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All posts by Neeraj Upadhyay

Why Telcos Need Real-Time Revenue Assurance?

Revenue leakage is one of the major worries affecting telcos around the world.  The number says it all. The 2017 Global Fraud Loss Survey by CFCA says telcos lose $29.2 Billion (USD) annually, equivalent to 1.27% of global telecom revenues, to several revenue frauds. For telcos, who are also aggrieved by the declining margins from traditional voice business, safeguarding the existing revenue sources thus becomes critical. The rising concerns over revenue loss have brought the discussion around a new approach to revenue assurance (RA). While the revenue assurance solutions in the market address some of the possible threats in revenue leakage, they lag behind in delivering a faster detection and reconciliation capabilities.

Why Real-Time Revenue Assurance?

As we see today, the main drawbacks associated with traditional RA solutions is the long gap between revenue leakage detection and revenue realization. Since these systems adopt conventional methods for data consolidation and streamlining, the process requires manual intervention in parsing and auditing. Considering the enormous volume of transaction generated in today’s customer-centric world, telcos cannot ignore such lapses in remediation. Thus, the need arises for an intelligent, automated RA platform that can reduce the gap between these processes to a minimum. Legacy systems also face challenge due to the rapid surge in user data generated from millions of transactions every day. In the wake of new challenges brought by IP networks and the sophisticated interconnection frauds, detecting and remediating the anomalies becomes even more challenging.

Real-Time Revenue Assurance: How?

Real-time revenue assurance focuses on minimizing the time gap between fault detection and reconciliation. With analytics at the core, the technology enables service providers to detect the threat as soon as it occurs and start the reconciliation process within hours of data inception. Let me elaborate the process a little. The files collected at the source will be pushed to the real-time RA system within a few minutes. The data is parsed and loaded within, say 30 minutes, and the reconciliation process starts within the next two hours, enabling the early revenue reconciliation than the traditional approaches.

Analytics plays a crucial role in ensuring real-time RA.  The complex algorithm segregates the data based on a set of parameters, so anomalies can be detected quickly and accurately. Advancements in real-time RA also promise near real-time and even real-time controls on revenue leakage. The output of RA controls can deliver additional insights on each transaction, which can be used to improve sub-optimal processes.

What Business Benefits Real-Time Revenue Assurance Bring to Telcos?

Since revenue assurance is the most crucial element in a telco business, the impact brought by real-time RA is huge. As mentioned in the beginning, the loss attributed to different types of fraud is incomparable, so a reduction in leakage exposure time results in significant savings. Also, revenue assurance in a telco business is linked to multiple processes including data collection, billing, settlement and operations. Thus real-time RA allows telcos to gain increased visibility into all aspects of subscriber data, which in turn helps them to improve Quality of Service (QoS).

Subscriber management is a key aspect of revenue assurance as it helps telcos to deal with customer attrition. The operators need to have visibility into subscriber’s usage and billing patterns. Such insights will help them to launch the right mix of services that enhance customer value and improve ARPU. Subscriber management, especially in IP-based systems, proves crucial to eliminate billing errors and disputes. Real-time revenue assurance scores in this context as it provides real-time visibility into customer behavior and capture anomalous activities before it impacts the network.

Watch this column to gain more insights on revenue assurance for telcos.

Why SIM Box Fraud is Rampant in Africa?

The second fastest-growing continent after China, Africa owes much of its recent economic growth to the use of telecommunications services. However, over the past few years, telcos in Africa have been hit by several telecom frauds. SIM box fraud, also known as the interconnect bypass fraud, is one of the major frauds affecting the dynamic telecom market in Africa. The impact is huge in terms of the loss in revenues to telcos and taxes to the government. It is estimated that Africa loses up to 150 million US dollars every year to interconnection frauds. Reports suggest that two years back SIM box fraud had brought in losses of 12 to 15 million minutes’ worth of revenue to Kenyan government and operators, and about US$5.8 million to Ghana government.

Why SIM Box Frauds Target Africa?

  • As per the industry reports, mobile subscriber growth in Africa is largely driven by the lower call prices and availability of cheaper handsets. The competition arising from over-the-top (OTT) providers has put an additional pricing pressure on telcos, forcing them to design new bundled offerings encompassing data, voice and SMS. Such bundles bring much lower per-minute revenue for the operators as compared to traditional services. Fraudsters operating the SIM boxes are taking advantage of this scenario to bypass the formal call termination systems that fetch higher tariffs to telcos.  The calls routed through the IP networks are terminated using local SIM gateways, thus compromising the formal interconnection networks and bringing heavy losses to the telcos who have invested in building the networks. Traditionally, African countries are known to have higher interconnection tariffs compared to other regions, which further explains why such frauds are prevailing in Africa.

 

  • If I were to look at data from google trends, one can also make out that Ghana in Africa seems quite buzzy about “Simbox Fraud” as a term to be searched on Google (till Nov, 2017)

 

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  • Technological advancements have also contributed for the rise in interconnection frauds. The growing sophistication around SIM box technologies has made fraud detection difficult using traditional methodologies. SIM boxes are programmed to mimic the activities of a normal call user. The equipment can have SIM cards of different operators installed, so a single SIM box can operate with several GSM gateways located in different parts of the world. The availability of SIM cards at cheaper prices and the lack of law enforcement over the sale of prepaid SIM cards have also favored the growth of SIM box fraud, further.

 

  • Globally, the difference in approaches adopted by different countries to deal with the fraud makes it difficult for operators to develop a unified strategy to fight these frauds. IP interconnection services are treated as legal in a few countries whereas they are banned in other countries due to the regulatory issues associated with such activities. For example, the Ghanaian government has declared SIM boxes illegal and made several arrests in this regard. However, SIM boxes are now available in several open markets including popular e-commerce platforms for around $1000 per unit. To make the matter worse, OTT providers like Viber are now explicitly selling their call termination capabilities to lure roaming customers to such bypass activities. Another such OTT development I recently noticed is Skype offering Free calls to mobiles and landlines in the United States and Canada from India These evolving trends convey the scale at which the SIM fraud is growing, calling for immediate action from telcos to safeguard their revenue streams.

Unified approach for addressing Sim-box fraud:

To conclude, the recent developments around SIM box fraud have further aggravated the challenges faced by African telcos. With no scope for regulatory remediation, the only way forward for them is to prevent these attacks using advanced technologies. Traditional approaches like Call Detail Record (CDR) analysis are becoming ineffective in dealing with modern SIM box strategies due to the latency and false positives associated with those methods. As the market evolves, operators are looking toward a unified approach that can help them address the crisis in a much proactive manner. The developments around machine learning and test call group (TCG) analysis have favored the growth of an integrated solution that can help telcos combat the fraud in a cost-effective manner. The approach builds the capabilities of the traditional models but integrates the advancements in artificial intelligence and self-learning rules.

Watch this space for more updates on SIM box fraud management with cognitive analytics capabilities.

The Future Success of Telecom Lies in Revenue Assurance

As the telecommunications industry anticipates the next wave of growth triggered by digital disruption, there are a few developments that demand critical attention from telcos. These trends have had a direct impact on the way telecom services are delivered, often impacting the revenue streams of operators. Let’s look at the top trends that impacted telecom revenue and see how the telcos needs to devise a revenue assurance strategy to deal with these changes.

Revenue Assurance in OTT Era

The IP revolution that swept the telecom industry over the past decade have brought in immense opportunities for OTT players; but for telcos, it was the beginning of a cataclysm marked by cut-throat competition and revenue loss. Since then, the journey of telcos has never been easy. As OTT players took away the bigger pie, operators had to redefine their business strategies to safeguard their revenue streams. Thus, their priority shifted from traditional services to the new digital offerings that largely rely on IP networks. As the journey commenced, a series of new challenges emerged in the service delivery.

With a large bouquet of offerings encompassing voice, data and video streaming, revenue management becomes a critical concern for telcos. The complexity associated with subscriber management and invoice management has created the need for a real-time revenue assurance (RA) platform designed around analytics capabilities. The automated RA capabilities ensure that the tariffs are implemented uniformly across all subscribers and that the billing system is free from all types of errors.

Technology Integration in OSS

One of the key challenges involved in a telecom provider’s transition to a digital service provider (DSP) is to integrate the transactions from different types of networks – say 3G, 4G or IP networks – to a common operations/business support system (OSS/BSS) system. Traditional systems at most telcos were purpose-designed for circuit switched networks and their revenue assurance use cases revolved around batch processing of data. To meet the complex demands created by the new digital offerings, the OSS/BSS needs to evolve to support multiple network topologies. They need to also possess the capabilities to handle large volume of data generated from disparate channels.

The modern approach to revenue assurance allows creation and maintenance of network inventory, network fault management, and automated provisioning of services through real-time analytics. This approach goes beyond the traditional way of analyzing the basic data for billing to identify aspects that impact quality of service (QoS) and customer experience.

Telecom Fraud and Revenue Assurance

The impact of telecom frauds such as international revenue share fraud and SIMbox cloning on telcos’ revenues is huge. Global Fraud loss estimate is about $29.2 Bn annually (Source: 2017 Global Fraud Loss Survey) for instance. The risk grows multifold as the telcos move to advanced networks like LTE. Due to the high bandwidth and the advanced capabilities of the devices connected to these networks, monitoring these activities becomes a real challenge.

Real-time revenue monitoring is the only way to address the revenue loss associated with call frauds. The telco should implement a robust fraud management practice that helps them analyze both expected and historical usage pattern to proactively address revenue leakage. With real-time analytics, usage can be monitored across different types of services – voice, data and video streaming. A comprehensive fraud management strategy must also encompass other aspects of providers’ environment including the sales channels, networks and the OSS.

In a nutshell : The digital journey of telcos has just begun. Considering the future opportunities, telcos cannot slacken their pace of digital transformation. As challenges around revenue assurance grow higher in the evolving technology landscape, priority should be given to safeguard the revenue across all channels.

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