Over the past few months, I have listened to several aspiring young companies complain that they could not introduce a new application because the wireless operator had no way to bill the customer for it. In one instance, in order to launch the new product, the company ended up designing its own API to provide the interface between their application and the operator's billing system. So, what's going on here?
It appears that we have the tail wagging the dog when it comes to telecommunication services and billing systems. Next generation wireless services will enable us to move closer to the envisioned world of wireless, Internet, and broadband convergence. But billing solutions will have a significant impact on whether this occurs. The market pundits have been discussing the brave new world of wireless for several years. However, they have just recently begun to mention the "minor detail" of a need for new wireless billing solutions that will support the myriad of new services and applications.
The enterprise customer needs to understand this shift in technologies and the impact of billing systems, or it will suffer needless pain in its efforts to deploy new wireless applications and services. Today's wireless billing systems support circuit-switched services (i.e., they are voice-focused) but operators have begun the process of deploying new technology that is packet-focused. This non-trivial fact will require significant investments of time and money in order for both operators and enterprise consumers to take advantage of the latest packet-based applications and services.
Enterprises need to take responsibility for driving their own deployment of next generation wireless applications. As they consider deploying new wireless mobile field service applications, for example, they must understand that, in many cases, they will be the guinea pig for the wireless operator. This means they will be pushing the operator to complete the transition of its billing system to support the new packet-focused applications.
There are several ways for the enterprise to accomplish this. Most importantly, the enterprise must have an internal person or a team that is responsible for wireless mobile technology and services. This person or group needs to get up to speed quickly on wireless developments since many of the new packet-based networks will be launched over the next 18 months throughout the world. With this knowledge base inside the company, enterprises can then survey the landscape of new applications and services to identify those that might be beneficial for its own purposes. Again, the enterprise will understand this better than anyone else so internal competence is critical.
The bottom line is that enterprises need to become proactive in managing the shift in wireless technology that has already begun. This transformation will potentially cost companies a lot of money if they invest in applications that are either short-lived, unnecessary, or won't work well because of billing problems. You can't rely on anyone else to tell you what you should do.