To provide open interfaces and flexible billing models, service providers are shifting away from their traditional highly customized and homegrown systems. These systems are designed for postpay voice, are typically not object oriented, and have often been built by systems integrators that are no longer available to improve them. They are a speed to market impediment to launching new products and services.
In addition to being costly, the challenges these systems present to service providers include being inflexible and unable to scale. To make wireless data and location services attractive, billing systems must be able to charge for more than call duration and time of day. Billing systems must be able to handle pre-pay customers, and billing based on number of bytes transferred, URL accessed, application accessed, and even quality of service delivered. Not being object-oriented and based on open standards makes integration and scaling very difficult. As an example, imagine if a service provider in Germany wanted to charge different rates for service among the approximately 30 regions in Germany. If every zone has a different rate, there are 302 combinations, a crippling number to many legacy billing systems. Providers such as Telenor, who have adopted sophisticated billing products like those available from Portal Software (http://www.portal.com) are already providing mobile location service applications, such as restaurant and taxi locator services. Subscribers are charged for the service and a positioning surcharge is passed on to the application provider.
Billing systems like Portal's are designed to plug into service provider infrastructures, with flexible integration with application server products like IBM's Websphere Everyplace Server and others. They allow authentication to be handled internally in the billing system or to be passed off to another specialized authentication system. They also allow close integration with CRM and personalization servers such as those provided by Siebel.