The telecommunications industry is no longer driven by transmission and connectivity. To compete, operators must offer an increasingly broad range of services. To supply these services they draw upon content and applications from a variety of providers and share the revenues with them. Mediation programs provide billing records, fraud detection and statistical data drawn from any type of network. Real-time "active" mediation systems make it possible to handle the complex billing, information management and settlement functions that new sophisticated services require.
With the progressive implementation of 3G and GPRS networks in Latin America, carriers are confronting the increased complexities of doing business within the current regulatory environment. Heightened levels of global, competitive, pressure in the telecommunications industry simultaneously impose additional challenges. Because of this trend operators are required to look for ways to incorporate new business models and to quickly roll out content-based services to the market faster. To offer content-based services such as video-on-demand, web access, content management, data streaming and other advanced, more costly, services there is a real need to secure payment prior to service delivery. This demands a proactive approach towards convergent data mediation. Truly convergent mediation platforms enable network operators to provide content-based services for next generation networks. Mediation is an OSS (operational support system) component, which enables operators to manage this process. Although pre-paid plans have been widely embraced for voice services throughout Latin America, effectively addressing the additional complexities of wholesale settlement and revenue sharing with third-party content providers becomes of paramount importance. "Active Payment Mediation" capabilities provide a way to deal with many of the challenges facing next- generation providers, especially the enduring quest to realize full revenue potential. Mediation has been recognized as a key OSS component for many years. From humble beginnings, when the requirement was limited to basic collection from telephone switches, mediation has evolved into a platform that not only supports the billing process but enables it and improves it. Since the advent of IP-based networks, mediation has even taken on the responsibility of creating the billing record itself from raw traffic data. Through complex correlation across disparate network sources, mediation systems can assemble and deliver self-contained, 'billing friendly' usage records for all billing, fraud detection, statistical and planning purposes. A truly convergent mediation system can also collect data from any type of network. Convergent Mediation Platform But telecommunications do not stand still. A business imperative has emerged that calls for even more sophisticated content and commerce services to be made available to consumers, with associated complex billing models and payment options. As a result, mediation is continuing to evolve rapidly to provide the information management required to make these services billable and profitable. Content-based services, and in particular mobile commerce, are changing the telecommunications paradigm. It is no longer just about connectivity. It is about what is delivered across a network, whether it be content or commerce. However, in the new telecoms world, network operators will not provide most content or transactions - instead, they will rely on hundreds or possibly thousands of independent content providers and aggregators for content and commerce. In order to grow their businesses, savvy network operators realize that they must actively encourage content providers or suppliers to deliver interesting content and services over their networks. Fortunately, operators are in a strong position to persuade content providers to partner with them, particularly if they offer valuable services to the content provider, such as: o billing and payment services o discount and loyalty schemes o dispute handling o bad debt protection o tariff management. In support of the first value proposition above, billing and payment services, mediation is ideally positioned to help out. The Content Manager function of the mediation platform enables mobile commerce. Until recently, mediation has always been a "post-event" process. In other words, mediation gets involved only after the service has been delivered. For example, in traditional telephony, mediation collects a billing record that is created after the telephone call has been completed. In a video-on-demand scenario, mediation would extract information from the network after the video was successfully delivered to the user. Today, the delivery of content over higher- bandwidth GPRS and 3G networks and the clear trend towards securing payment prior to service delivery has demanded a more proactive type of mediation. We call this requirement "Active Payment Mediation." Active Payment Mediation Using Active Payment Mediation, service providers can support the numerous payment models available for a content or commerce transaction. In many cases, payment choice will be up to consumers, and they are likely to choose different payment scenarios in different situations, such as: o credit or debit cards (traditional method) o Stored value account for commerce (prepaid wallet) o Prepay account o Postpay account (pay via phone bill). Active Payment Mediation provides this flexibility to service providers and consumers because it enables the exchange of physical or digital goods and services where payment is made electronically. Active Payment Mediation adds flexibility to the first step in the payment and billing process for these content services. In the Active Payment Mediation scenario, mediation moves closer to the network, where it becomes part of the request, authentication and payment processes of the service itself. Active Payment Mediation intercepts the consumer's request for the content (physical or digital) service and facilitates a price quote. The pricing information can reside either on the content provider's systems or on the operator's system. If it is stored on the operator's system, strong "self care" capabilities must be made available to the content provider. In this scenario the Active Payment Mediation server authenticates the consumer prior to allowing the transaction to take place through the content manager. The consumer selects the payment method they wish to use, and the Active Payment Mediation server then interacts with the payment platform to support the option that the consumer has selected. The purpose is to confirm that sufficient balance or credit exists in the consumer's account. It is only at this point that the transaction is allowed to proceed. All is still not done once the transaction has completed. At this stage the immediate retail requirement (provision and payment for the service) has been handled, but what about the wholesale settlement component? The content provider will want to be paid. The last function that Active Payment Mediation performs for each transaction is to create a post-event billing record that enables wholesale settlement between the operator and the content provider (and any other parties involved, such as advertisers or sponsors). In the revenue sharing process, the operator divides up the revenue from the transaction between the contributing parties, depending on services rendered and the commercial agreements in place. Revenue Sharing is an end-to-end process that begins in the network with Active Payment Mediation and ends with a complete Content Partner Management and Settlement platform. Wholesale settlement for content differs from wholesale settlement for traditional telephony in a number of ways. The primary difference is that with content, there are likely to be hundreds or even thousands of content partners - while with traditional telephony, wholesale settlements focused on interconnection with a limited number of parties. To effectively support many partners, business relationships need to be modelled and managed. As a result, the Content Partner Management and Settlement platform requires a strong partner relationship management module that works hand in hand with a world- class settlement module. The billing record created by the Active Payment Mediation platform also feeds into the retail billing system. By using mediation in combination with a content partner management and settlement platform, service providers can incrementally add support for sophisticated content services to stable, "in production" 2G (GSM or CDMA) environments without disrupting the retail billing platform. This is a very desirable option in times of financial constraint. Conclusion Mediation has taken on additional functionalities, and mediating content for next-generation networks is just one of the many new components true convergent mediation platforms must have in order to help service providers reach their true revenue potential.