Thursday, 27 November 2008

Reflections on Next Generation Billing in Budapest

The IIR Next Generation Billing conference was an excellent opportunity to meet with existing friends in the billing community and make many new ones.

The discussion panels I participated in were a good opportunity to share some of the areas I've been looking at and take away ideas from others. We discussed themes including the move from a product centric to a customer centric world; simplicity, predictability and certainty in tariffs and charging; and strategies for maximising the customer propensity to pay.

There was a lot of good stuff discussed at the conference but some points particularly struck me:
  • People are no longer talking about ‘billing’ but about ‘revenue management’, as billing is only a part of the process
  • Organise a billing system that copes with ‘chaos’, i.e. you need to be able to bill whatever the salespeople need to sell
  • Don't over-engineer solutions - NASA spent a fortune developing zero gravity pens for their space programme, the Russians used pencils!
  • Evolution into ‘billing as a service’ where telcos provide billing for other industries
  • The future of rating is flat rate - I've been saying this for a long time!
  • When the customer has an Internet service, don’t let him have paper bills - something we all know, but struggle to do
Overall, the key message for me (and this confirmed my existing thinking) is the importance of having a view of the changing market and what it will mean for billing. How will the propositions evolve and how will we bill them? We need to understand what the future propositions will look like and what their billing requirements will be.

Twitter was a useful tool to push some of these points out to a wider audience during the conference.

The venue was excellent. Both the conference and the accommodation was in the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal and I'd certainly recommend the hotel if you're visiting Budapest.

DeFi Mobile and MAXroam did a grand job providing me with cost effective mobile telephony in Hungary. I'll be writing more about them shortly.

Thanks also to Malev Hungarian Airlines for excellent service at every customer touchpoint, from check-in to in-flight service, although maybe you could work on the in-flight catering a bit!

Thank you to Andrea and the team at IIR for organising the event and to Tony for chairing many of the sessions in his usual indomitable style!

My only regret is that I didn't have time to see more than a tiny bit of a beautiful city but I did enjoy our meal at KOGART, the walk in the snow up to Heroes' Square and trip on one of the world's oldest metro lines. Thank you Roxan!

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – iNum, the first global phone number

Today's post from Mobile Industry Review.

I’ve been looking at iNum, a new service from Voxbone. iNum has launched as a global phone number that isn’t tied to a specific geographical location. It uses the new global ‘country code’ 883 to give users a number that will reach them wherever they are, with no geographical implications. Voxbone’s vision is that phone numbers should no longer be defined by geography but should be linked to individuals and businesses wherever they or their customers are located.

Voxbone provides iNum numbers to service providers who make them available to customers as part of their own service offering. An example here is Iotum’s Calliflower conferencing service which is offering iNum access on their premium service.  Other early partners include Truphone, Gizmo5, Rebtel and Voxeo.

iNum pricing is an interesting area. Calls between iNum service providers are free of charge, whereas calls from outside the iNum community will incur a small charge from Voxbone, which will be reflected in the cost of calling an iNum from a mobile or landline. Voxbone expects calls from outside the iNum community to cost no more than a local call. Voxbone provides service providers with iNums free of charge and the service providers choose what they charge customers for an iNum.

Voxbone are in the process of negotiating access deals with operators worldwide to ensure it’s easy to call an iNum. At the present time this is still somewhat limited so if you pick up your mobile you won’t be able to reach an iNum direct. Voxbone’s short term fix for this is to have local access numbers around the world that allow an iNum to be reached via a two stage dial process. So in the UK I can call 020 3355 6363 and enter the iNum number I want to reach. Not particularly user friendly but a good short term fix to provide ubiquitous access.

The big challenge for Voxbone is to gain recognition of 883 as the iNum global ‘country code’. iNum’s target customers will often be international travellers with a good understanding of technology who will be receptive to this type of product. Voxbone also has plans for an iNum global directory service to make it easier for iNum users to connect with each other. As more service providers come on stream this will also help to raise the 883 profile.

I’ve been testing out a couple of iNum numbers from providers who are among Voxbone’s launch partners. Calls between a single service provider’s numbers, between two service providers and from the PSTN using a local access number are all working well and call quality is great.

At the moment iNum is a voice only product which may limit its appeal to potential users as most of us already have enough phone numbers for people to reach us on! However Voxbone plans to add SMS, video and presence to iNum and these features will start to add real value to the iNum concept and differentiate it from other contact media.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Mobile Industry Review christmas draw

Don't forget to enter the MIR Christmas draw. Make a donation to charity and enter a draw to win loads of great prizes. Details are available at Mobile Industry Review here or see below.

Donate and Win - 2 easy steps:
Pick one of our two charities and make a direct donation in pounds or US dollars.  We’re giving a prize draw ticket for each £5 / $10 donated.

Enter the draw by forwarding your receipt to
We’ve stashed away a load of handsets and accessories over the last few months and will be giving them away in a draw on the 10th December… just in time for Christmas.  So what’s going on?
This time around we won’t be picking winners from the site’s comments.  Instead we’re running a draw.  Entry to the draw is in exchange for a donation divided between Mobile Industry Review’s two chosen charities - the UK-based Childline and the UN Foundation (winners of a Mobile Industry Review award) which operates internationally.
Each donation of £5 / $10 gets you one chance to win a prize from the list - you can donate as much  as you like.  Individuals and companies can participate and we’ll publish your name if you share your details with us.
MIR CP Prizes 600
Apricot Picobook Pro
So what could you win? You could choose from:

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Rebtel; simple, convenient international calling

Today's post from Mobile Industry Review.

There are lots of neat mobile VoIP services out in the market – two of my favourites are Truphone and DeFi mobile because of the way they embed themselves into a Nokia S60 handset, provide an additional phone number and just work where there’s WiFi. However one provider that I’ve been taking another look at is Rebtel. Rebtel is aimed at people who call abroad using their mobiles (Rebtel does work just as well from landlines) and (not surprisingly!) don’t want to pay the extortionate rates charged by the mobile operators. Whilst Rebtel uses VoIP to carry the international leg of the call, the call to the local Rebtel number is made using your regular mobile minutes. Rebtel’s killer feature is that it works on any mobile phone; no software to install, no SIM cards to swap over. This can be a five quid or a five hundred quid handset – Rebtel just works.

There are several different ways to use Rebtel. First you need to set up an account online and add some credit. At a simple level, for ad hoc international calls, you call the local Rebtel operator number and follow the IVR. This is Rebtel ‘double dial’. However the easiest way to use Rebtel is via ‘direct call’. Login to your account and enter the phone number of a friend or colleague who lives abroad. Rebtel then provides you with a permanent virtual number for your friend. So if I want to call Annie in Australia, I’m given a local UK number to use instead of her Australian number. I save the local number in my phone and use this to call Annie in the future. Cost is zero to my mobile operator (for me) because the call comes out of inclusive minutes, plus £0.013 per minute to Rebtel. I could also make this call for free (assuming inclusive mobile minutes), using ‘smart call’, by asking Annie to call me back on the local Australian number displayed on her handset while I stay on the line. Not quite as seamless but a way to save even more money.

Rebtel has just launched ‘collect call’. If I, as a Rebtel user, call someone who isn’t on Rebtel, they will see a local number displayed on their phone. They can then use that local number to call me back on in the future and I pick up a small call charge from Rebtel. The online account management system lets you manage the settings for ‘collect call’ so you can choose whether to accept or decline calls.

Rebtel accounts and numbers can also be managed via SMS and

Rebtel has just launched a great promotion – up to 50 percent off call rates to 23 countries around the world for the next 30 days. A nice gesture in these financially challenging times.

Never one to stand still, Rebtel has been taking a look at the iPhone and will have a Rebtel application in the iPhone AppStore in the next couple of months. They aren’t saying too much about it yet but sounds like one to watch out for. Knowing Apple’s somewhat ambiguous view of VoIP this’ll be interesting!

You can also follow Rebtel on Twitter

In case you’re wondering, I’m told that Rebtel is a corruption of Rebel Telecom, a fitting name for a market disrupting service provider!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Thinking about mobile tariffs

Today's post from Mobile Industry Review.
Recently I’ve been canvassing opinion about tariffs.  I asked the question ‘How many mobile tariffs meet the basic tenets of simplicity & predictability?’  Every answer I received was ‘none’, which got me thinking.  What should tariffs look like and is anyone offering ‘customer friendly’ tariffs yet? Mobile tariffs expect customers to guess what their usage will be. If you over-shoot it costs a fortune, if you under-shoot you’re wasting money.
New service providers in the market are starting to provide a glimpse of what true convergence can deliver and this is starting to simplify tariffs.  The distinction between fixed and mobile communications is becoming increasingly blurred in the market, with VoIP allowing service providers to offer simple inclusive tariffs as a key part of the customer value proposition.  The simplicity of these propositions allows them to be offered to customers worldwide and not just within narrow territorial boundaries.
From a customer perspective, choice of tariffs is a balance between giving the customer the choice to identify the most appropriate tariff for their needs and confusing the customer through too much choice.  Whilst per call charging may suit the occasional user, heavier users want certainty and predictability in their bills.  A flat rate monthly charge that covers all calls to landline and mobile numbers worldwide is the most desirable tariff for heavy users (unlimited calls would of course be subject to a fair use policy).
The options for flat rate models can include worldwide, in-country or in-region, e.g. Europe.  Including mobile calls in the flat rate tariff is desirable because for many customers, mobile numbers make up a significant proportion of their calls and without mobile numbers the element of certainty is lost.
An innovative approach to tariffs allows the customer to build their own package based on selecting the options they require.  The selected options generate a monthly charge specific to that user.  For example, a customer could select flat rate calls within the UK, plus flat rate calls to the US, plus data, plus three geographic inbound numbers for the UK, USA East Coast and USA West Coast.  This puts the customer in control of their own service package and therefore charges.  The customer sees the value from a service tailored to their own requirements and for the service provider it provides the opportunity to increase ARPU by offering the customer additional services which can be added to their base tariff.
Whilst the economics of the VoIP market are different to the cellular mobile market, we are starting to see tariffs from the new service providers that are not ‘designed to confuse’.  What we need now is for a mobile operator to take the plunge …
The ultimate test for any tariff is to test it against the customer experience.  Is it simple?  Will the customer understand what charges they will incur?  Does it give the customer certainty and predictability in their expenditure? For an example of how not to do it look at charging for data by the MB.  What does a MB mean to a customer?  Nothing!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Nokia E63 launches today

My initial reaction when I opened the the Nokia E63 was that it's a cheaper, cut-down version of the E71. Plastic case, no GPS, lower resolution camera. After looking at it more carefully I came to the conclusion that it could stand on its own feet, apart from one fact that could be a killer - it appears that it doesn't support HSDPA. There's no mention of HSDPA on the Nokia website so unless that's an oversight, Nokia seems to have crippled the handset. As the E63 is aimed at data users, this seems astonishingly short-sighted.

However, it will be cheaper than the E71 which is clearly an advantage - EUR 199 before taxes is the guide price, plus it still has WiFi which for me is vital for mobile VoIP.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

DeFi Mobile - new stuff on the way

Yesterday I had a chat with Jeff Rice, CEO of DeFi Mobile. I've blogged before about DeFi's mobile VoIP service and am now using DeFi for most of my calling. We discussed some of the new stuff coming that will further enhance the service.

The voicemail platform will be fully localised for the UK by the end of November. Whilst I'm happy to use services in American English, many customers expect a localised service and how many callers in the UK will understand when they're told to press the pound key!

At sign-up you choose a phone number with an area code for a town or city in your country of choice - I've got a 020 number for London which is fine because it's fairly local to me. However if you put in a request to DeFi they will source a number in virtually any location worldwide; I've just requested one with my home area code. DeFi is adding to the default list all the time as customer demand highlights new areas.

A challenge at the moment is knowing in advance where you can use DeFi. This will become less of an issue as DeFi signs more agreements to create a ubiquitous WiFi layer in towns and cities, however DeFi will also be launching a software tool for identifying WiFi access points so you can easily check out coverage in locations you're visiting. Rather than confuse customers by listing the names of underlying WiFi network partners, some of whose access points may not work seamlessly, DeFi's ethos is to make it transparent which network is providing service and just make it available as 'DeFi Global Access'.

DeFi's hotspot access currently includes:
  • 50 global WiFi access point partners operating in more than 75 countries
  • 15,000 of the world's most popular hotels
  • 120 top international airports
  • 11,000 restaurants and coffee shops
  • 240 convention centres
  • 7,000 shopping malls & public areas
  • 13 cities with wireless mesh coverage
  • 50 top marinas
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Friday, 7 November 2008

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

I've just ordered a copy of Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom : How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work and World by Matthew Fraser & Soumitra Dutta.

This video is a nice summary of the impact of social networking.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – Mobile phone, converged device or communications device?

This week's post from Mobile Industry Review.

Mobile phones are at the heart of the convergence of communications with multimedia applications like photos, music, GPS and gaming. Increasingly, consumers are buying devices that support multimedia creation and consumption, however many of these devices still seem to be compromises that don't deliver outstanding functionality across all applications. They do some tasks very well but others less well. They also tend to be bulky devices with a chunky form factor.

When I bought my last handset I took the view that what I actually wanted was a communications device. I wanted to be able to make calls, text, email, and access social networking services easily and seamlessly. Anything else would be useful - but a device that did the comms piece well was essential. I went for the Nokia E51, despite it not being available on a consumer tariff, because it's designed for communication. It gives me:
  • 3G/GSM voice - Speaks for itself, obviously, and on my handset is ably supported by SpinVox for voice message delivery by SMS.
  • WiFi & VoIP - DeFi and Truphone are essential to me for cost effective and quality mobile coverage at home as well as in WiFi hotspots elsewhere. DeFi also gives me a London number on my mobile so people can call me at lower rates.
  • SMS - SMS has been a key communication method for me ever since I started sending messages via foreign operator SMSC's back in 1994 to get around the lack of operator interconnection in the UK at the time.
  • Email - The Nokia Email service delivers copies of my messages to the handset home screen for easy reference.
  • Web access - The principle communication requirement here is Twitter. A flat rate data tariff is essential to provide certainty of expenditure.
  • Nokia E Series 'Active standby' mode - Displays essential information on the home screen, for example both my SMS and my email inboxes are displayed concurrently.
  • Excellent form factor - The E51 is a very slim handset that slips comfortably into a shirt pocket, unlike the bigger N and E Series devices.
  • Great keypad - Proper keys in the right places!
So what about the stuff that's missing from the E51?
  • High-end camera - I don't need a mobile camera for capturing high quality images. I use the E51 camera for snapping photos of stuff I need to remember and sending a copy to Evernote via Shozu. When I want high quality images I use a pocket size Nikon that has done the job well for several years now.
  • GPS - I've tried satnav via Nokia handsets using Google Maps or Nokia Maps and they don't come close to my TomTom. The TomTom has a screen you can actually read in the car (surprisingly useful!), simple setup via the touch screen and can be used by others in the family.
  • Music - I don't listen to a great of music but the E51 player is fine when I need it, although for sheer style you still can't beat an iPod!
I suspect my next device will have a decent camera and GPS, if only because these will increasingly be standard features in quality handsets, but for now my E51 does the job!

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