North American RA: Got Your Number?

At some point of time I had noticed that I don’t find too many contributors to talkRA from North America. Even though the readership is there, yet we lack the contribution. American society has contributed greatly to the world economies and culture, with myriad inventions addressing every aspect of our lives and culture, not forgetting the infamous French fries or Spaghetti Bolognese (any attempt to mention this latter dish at a common Bologna restaurant would risk the guest being thrown out by the chef).

So, back to NA and RA.

The North American numbering plan, where all phone numbers, both mobile and fixed, use the same numbering system imposes a unique definition on how business is conducted.

The fact that CSPs in the Rest of the World (a fine American-invented phrase) use unique non-geo prefixes for mobile phones makes life rather different when one tries to compare the industry challenges with the North American numbering plan and the implications for revenue assurance.

In North America, the called party (MPP) has to pay for the call. The fact that in the US and Canada it is impossible to tell whether the called party is a landline or mobile imposes an MPP regime, the opposite to the CPP convention where the caller pays. In some cases the providers do offer a special ring tone when calling mobiles. In my eyes, this is a limited remedy.

As a consequence of MPP, the chargeable rate is determined by a myriad of tables and call jurisdictions. These charges are based on NPA-NXX tables and zones to determine whether the call has attributes (x,y) where x = {inter-LATA, intra-LATA} , y = {inter-State, intra-State}. On top there are “corridors” that override the above jurisdiction and also metro areas and more. For simplicity, I will not go into “1-800”, and related numbers.

Needless to say, this complexity also affects interconnect and other settlements between carriers that also must follow this uniquely North American approach.

In my view, if the RA sector outside of North America focuses on whether the OSS systems are correctly performing in view of recording, conveyance, charging, and provisioning, the North Americans instead focus greatly on “guiding” rules that are complex and where one wrong or out-of-date attribute in a table could cause a lot of harm. Let me illustrate how complex the situation can be. An average reference table system for a US telco would be comprised of say tens of tables: NPA-NXX and small NPA-NXX, CLLI codes tables and more. Vendors like CCMI and Valuecom make a living from providing such tables on a monthly subscription basis to various TEM vendors and telecom consultants.

The rates might look simple, however the guiding logic, which involves guiding to a customer and guiding to a service is rather complex. This is the driver of the business models of TEOCO and ATS, amongst others. As an anecdote, how things can be interesting, some rates involve distance calculation. There are at least 2 formulas for distance calculation. The “accurate” one is based on NPA-NXX V&H coordinates and calculates using the square root. The alternative formula by AT&T is based upon AT&T V&H figures and an iterative approximation. This alternative exists because, back in 1948, computers could not calculate square root along with correction logic.

The North American market is large enough to keep an admirable vendor like TEOCO doing well. After all, for a mid size company, there is so much business in the US, that sometimes it is not worth showing your cards just to play outside the US.

Since the domains of rating and billing verification, for retail, wholesale and interconnect fall within the pillars of the RA practice, it is little wonder that a generic solution would fit both the North American and RoW markets. If one would say that in the US you can get “all you can eat” price plans for a fixed amount so why worry about the issues above, my reply would be: (a) read the fine print and ask what does the “all” stand for, and; (b) interconnect is the major revenue stream and rating is still required anyhow.

To summarize my points, revenue assurance in North America has rather different aspects and challenges to RA in the RoW. TMF GB941 is generic enough not to be concerned with such differences. As for me, I’m curious. On the other hand, quite a few American vendors view CSPs in the RoW with a perspective more suitable to the North American market.

I recall an immortal comment by the American CEO of a large solution vendor. He said to me once at some telco conference: “..these Europeans are not all the same…” I replied “…well UK is not even part of the continent anyhow”.

I would appreciate your comments.

David Leshem
David Leshem
David is an expert in enterprise solutions: billing, profitability, business intelligence, customer retention, churn and revenue assurance.   Away from the office, David is a keen photographer. Visit davidleshem.com to sample his photographic work.