Why 5G demands new charging capabilities
5G’s transformative features such as low latency, ultrafast speeds, and high bandwidth open a world of opportunities for consumer and industry applications. Its ability to support massive volumes – according to Statista, 50 billion internet of things (IoT) connected devices are expected to be in use by 2030 – also unlocks the full potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). An operator’s charging capabilities thus assume a pivotal role, ensuring all 5G services are fully monetizable using modern and advanced charging use cases.
The charging engines many operators use today were designed for networks like 3G and LTE. These previous generations did not have the network scalability and performance needs of 5G, and are unable to support the advanced monetization capabilities that 5G use cases require to accurately charge across a large number of services, devices, and different event types. This demands fundamental changes to the underlying monetization architecture, taking a service-based approach, much like the 5G core network itself.
How next-gen charging capabilities work
Implementing next-gen charging and policy control functions of the 5G core enables operators to truly harness the monetization potential of 5G. The Charging Function (CHF) enables operators to charge for everything, supporting models for multiple parties (for instance, B2B2X models), helps implement RESTful processes, and enables real-time charging on various types of events. The Policy Control Function (PCF) enables end-to-end policy management, implements slice-based policies for highly specific applications, supports innovation and enrichment through service exposure, and offers advanced analytics for improved services.
In recent years, more and more operators have implemented converged charging for all their services, which is also part of the 3GPP Release 15 standard. The CHF has been functionally and architecturally restructured for 5G versus its legacy OCS counterpart. Supporting both online as well as offline charging, it is crucial to enabling 5G service providers to swiftly respond to evolving customer demands and introducing new and innovative services that can be charged. It implements network integrations that are formulated in keeping with service-based architecture, enabling next-gen monetization opportunities, employing cloud-based and containerized technology, enabling more automation, agility, flexibility, and minimizing revenue leaks.
Through network slicing, 5G operators can provide “slices” or smaller dedicated parts of their networks to customers, dedicating resources depending on the SLA to focus on speed, latency, capacity, and so on, supporting use cases such as smart buildings, smart offices, private campus networks, connected vehicles, and much more, all of which require charging support. Plus, 5G works on microservices-based infrastructure that helps deliver ultra-low latency, and to enable this, previously centralized charging components will now need to be more distributed and move closer to the network edge. So, 5G charging systems are required to support various new types of services like API calls, tiered QoS plans, edge computing capacity, and more.
Modern and scalable convergent charging systems assume particular relevance for enterprises, enabling a gamut of new-age applications to help businesses differentiate themselves while swiftly unlocking these new revenue streams. In the coming years, as 5G standalone deployments become more widespread, converged charging is expected to be more widely implemented.
5G charging use cases
5G supports a wide range of B2B, B2C, as well as B2B2X services, and thus demands charging use cases that help ensure zero revenue leakage across services. These include charging based on:
Network slicing is a key 5G use case and is integral to 5G charging. Most devices today have the same bandwidth and service levels, but network slicing creates new charging opportunities by enabling the segregation of network resources. Operators can provide slices to cater to a wide range of customer requirements, offering endless possibilities for revenue streams. Using flexible charging models, operators can monetize these slices for both direct consumers as well as the enterprise. Operators can offer various granular and personalized services to consumers on different slices. And for the enterprise customer, operators can offer models for different needs like IoT-connected devices and equipment, for its employees, its customers, special events, field tests and trials, and so on, for which unique policy and charging rules can be defined.
Network slices can be created based on various criteria, some of which include:
Operators can charge subscribers based on the Quality of Service (QoS) they have signed up for. This is particularly relevant for industrial and enterprise applications, empowering the enterprise to define granular metrics such as latency, data rate, capacity, mobility, security, throughput, response time, level of service, and more.
Network slices are designed to serve individual customer needs, for metrics including system capacity, user experience, energy consumption, coverage, latency, and more. The Service Level Agreement (SLA) will be defined based on the level of service a customer expects from each slice. 5G charging systems enable operators to dynamically scale pricing, define policy rules for specific devices, and much more, enabling them to offer more specific SLAs.
Platform use (PaaS)
Operators can build their own platforms and use open APIs to share and charge for their network and IT infrastructure with platform providers or developers who can use cloud infrastructure to deploy applications. The customer has control over the application, but the operator controls the underlying infrastructure.
Software use (SaaS)
In this case, the operator can charge for applications that it runs on the cloud and provides to consumers. The operator controls and manages both the infrastructure as well as the application and can charge on different events like time or usage.
Infrastructure use (IaaS)
Service providers can partner with enterprises to share their infrastructure and/or applications, granting the enterprise control over this infrastructure while charging for its use. This is especially useful for smaller enterprises who do not want to invest in their own infrastructure but are in need of a secure and private network.
Operators can set up digital ecosystems or marketplaces to provide a platform that connects producers and providers of goods and services with consumers, forging partnerships with these providers to monetize the service. Here, operators have the added advantage of having access to advanced data and analytics tools that help them segregate customers, run targeted campaigns, and more.
5G’s ultrafast speeds, stable connectivity, and low latency enable real-time applications, including multimedia like augmented reality, virtual reality, and gaming. Operators can define charging based on real-time performance for these applications.
Benefits of next-gen charging systems
5G charging engines offer a host of benefits to operators, enabling them to swiftly adapt to dynamic market needs. Some of these include:
Handle advanced 5G use cases
With the rapid increase in the number of devices connected to the network, 5G charging systems must handle an unprecedented amount of traffic and charge for the endless application possibilities of next-gen networks. 3GPP has defined a host of possibilities for the 5G charging ecosystem, introducing elements in the 5G core that are unavailable in legacy charging systems. The PCF serves as a unified platform to govern the implementation of policy and charging rules. The Session Management Function enables operators to seamlessly implement session charging between devices, so they can efficiently charge users when they use different devices for the same service, for instance, like watching a movie. And other network functions, such as the Network Exposure Function (NEF), Access and Mobility Management Function (AMF), and Network Slice Management, equip operators to gather essential device and location data, implement slice-based charging, enable multiple flexible charging scenarios, facilitate operators and enterprises to share session information, allow granular charging based on advanced analytics, and more.
Develop diverse partnerships
5G charging capabilities include support for multiple business partners on a single platform, enabling operators’ business and marketing teams to easily and dynamically forge innovative partnerships to monetize B2B2X, B2B, B2C, wholesale, and IoT services.
Enhance customer experience
By making a host of advanced use cases fully monetizable, 5G charging paves the way for innovation, boosting CX, improving brand differentiation, and ensuring customer loyalty.
High return on investment
Advanced charging helps open new revenue streams as well as secure the revenue potential of existing services, maximizing ROI.
Improve business agility
Operators can effortlessly launch new plans and promotions, automate transaction processing even for the most complex use cases, implement flexible data models that support complex account hierarchies for granular plans and services, and more.
How Alepo can help
Alepo supports advanced charging use cases through robust convergent charging and policy control network functions, both of which are part of the 5G-compliant Digital BSS product suite and Alepo’s 5G Core Network solution. Both can either be deployed as part of the new solution or integrated with any other vendor’s BSS, enabling you to preserve your existing network investments.
Legacy 4G/LTE environments are unable to support charging for 5G use cases, so the first step towards implementing advanced charging is ensuring you have a modern BSS and 5G Core infrastructure. As experts in this domain, Alepo can provide a host of deployment options to smoothly transition to 5G, including local, public, hybrid, 4G + 5G combo, and private models.
A seasoned professional, technologist, innovator, and telecom expert. With over 20 years of experience in the software industry, Rajesh brings a strong track record of accelerating product innovations and development at Alepo. He supports the company’s mission-critical BSS/OSS projects in LTE, WiFi and broadband networks, including core policy, charging, and control elements.