TCA uses an industry standard framework to help operators identify what they want to achieve with convergence and provides a structure to accomplish these goals. Critically, it is a flexible model which recognises that every operator has different issues to address and a one-size-fits-all approach simply cannot work.
From Concept to Reality
The concept of prepaid-postpaid convergence is nothing new. The billing community has been discussing it for the best part of a decade and the inefficiencies involved in maintaining separate system stacks for prepaid and postpaid subscribers are widely accepted.
Unfortunately, in practical terms, the desired convergence of these systems has been dogged by years of hype and false starts – primarily due to the absence of a coherent infrastructure or methodology on which solutions could be built.
As the industry moves slowly but surely towards NGN and IMS, a fundamental change is happening to back office systems in order to support the next generation of telecoms services. The clear separation of network transport from applications and services is leading to a layered model with common functions shared by multiple services.
Telecom Application Map
To understand how this new ‘horizontal’ architecture can be applied to prepaid-postpaid convergence, BSS and OSS applications need to be aligned using a common set of terminology and functional mapping. The TM Forum Telecom Application Map (TAM) provides an ideal functional model within which the challenges of prepaid-postpaid convergence can be clearly expressed.
Using the TAM, a new model can be derived that describes the functional building blocks required to deliver a complete prepaid-postpaid convergent solution. This new framework – Total Convergence Architecture (TCA) – is a blueprint that Cerillion has developed to enable operators to deal with the challenges involved in achieving total convergence.
Each layer in this architectural framework has a set of functions which need to be addressed in order to achieve convergence. However the keynote is flexibility.
Operators do not need to implement the complete model to achieve their required level of convergence. Every business situation is different and TCA provides a framework within which a variety of approaches can be followed.
Across the Different Levels
Convergence at the market/sales level can be achieved relatively easily from an external viewpoint. It is possible to promote broadly the same set of products and services to both prepaid and postpaid markets without actually converging the BSS and OSS.
However this requires replication of products, tariffs, discounts and rating rules between system stacks, which can slow time-to-market as configuration and testing effort is duplicated. It will also restrict flexibility of the product and services that can be offered by limiting to the ‘lowest common denominator’ so only features or tariff models supported on both systems can be offered to the market.
Convergence at the product level can deliver benefits in terms of how products and services are packaged.
However it is also the hardest to achieve in isolation, as it requires the underlying offline and online rating engines to be decoupled from how products and tariffs are defined.
At the customer level, moving customer care and self-care onto a unified platform enables a common level of service to be delivered to all customers, irrespective of how they choose to pay. The main beneficiary is the traditional prepaid customer base, who can be offered prepaid usage statements and access to the full range of call centre services. However it is also at this level that new combined prepaid and postpaid propositions can be offered, for example the frequently cited ‘family accounts’, where parents are postpaid and children prepaid within a single account structure.
Convergence at the service level means bringing together offline and online rating engines and providing a single balance management platform to support all services. This provides the biggest technical challenge in convergence, but also the most significant benefits to traditional ‘postpaid’ customers.
New ‘spending control’ capabilities enable customers to manage their own service-level spend according to their desired budget. Online authorisation and advice of charge offers fully transparent pricing, reducing the risk of overspend or ‘bill shock’.
Service level convergence also enables operators to offer hybrid services that sometimes behave according to postpaid rules and sometimes in prepaid mode. For example, a voice service could be defined as ‘postpaid’ charged to a business account during office hours and ‘prepaid’ from a personal wallet out of office hours.
Convergence at the resource level brings together mediation and session control functions into a convergent layer. The key benefits are in improved time-to-market and revenue assurance.
Whatever choices are taken in these areas, with the launch of TCA, prospects for the practical implementations of prepaid-postpaid convergent architectures have become brighter. The utopia of fully convergent billing remains in the future for many, but with technologies such as IMS already incorporating online/offline charging into the next generation architectures, the opportunity is there for operators to rationalise their systems and offer convergent services to customers.
The new TCA framework delivers maximum value from an operator’s existing investments while providing a path to a full prepaid-postpaid convergent solution. It takes into account that the challenges are not simply in online rating and balance management, but must address the complete lifecycle of customers and products.
It also considers that every operator may not implement convergence in the same way, or at the same time, so there will always be exceptions which must be catered for without resorting to the addition of new system ‘silos’ to support a particular customer or service segment.
Operators also need to recognise that prepaid-postpaid convergence is not just a one-off project that can be completed and then forgotten about. It must become a way of working and a culture by which operators conduct their whole businesses. Only when this mindset is achieved will the true value of convergence be delivered.
Find out more: Request your copy of Cerillion’s Total Convergence Architecture White Paper now!