5G Standalone vs. Multi-Generational Systems: The Art of Gradual Transformation

By Jacob Bensaid, Senior Product Manager,
Optiva • June 24, 2022

Jacob Benssaid has been with Optiva since 2020. His career spans more than 20 years in the telecom industry, during which he has focused on BSS systems and charging components. He has been instrumental in many mobile operators’ projects around the world and is passionate about product management and customer satisfaction. He strives to incorporate the latest technologies into Optiva’s products, enabling Optiva customers to enjoy the benefits. Jacob holds a law degree from the Tel-Aviv University in Israel.

 

Should communication service providers (CSPs) deploy a standalone 5G charging system? Or should they deploy a multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) converged charging system?

In recent years, we have seen CSPs worldwide building 5G networks. This is a huge investment. Therefore, CSPs must find the best ways to monetize 5G networks to see a substantial return on their investments.

To monetize 5G networks, CSPs must have a charging system that supports 5G and offers the following benefits.

  • Capability to fully monetize all known and not yet known 5G use cases, especially the ones associated with standalone 5G deployment (e.g., 5G slicing, advanced B2B2X, etc.  
  • Supports the 3GPP 5G standards and SBA architecture
  • Supports other industry standards, such as the TM Forum ODA and Open API specifications
  •  A cloud-native charging system that allows the CSP to enjoy private/public cloud benefits

For non-standalone (NSA) 5G deployment, it is arguable that CSPs can make do with their existing 4G charging systems. Since the NSA use cases are mostly an extension of 4G use cases, existing systems can support them, but the story is different regarding 5G standalone (SA) deployments.

5G standalone networks will require a new charging system. 5G, however, does not exist in a void, and CSPs already have 3G, 4G, and in some cases 2G networks and existing charging systems to support them. So, CSPs face a dilemma. Should they deploy a standalone 5G charging system that will run alongside their existing charging system(s)? Or should they upgrade to a new fully multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) converged charging system? Both options have benefits, and they are summarized below.

 

Benefits of a standalone 5G charging system 

  • Faster to set up

Setting up a 5G-only system will require only covering 5G interfaces and business use cases. There is no need to be backward compatible with older generation interfaces (e.g., SS7, diameter, etc.). Nor is there a need to support all historical rating plans. Instead, you keep only the relevant ones while introducing new up-to-date plans that meet current business news and the latest standards.

  • No disturbance to the existing charging system(s)

Most CSPs have charging systems running in production and are reluctant to upgrade these systems for the risk of introducing a bug or losing existing functionality.

  • Lower CAPEX (no need to migrate all existing business logics/schemes)

In many cases, the cost of setting up a standalone 5G charging system will be lower compared to launching a multi-generation system due to:

– No migration effort of existing customer population to the new charging system

– Fewer business use cases and schemes to support, therefore requiring less configuration and implementation efforts

– Fewer hardware requirements (e.g., only 5G-related processes, smaller population, etc.)

 

Benefits of a multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) converged charging system 

  •  A fully cloud-native charging domain

CSPs are increasingly looking for ways to move their workloads to the cloud, whether private or public, to benefit from the vast promise cloud-related technologies can bring them.

Moreover, industry standardization bodies, such as 3GPP and TM Forum, are releasing new standards that correspond with cloud technology – 3GPP 5G service-based architecture, TM Forum Open Digital Architecture (ODA), etc.

5G charging system vendors, in turn, create the 5G system conformant to the new standards. Thus, cloud-native systems are also effective for all older mobile generations supported by these systems.

  • Reduce OPEX due to systems unification

Grouping all CSPs’ charging systems into one system can bring significant savings to CSPs’ operational costs, including:

– Reducing processing overheads

– Reducing the overall number of control processes

– Reducing the cost of support —you need less support by individuals/groups to support a single system than to support multiple systems

– Reducing the number of supported technologies — each charging system will, in most cases, support a different set of technologies, which reduces the cost of engaging with 3rd party vendors or the training and maintaining of CSPs’ internal support teams

  • Bundling capabilities across mobile generations’ lines of business

Having several lines of business residing on the same charging system gives the CSPs the ability to bundle plans across lines of business. A good example is a group plan such as a family plan. Some of the group members, like parents, may have 5G devices and plans, whereas the rest of the group members or children may have 4G devices and plans.

It is worth mentioning that some converged charging systems, such as Optiva Charging Engine, can support lines of business other than mobile (e.g., landline, internet, etc.). So, CSPs can have omni-play, such as quadplay, offerings for customers across all supported mobile generations.

  • An opportunity to retire obsolete rating schemes

In charging systems that have been up and running for many years, there is a tendency to accumulate obsolete rating schemes for old plans that are no longer salable. This could include, for example, pay-per-use voice and text plans for CSPs that only offer plans with unlimited voice and text.

As the number of old plans grows, they negatively impact the system due to storage impact, unused rating logic, related code/configuration, etc. Cleanup of these plans is a time-consuming task that CSPs are not eager to embark on. Instead, moving old charging systems to a new converged charging system is a great way to achieve this cleanup.

 

Conclusions

In the long run, deploying a multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) end-to-end converged charging system is the right solution. But it has its downsides because it requires a higher initial investment for migrating the existing charging system to the new one. Also, this is typically a long and risky project. 

It is evident from such multiple projects that have failed, been suspended, or were partially successful as the projects exceeded duration and budget. Of course, there will be cases where deploying a standalone 5G charging system is the correct solution, for example, for a greenfield 5G-only CSP that needs only a 5G charging system.

However, there is a third option. It is a good option for many CSPs that do not want the risk of a full transformation from the start but need to launch 5G and monetize. We have begun to see a few operators taking their first steps on a more gradual journey. In the first phase of this middle way, a CSP should deploy a standalone 5G charging system for all its 5G customers and leave all legacy generation customers on the existing legacy charging system. Once this phase is complete, the CSP can gradually migrate older generation plans (mostly 4G, but older G’s also) to the new 5G system with the customers that are subscribed to these plans. 

Eventually, once all migration is done, the CSP will end up with a multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) converged charging system. This option provides the desired result of a single modern multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) converged charging system with all benefits and a longer and more controlled deployment time that will enable the CSP to spread its costs over a longer period, making it more feasible and reducing the risk to business continuity. Thus, the CSP enjoys the advantages of both options — agility and fast monetization and the consolidation of architecture and improved customer experience.

As Optiva started its product journey to cloud native, it designed its charging engine with the capability to serve both as a standalone 5G charging system and a multi-generation (3G, 4G, 5G) converged charging system. Optiva understood there is no right or wrong answer and that each CSP has unique needs and considerations. Optiva advanced 5G capabilities and flexible cloud tools enable fast tracking the launch and monetization of new 5G services. With our test automation framework and OOTB offerings, CSPs can enjoy gradual migration with reduced overall risk.

 

Want to know more about Optiva’s revolutionary fast-track delivery and proven BSS that powers brands globally? Request a presentation.

Have feedback or questions for the author? Contact Jacob Bensaid, Senior Product Manager, Optiva

Discover more! Read Evolution of Telecom Project Delivery Over Two Decades.