Over the last few years, the mobile ecosystem has become extremely sophisticated. The industry, once limited to voice and messages, is now providing email, entertainment and news content, online shopping, social media and access to enterprise systems.
It has gone from being communication-centric to being service-centric. The emphasis from minutes being consumed has moved to megabytes being consumed. This shift has affected every aspect of the industry, including current charging systems.
This shift is reflected in the recent of service providers, says Krishan Dhall of Wipro Ltd, where they have moved to give consumers more control of their accounts. For example, if you are on a contract – rather than a pay-as-you-go user – your provider sends an alert when you reach 90% of your data allowance, offering an immediate upgrade for a fee. While this is useful, it is still not powerful enough from the customer’s point of view
Instead, the customer should be allowed to decide the alert levels and when these warnings are received, or be allowed to donate unused data to another subscriber? If a customer has opted for a bundled product typical of pre-paid usage, shouldn’t he or she be able to trade unused minutes for extra text messages, video downloads or internet access in real time (or the other way around)?
These new approaches create a win-win for the customer and the provider. But there is a barrier that must be overcome. This barrier is in the form of traditional Intelligent Network (IN) Charging Platforms. The IN platforms were designed for voice services and rely on records after delivery of service. They cannot prevent revenue leakage because of service overdraft (by subscribers) or deliver differentiated pricing and flexible service bundles. To overcome this, providers need an Online Charging System (OCS).
An OCS is compelling as it combines the ability to rate, charge and share usage in real time with downstream applications for multiple services.
A traditional IN is a telephone network architecture in which the service logic is separated from the switching facilities. The IN nodes are on the service layer instead of on core switches or telephone equipment. This separation allows services to be added or changed without having to redesign core networks.
OCS, on the other hand, consists of four functional elements: an Online Charging Function (OCF), an Account Balance Management Function (ABMF), a Rating Function (RF), and a Charging Gateway Function (CGF).