The 5G Converged Charging System: 5G-ready charging systems
In our fourth and final excerpt from our whitepaper with Analysys Mason, we discuss what CSPs should look for from vendors as they look to upgrade their monetization systems.
3GPP-compliant Converged Charging Systems (CCS) will have a long-term impact on CSP operations and become an immutable part of the 5G infrastructure. This makes it imperative for CSPs to plan their approach to solutions and vendors in time for roll-out of 5G services. From a charging systems perspective, CSPs need to consider the following four features while assessing vendor solutions.
- Network interfacing capabilities
Unlike earlier generations, 5G CCS systems sit on the edge of the network with some functions overlapping into network domain. Expertise and understanding of network interfaces will be essential, especially as the CCS will directly interface with multiple network nodes and will become a persistent part of the network infrastructure of the future.
- Mature microservices
While most new monetisation solutions claim to be microservices-based, the maturity of microservices in terms of their granularity and state are important considerations. The agility of a cloud-native architecture is dependent on how granular and loosely coupled its microservices are. Equally important is whether these microservices are ‘stateless’ or ‘stateful’, as that can have implications for latency, data storage and throughput. Generally, a microservice with higher granularity will be more loosely coupled and more flexible. This will allow it scale rapidly and function independently, which is important for deployment for an individual use case. This will allow the CSPs to selectively increase capacity for specific use cases, helping to reduce the overall TCO.
- Performance and scale
Microservices-based architecture generally performs better than a monolithic equivalent. However, any solution should be able scale dynamically while keeping to latency requirements. At large scale, the performance of the applications will depend on multiple factors such as connectivity, data access frequency, database throughput, performance of interdependent applications etc. These factors may not all be obvious in short tests. Scale is also an important consideration in the transformation of large, legacy monoliths, where previous experience in transforming large-scale legacy applications can help mitigate the risk of disruption to operations.
- Extensive automation
The use of AI to automate processes and workflows will be crucial. Previous mobile generations relied on data stored in ad-hoc formats, and analytics models were implemented in vendors’ applications and automated processes without any standardisation. For 5G, 3GPP has defined the NWDAF which defines how data should be saved and accessed, and includes support for analytics models applied to operational processes, charging data analysis and data monetisation opportunities.
In the short to medium term as 5G deployments pick up pace around the world, there are important considerations for CSPs to pay attention to.
- Session continuity
Real-time charging for usage sessions that are split across 5G and Wi-Fi or 4G network may be an issue, especially if multiple vendor solutions are involved. There is no consensus yet on how such scenarios need to be handled and it is likely these can be rated only in ‘near real time’ at best in the short to medium term. While information exchange is possible between diameter and HTTP formats, the latency of the transaction often suffers. However, this will not be a concern in the long term as vendors introduce solutions and the 5G core takes on more traffic.
- Multiple charging engines
Having multiple CCSs can lead to problems with consistency and accuracy in charging. This is especially the case for sessions that may be split between the CCS and other charging engines altogether. While this may be not be a common occurrence, CSPs need to have a long-term roadmap for a homogenous architecture.
As the roll-out of 5G network infrastructure gathers speed, monetization of 5G-enabled use cases has become a matter of urgency – especially as CSPs are caught between the pressures of a squeeze on margins, and the high cost of 5G deployment. CSPs should accelerate the adoption of CCSs, which will be a gamechanger for telco monetization systems. CCSs will have significant benefits for adjacent systems such as billing and mediation, besides aiding the monetization of new applications, such as those based on network edge or network slicing. In assessing new vendor solutions, CSPs should prioritize architectural agility, mature microservices and ability to interface with the network as important considerations.
Download the full whitepaper here.