Blockchain for Billing & Charging Evolution (BCE) – Cultivating Trust in a 5G World

For many years, the telecom industry has been following a traditional approach to roaming billing and settlement, which involves exchanging Transferred Account Procedures (or TAP files) between the roaming partners. With new technologies like 5G arriving on the scene, traditional roaming settlement is set to become more complicated due to increased subscribers, partners, and traffic. As per a study by Juniper Research, the global number of roaming subscribers using 5G services will increase from 4.5 million in 2021 to 210 million in 2026.

As proposed by GSMA, the Billing and Charging Evolution (BCE) is a next-generation approach that simplifies the settlement process. In this approach, TAP files or raw call detailed records (CDRs) do not need to be exchanged. Instead, Billing and Charging Evolution is driven by new formats like Usage Data Report (UDR), Usage Summary Report (USR), and Billing Statement Report (BSR), among others. The serving party shares these Billing and Charging Evolution reports to the served party, which are then used to generate the invoice by the serving party.

Apart from simplifying complex multi-party settlement processes, Billing and Charging Evolution also supports new generation use cases brought on by latest technologies like 5G. This is enabled through characteristic features such as eliminating the need to exchange raw files within specific timelines as well as the need for special editors to read different TAP file formats like ASN1. Reports generated in Billing and Charging Evolution are in XML format, and these can be seamlessly exchanged to support settlement as well as reconciliation processes.

Types of BCE reports for 5G roaming settlement

As per GSMA guidelines, operational and financial reports should be generated and exchanged periodically. Some are mandatory, others are optional. However, all of these reports ensure the smooth execution of BCE process for 5G roaming. The types of Billing and Charging Evolution reports are:

  1. Detailed Data Report (DDR) – These are mediated records that are exchanged only in case of a dispute. In cases where all parties are in agreement, DDR is optional.
  2. Usage Data Report (UDR) – This is an optional report that can be exchanged daily or weekly. However, UDRs are mandatory for testing purposes to ensure reconciliation of detailed data.
  3. User Summary Report (USR) – This is another optional report that should be shared only after rating the traffic for the whole month but before generating the invoice. It is a prebilling aggregated summary and is mapped to the Billing Statement Report. USR can be used to reconcile both usage of as well as charges applied to network traffic.
  4. Billing Statement Report (BSR) – This is a mandatory report that should be shared monthly. It should support the charging document or invoice. Applied charges must mandatorily be available on BSR.
  5. Charging document or invoice – This is an invoice based on usage. It may also be a debit note or credit note based on dispute settlement.

Streamlining BCE Reports with Blockchain

Blockchain is a technology known for its immutable auditing and distributed ledger system that captures and shares information accurately among numerous verified partners. Considering the complexity expected to be brought on by 5G roaming billing and settlement, blockchain serves as a tactical solution to simplify the sharing of reports – confidentially, securely, and on time.

Figure 1 – Application of blockchain to BCE
Figure 1 – Application of blockchain to BCE

Here are some ways by which blockchain brings in further efficiencies to Billing and Charging Evolution:

  • Scalability – Blockchain can easily handle millions of transactions every day in 5G roaming scenarios with its enhanced transaction processing system (TPS).
  • Efficiency gains – The exchange of UDR, USR, and BSR over blockchain will support automated reconciliation. Apart from significant cost and effort savings, faster invoicing leads to efficient settlement processes. Moreover, with BCE reports being periodically exchanged through the blockchain, operators no longer need to wait for the closure of month-end activities to reconcile or raise a dispute, if any.
  • Smart contracts – All alerts and notifications can be coded as business logic within smart contracts and triggered automatically. Smart contracts can also capture the agreed timelines and SLAs, providing a single point for monitoring.
  • Information exchange – Relevant parties can be notified and stay aware of common fraudulent traffic, which can be transparently adjusted accordingly into invoices. Further, reconciliation output can be broadcasted to relevant stakeholders or parties on a blockchain-based dashboard using APIs.
  • Real-time capabilities – Dispute findings and reconciliation reports can be shared with respective parties over the private channel in near real-time.
  • Tighter security – Transactions over blockchain ensure data security due to its immutable features.

Conclusion

Billing and Charging Evolution is a new generation solution for the settlement of 5G roaming. Implementing BCE over blockchain provides a platform where all participants can have their own node, thereby simplifying the settling and reconciliation processes. Using blockchain for BCE will also ensure transparency of transactional data, better scalability due to improved TPS, and provide an immutable platform that brings trust among telecom partners and blockchain network members.

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