All this growth has come with some unexpected challenges. A well-publicized risk has been alarmingly high bills resulting from inadvertent over-use. A customer roaming in a foreign country can—Oops—start a YouTube download, a misstep that ends up costing hundreds of Euros. Widely reported stories of customers receiving unexpected bills for tens of thousands of Euros in a single month helped coin the phrase “bill shock.” Stories like these spread like wildfire.
“Bill shock” isn’t just an issue for customers. When a customer refuses to pay a massive bill, the operator ends up eating the lost revenue. But even worse, many more customers are afraid to use data services for fear of a nasty surprise in the mail. This is equally bad for customers and operators.
Regulators in Europe were quick to respond. Now all operators must notify customers before they cross a cost threshold on their usage, and customers must be able to choose a voluntary cap of €50 per month. And, it had to be done in a handful of months.
At first glance, this looks easy. But it means that each operator has to actively monitor, price and manage all the incremental data usage for all their customers in real-time—figuring out that a customer crossed the threshold on the previous day is too late. This is extremely challenging—it involves combining large amounts of complex usage data with rapidly changing pricing information.
Recognizing the size of the challenge and the limited time to address it, one of the world’s largest mobile operators turned to Ab Initio. A proof of concept (POC) exercise was rapidly undertaken. In just 2 weeks, Ab Initio field staff built a system to collect real-time data-usage records directly from the network switch (GGSN) in an ASN.1 format and using the industry standard GTP’ protocol. This massive volume of usage records is aggregated continuously. When usage exceeds a set threshold, the system sends an SMS message to the customer.
These aggregations are hardly as simple as adding up the number of downloaded bytes. Not only can operators change their tariffs on demand, customers can switch pricing plans in the middle of the day, too! Continuously changing usage against continuously changing pricing information, 24×7, 365 days per year is a real challenge in any technology.
While the POC was not the complete system (how could it be in just 2 weeks?), the speed with which it was built convinced the operator that Ab Initio was their only viable approach. As a result, Ab Initio was invited to help complete the end-to-end production system.
The system went live soon after and is highly effective. No more “bill shock,” no more bad press, and no more lost revenue.
This customer has many significant Ab Initio deployments across the globe for applications ranging from mediation to data retention and business intelligence. Not only have they have been able to save money while increasing agility, but they can move ahead confidently, knowing that there are no more “shocks” in store.