. It means that instead of asking my buddies to fill out a referral form or remember my arcane customer ID when they subscribe to a new pay TV service, they can do something simpler, like serve up my Twitter handle so we both get rewarded. It also means I can buy a friend a drink; send my cousin a micro-loan; gift some video-on-demand coupons; or use my miles to fly my brother to Las Vegas for a weekend. And I’m starting to be able to do all of that through my mobile phone. So why doesn’t my operator allow me to do the same kinds of things with my mobile services?
Ultimately, this is the upside of moving to a real-time environment. Telecom providers will not be constrained from rolling out many variations on these social themes and using their incredible technical, marketing, and partnership power to make them even more valuable.
Want to send the rest of your data allotment to your girlfriend right at the end of the month so she can download that new movie she wants to see? Real time is your cupid’s arrow.
Want to meet up with friends to catch a ball game at a local venue? Group text, real-time notification, group share of rewards points, and group payments – all executed through real-time infrastructure.
Want to get all of your neighbors in on a “while supplies last” reserve wine promotion and throw a summer block party? Real-time can do everything but pull the corks.
Want to get paid in points, miles, or cash for those 900 of 1000 Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram friends you only kind-of know, but who take up a travel offer because you recommended it? Real-time is friend 1001.
These are all somewhat forward looking examples, but they speak to the types of user behavior and marketing tactics we see emerging across all of the industries that are now experimenting with broadband, mobile, and socially-driven marketing. Most of them are flowing right over telecom networks and devices, but none of them have the ability to aggregate, centralize, and enhance the user experience the way that telecom providers do. The move to real-time ultimately can enable telecom operators to leverage their market position best and capitalize on the usage patterns other industries are investing heavily in getting telecom’s customers to adopt. For once, telecom can ride someone else’s waves. And, if you will excuse the hyperbolic metaphor, real-time gives them the surf board and the tow-in to do it.