Kirill Rechter is the Chief Executive Officer of LogNet Billing. He is an expert in designing and implementing modern billing solutions for prominent telecommunications and utilities service providers worldwide.
In a recent interview with Tara Neal, the Executive Editor of The Fast Mode, Kirill explains the evolution of telecom billing over the last 30 years and how the advent of the 5G era and the rise of the digital service provider(DSP) is pushing telcos to step up their billing capabilities to cater for the continuous growth in the breadth and depth of their services portfolio.
Tara Neal: You have been involved in billing for over twenty years now. How has the telecoms billing space changed over these years?
Kirill Rechter: Yes, twenty six years is a long time and of course a lot has changed in the billing space over this time.
When I first started in this business, telcos and vendors were talking about convergent billing. Convergence was the ability for a telco to process multiple billing records and formats in one data stream in order to produce a single consolidated invoice. At the time, this was a great technological and operational step forward. Prior to convergence, telcos that offered more than one service had to implement parallel billing systems for each service.
Multi-play billing for digital service providers
From convergent billing evolved the concept of multi-play billing. Whereas convergence allowed telcos to offer diversified products of the same service or network type, multi-play focused on allowing a telco to expand its product offerings to include services from different network types. With multi-play infrastructure, telcos were able to transition into communications service providers(CSPs).
Today, billing is a strategic part of the current transformation going on in the industry from CSPs to DSPs. Strong customer relationships, more business partnerships and better service agility are some of the drivers for digital transformation for which strong billing is essential.
Tara Neal: Where are the growth opportunities in telecoms billing and from where is the demand coming?
Kirill Rechter: Many telcos around the world are currently adopting omni-channel strategies as part of this digital transformation and ongoing efforts to improve customer experience. Self-service capabilities through digital portals on web sites and mobile apps are being planned and rolled out by service providers of all sizes. Here, we see that there is a strong demand for incorporating billing processes and workflows.
At the same time, we are experiencing a strong demand for B2B billing and partner reconciliation capabilities that allow our service provider customers to offer content and value added services from third party partners. We see these capabilities as an important part of a multi-play operation.
Tara Neal: Given these changes in the telecoms sector, have service providers adjusted their approaches to billing operations and support systems?
Kirill Rechter: As part of the current transformation processes, many telcos are embracing modern technologies as part of their efforts to both improve customer service and reduce costs. Here, many telcos are taking greater ownership of the technology lifecycle and roadmap of the OSS and BSS systems they use. Many are redefining how they work with vendors and in many cases are increasing the amount of software development they are bringing in-house.
The Cloud and virtualization are central pillars of many technology transformation strategies and projects. On the network side, many telcos have already started to shift some functions into the Cloud. However, the vision of combining separate architectures into a common platform and operating it at scale is still a way off.
The current situation for billing systems is similar to many IT systems in general. Telcos are starting to deploy digital capabilities in their customer-facing systems and migrating away from legacy billing and charging platforms because of costs, complexity, difficult vendor relationships and the lack of a clear return on investment. Similarly, telcos are beginning to use big data analytics and artificial intelligence for billing purposes, but these are still in the early stages of development.
Tara Neal: Can you share any insight or advice for telecoms providers that are looking to improve their billing activities?
Kirill Rechter: Any billing related project should begin with defining the strategic goals. These goals can be business related, such as entering new service markets, or marketing related, such as improving service agility, or customer service related, such as offering an omni-channel customer experience.
After this, the business processes and best practices within the billing operation that are required to achieve the strategic goals should be defined. Processes and workflows should be automated as much as possible.
What should not be done is just focusing on replacing the billing system or adding a few new features. This will lead to an endless migration project that will not deliver any tangible value.
For any billing project, delivering maximum value as soon as possible into the project is highly recommended. This means that the initial focus should be on the main strategical points and areas that deliver the maximum return-on-investment for the project.
An example of this is when an innovative product or service is launched and it has to be done fast to beat the competition to market. It usually pays off to initially launch a new service to friendly customers with off-the-shelf business processes and optimize them on the go, while confirming the business proposition and scaling in customer numbers.
I always recommend to our customers to view our company not as just a billing vendor, but rather as a strategic partner in the success of our service provider customer. We have been in the billing space for over twenty years and our experience can be leveraged to support the success of our customer's growth strategies.
Tara Neal: Does this advice apply to other service industries?
Kirill Rechter: Yes, this advice is certainly applicable to other service industries, especially in markets where there is strong competition for utilities services.
For instance, in competitive markets, well-established companies use new brands to launch innovation-based services. To do this, they contract multi-play solutions to avoid starting lengthy projects to incorporate new services to their legacy systems. This provides the freedom to innovate in product definition, business processes and improved customer experience.
Tara Neal: What can the telecoms market expect from LogNet Billing in the coming twelve months?
Kirill Rechter: We are currently working on a new Billing-as-a-Service platform that will give service providers a fast and reliable solution for implementing new services and addressing new business segments without a lengthy billing replacement project. This new platform will run in parallel to legacy billing systems, be implemented as a microservice and available from the Cloud.
We are adding chat bots and other machine learning capabilities connected to customer experience workflows, web portals, messaging applications and social platforms.
On the business side, I am happy to say that we have a strong pipeline and the demand for our MaxBill solution is continuing to grow in the telco market as well as in other service industries, including the competitive energy and water markets and online gaming sector.
3 Hong Kong announced agreements with Tech Mahindra, MATRIXX Software, Salesforce and Vlocity to enable digital transformation of its telecoms operations.
A four-phase digital transformation project scheduled for completion in 2020 has been designed to streamline and automate business processes and optimise digital experiences. Key areas covered include digital customer relationship management, omni-channel and intelligent marketing campaigns, sophisticated product catalogue and order management, enterprise business workflow, digital commerce with convergent billing, comprehensive data analytics and enhanced security.
A new operating model, based on an advanced technical architecture, will enable rapid access to fast data to deliver digital services. This will transform the business operation and support systems necessary for 3 Hong Kong to attain higher levels of customer interaction.
The project will enable a 360-degree omni-channel user experience across the desktop, mobile devices, 3Shop outlets and all other customer touch points, delivering a seamless experience and interaction. 3 Hong Kong will have the platform to build a diverse portfolio of new products and services designed to meet future needs, while offering a consistent customer experience and on-demand digital commerce via any interactive channel, and on any mobile device.
Advancements in analytics will provide 3 Hong Kong with real-time, predictive and actionable insights, allowing the company to demonstrate greater agility when responding to dynamic customer needs. The digital transformation project is expected to simplify business processes, while facilitating improved compliance and generating new business opportunities.
The project’s prime implementation partner, Tech Mahindra, designs and enables the full scope of digital transformation, while MATRIXX Software, Salesforce and Vlocity are key providers of cloud software enabling innovative digital commerce and omni-channel customer relationship management.
PayPay, a joint venture established by SoftBank and Yahoo Japan announced that the company will launch “PayPay” smartphone payment services using barcodes (QR code) in fall 2018.
PayPay will team up with India's largest digital payment company Paytm, a SoftBank Vision Fund portfolio company, to utilize Paytm's technology and expertise in mobile payments.
In Japan, cash (bank notes and coins) is still the mainstream payment methodology, with the current cashless payment ratio remaining at 20%. Consequently, the Japanese government is taking measures to raise the cashless payment ratio to 40% by 2025, with a long-term goal of 80%, the highest level globally.
To aid these efforts, SoftBank and Yahoo Japan established PayPay in June 2018 and will launch its user-oriented payments platform in the fall 2018. This will promote the broader use of cashless payment in Japan and provide highly convenient services to both consumers and affiliated stores.
Paytm leads the digital payments ecosystem in India and has pioneered the use of Barcode (QR)-based technology, offering seamless mobile payments to over 300 million customers and 8 million merchants.
PayPay, SoftBank, Yahoo Japan and Paytm will expand the number of users by including the customer base of SoftBank, and “Yahoo! Wallet” which comprises approximately 40 million accounts. They will also deploy the platform using SoftBank's sales know-how, and develop a tailored service offering leveraging Paytm's technology.
Telefónica announced sale of 10 percent stake in its private equity-backed telecommunications infrastructure arm Telxius to existing shareholder Pontegadea for €378.8 million ($440.3 million).
The sale has been structured via Telefónica’s subsidiary, Pontel Participaciones, which owns 60% of Telxius’ capital stock. Pontegadea owns 16.65% of Pontel and Telefónica the remaining 83.35%. After the transaction, Telefónica will maintain a majority stake and retain operational control of Telxius. The unit will continue to be consolidated into its accounts.
Additionally, Telefónica, Pontegadea and Pontel have entered into a shareholders’ agreement that regulates the relationship of Telefónica and Pontegadea as shareholders in Pontel.
This transaction is part of the Telefónica Group’s asset portfolio management policy, based on a strategy of value creation, optimization of the return on capital and strategic positioning. It also complements the objective of organically reducing debt and strengthening the balance sheet in a growing cash flow scenario, which allows us to maintain a sustainable shareholder remuneration.
Altice Europe announced that its subsidiary Altice Dominicana has sold 100% stake in the tower company Teletorres delCaribe to Phoenix Tower for an enterprise value of $170 million.
Altice Dominicana portfolio comprises of 1,049 tower sites across Dominican Republic. Altice Dominicana will enter into a 20-year master agreement with Teletorres del Caribe, setting a clear partnership framework between the two companies. Teletorres del Caribe has committed to support Altice Dominicana in the continued deployment of its network.
Altice Dominicana said it will pursue its long-term industrial project and continue providing best-inclasstelecommunication services to its subscribers, as part of the Altice Group.
Gilat Satellite Networks, a worldwide leader in satellite networking technology, solutions and services, announced that it was chosen for an LTE satellite backhaul project for a tier-1 Mobile Network Operator (MNO) in Latin America.
Gilat will deliver reliable 4G cellular backhaul to over one hundred remote locations in Latin America during the second half of 2018 and the first half of 2019, with further expansions expected in the coming years.
The satellite backhaul solution will be deployed with Gilat's SkyEdge II-c platform, including the highly efficient DVB-S2X enhanced VSAT, and will also include installation services and initial hub operation.
T-Mobile and Nokia on Monday announced a landmark $3.5 billion agreement to accelerate the deployment of a nationwide 5G network.
Nokia will provide T-Mobile with its complete end-to-end 5G technology, software and services portfolio, assisting the Un-carrier in its efforts to bring its 5G network to market for customers in the critical first years of the 5G cycle.
As part of the agreement, Nokia will help build T-Mobile's nationwide 5G network with 600 MHz and 28 GHz millimeter wave 5G capabilities compliant with 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) standards. T-Mobile will leverage multiple products across Nokia's end-to-end 5G technology, software and services portfolio, including commercial AirScale radio platforms and cloud-native core, AirFrame hardware, CloudBand software, SON and 5G Acceleration Services.
Using 5G, Nokia and T-Mobile will develop, test and launch the next generation of connectivity services that will cover a wide range of industries, including enterprise, smart cities, utilities, transportation, health, manufacturing, retail, agriculture and government agencies.
The xRAN Forum (xRAN) announced public availability of the xRAN Fronthaul Control, User and Synchronization (CUS) Plane Specification Version 2.0 and the xRAN Fronthaul Management Plane (MP) Specification Version 1.0.
The specifications have been designed to allow a wide range of vendors to develop innovative, best-of-breed RRUs and BBUs for a wide range of deployment scenarios, which can be easily integrated with virtualized infrastructure & management systems using standardized data models.
The second major version of CUS-plane specification incorporates several enhancements over the first version including:
- Support for 2 radio categories (A and B) to enable both simple and more complex functionality leveraging largely the same interface specification
- Additional compression modes to provide increased fronthaul bandwidth savings
- Support for critical items such as synchronization and timing to enable commercialization and interoperability in deployments
- Support for additional LTE system features like LAA, NB-IOT, including improved efficiency in parsing of U-plane packets
The first version of M-plane specification is a significant milestone for the industry. It provides an open multi-vendor M-plane model for radios based on standardized modern protocols like NETCONF/YANG and includes key capabilities:
- Support for features and capabilities in v1.0 of CUS specification and several enhancements in v2.0 of CUS specification
- Flexible management architecture providing support for traditional hierarchical and hybrid (multiple NETCONF clients or EMS can directly communicate with radio) deployment models
- A comprehensive YANG model developed for 4G & 5G radios building upon industry accepted data models