As the evolutionary trend towards end-to-end or standalone (SA) 5G gathers steam – with all its potential for monetization of new consumer and enterprise services – starting points inevitably vary. While some service providers are starting with just bare metal infrastructure, others are already well along their journey to the cloud in various forms.
Yet there is a commonality for most operators: the two sides of business that must be addressed during change management – namely, costs and revenue, or, put another way, simplification and diversification. And while it may seem like a contradiction to consolidate and converge at the same time as pursuing greater complexity, such is the aspiration of cloud-based 5G.
Charging is a key part of this equation. To fulfill its potential in the 5G ecosystem, charging needs to be built on a flexible foundation so that it’s ready for whatever comes next. Otherwise, it will simply act as a handbrake on future innovation. Such was often the case with 3G or 4G due to ad-hoc, bolted-on and bespoke “quick fixes”, where charging was often applied as an afterthought to new services but acted as a constraint to future services.
So what are the key drivers for a modern, future-proof 5G-era charging capability? In a nutshell, they can be summarized as follows:
- Consolidation of what has come before. Already in 2020, research from analysts Omdia pointed out that a significant number of operators were constrained by a “spaghetti” of more than 50 revenue management systems for different silos in their stacks. In addition to the huge transformation challenges that existed even before their ambitions to implement standalone 5G and move beyond smartphone connectivity, there’s an increased need to consider additional variables from a charging perspective, such as:
- Cost to serve per connection (for IoT especially), which needs to be much more efficient and allow for much wider diversity of services.
- The massive overhaul across the network, which provides the opportunity to consolidate/converge lines of business and long-established silos – such as those for prepaid users, postpaid users, consumer segments, business segments, fixed connections, mobile connections, 3G devices, 4G devices, various IoT segments and more – onto a single, much more capable asset.
- Enabling flexibility for what is to come. While it’s impossible to anticipate every service that will ultimately become successful, operators understand that as the pace of change increases, so will the opportunities. To plan for this, they can:
- Open and manage network exposure to allow for an extensive range of B2B2X partnerships, with modern value chains and internally-led innovation
- Implement operational practice changes, such as acquiring CI/CD capabilities
- Evaluate, on a continuous basis, multi-cloud toolsets and APIs and avoid situations of single cloud lock-in. And perhaps most importantly:
- Maintain a constant awareness that consumer and business expectations are evolving at disruptive pace. This means that in addition to 4G, 5G and fixed-line considerations, there needs to be convergent control, significantly faster cadence driven by microservices, and bundling of other compatible connectivity such as satellite, Wi-Fi, LoRa and NB-IoT.
Having said this, competitive flexibility won’t come from within the charging domain alone. Rather, it needs to be integrated with (and “talk” efficiently to) other 5G-driven functions – especially those relating to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning (ML) based data. That’s because when combined with charging, such functions can ensure the promise of proactive and personalized experiences, while also ensuring effective returns on 5G.
This leads to a key point regarding charging, its essential position in 5G and its importance to cloud partnerships. While charging is “just” one component of many with the potential to lead to 5G success, it’s unique in two ways. On one hand, it provides opportunities to achieve efficiencies in and by itself when deployed and managed effectively. On the other, it has the potential to efficiently capture value from other, more powerful 5G functions. This explains why charging has become a focal point of change for many operators across both network and IT domains. By extension, it’s also why charging is frequently the driver of wider decision-making around cloud partnerships.
As service providers move beyond a focus on selling commoditized smartphone bundles, the revenue opportunities and efficiencies brought by charging demands a more strategic and proactive intent. Primarily, this means pursuing value-driven flexibility by aligning key strategies around convergence, cloud and cadence. Done successfully, such a strategy will empower participants to fully monetize the vast range of charging-driven 5G services that are yet to be defined.