The increased competition in the telecom industry has left operators with absolutely no breathing room. The margin of error – no matter how small it is – can derail a budding project, which is why; it has become essential for telcos to understand the importance of standards like 3GPP (Third-Generation Partnership Project).
3GPP and Prepaid Billing
It is a well-known fact that prepaid mobile connection is preferred by most subscribers over a postpaid connection. Due to the immense popularity of prepaid plans, it becomes all the more important for telecom operators to invest in an OCS (Online Charging System) that offers real-time charging facility. Also, for an OCS to be effective and work according to expectations, it needs to the meet the requirements set by 3GPP. For those who don’t know, 3GPP was initially formulated to address the scope of 3G mobile networks, however, it has now evolved to cover all the past, present and future mobile networks e.g. 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G etc.
Although it is essential for mobile operators to follow the standards and network architecture defined by 3GPP, it is seen that certain telcos either misinterpret it partially or completely disregard it. This leads to major problems in the operation of an OCS system, especially in real-time prepaid billing tasks.
The Problem with Wrong 3GPP Interpretation in Prepaid Billing
Prepaid plans are pre-determined plans provided by telcos that offer limited voice and data packs. Once exhausted, the subscriber has to recharge his account for his services to continue. The limited nature of prepaid plans makes it essential that real-time billing is implemented correctly. For billing to be carried out appropriately, a billing system must be 3GPP Gy/Gyn-compliant. But most telecom operators either ignore this requirement or misinterpret it, which leads to incorrect real-time measurements.
According to the 3GPP, between an online charging system and PCEF/TDF (Policy and Charging Enforcement Function/Traffic Detection Function), there should be a single interface i.e. diameter Gy/Gyn. However, it is seen that some telecom operators add an additional component in-between the OCS and PCEF/TDF, which hampers the real-time measurement of call record data. The adverse impact on the measurement can be seen in the form of reduced accuracy and lack of reliability in the billing process. Some of the major problems faced by a telecom vendor due to lack of understanding of 3GPP are listed below:
The number of accuracy errors increase proportionally with the increase in the number of subscriber services. For example, if 4 different services are offered by a CSP with an error of 2.5% each, then a subscriber is likely to receive a bill that is 10% higher than it should be. Such discrepancy can have an adverse impact on the business of a telecom operator. It is very much possible that subscribers may decide to leave the telecom vendor due to incorrect charges applied on services.
Increase in costing and overheads when connecting to NMS (Network Management System). The rise in cost is a direct result of increase in the number of nodes that need to be connected with the NMS.
Understanding 3GPP protocol and devising your network strategy accordingly is the right approach for any telecom business operator. To make a quick buck, some telecom operators take a shortcut and disrupt the direct link between OCS and PCEF/TDF, which can have a major impact on their long-term business prospects. Hence, telecom vendors should lay a strong foundation for their real-time billing by choosing the right billing strategy and maintain the trust of their prepaid users.