Carrier Evolution
Though it remains unclear precisely which new charging systems might gain favor, a survey of some 30 tier one service providers, sponsored by Tekelec and conducted by Heavy Reading, suggests several approaches are being considered.

In any industry long accustomed to “usage-based billing,” it will come as no surprise that bandwidth caps prompt thinking about ways to offer temporary “overage protection,” for a fee.

More controversially, executives also are looking at application-based tiers, where customers pay based on the types of applications they want to use. Highly bandwidth intensive apps such as entertainment video or gaming might have one rate and usage quota, while email access and light web surfing might be billed at a different rate.

Plans that are optimized for social networking are another example of how retail plans can be tailored for users with different app profiles.

Speed-based tiers are common in the fixed line business, but might also find application in the mobile realm. Aside from different rates for faster and slower access, users might be offered various types of “speed boost” offers for users who only occasionally need high speed access, but most of the time can get by just fine with slower speeds.

Time-based tiers might charge more at peak hours and less at off-peak hours.

Family data plans of the sort now used for voice and messaging for multiple users and devices on a single account also are likely, allowing users on a single account to use multiple devices that share a single bucket of broadband usage.

One example might be a plan that supports each device with enough bandwidth to view 20 videos a month, with unlimited social networking and web browsing, and 200 hours of voice over Internet protocol calls per month, the study suggests.

In other cases, service providers might look at ways to create plans with “top ups” or “roll over” features on such family plans.

“Casual plans” that are easy to start and stop are another area where charging could change.

Services might mimic the out of home “hotspot” charging method, where users would be able to buy access for a day, for example.

Loyalty mechanisms also might be more common in the future, including birthday and service anniversary bonuses, free service top-ups twice a year, speed boosts, unlimited bandwidth during off-peak hours, or an extra five Gbps of data for six months with the purchase of a new tablet.

Special promotions to accelerate the adoption of new services or encourage
different mobile usage patterns might include unlimited access to a new application for three months, funded by advertisements, discounts on service tier upgrades, or unlimited services at certain times or days when the network is not congested.

Service providers might also want to “zero rate” some apps, while charging a premium for apps that require more bandwidth or will operate at peak hours.

On top of that, some devices might have specific plans available to users of those devices, fitting the historical profile of usage on specific devices.