Roaming Billing and Charging Reconsidered: GSMA’s BCE Initiative and the Future of TAP

In 2019, the GSMA initiated the development of a new standard called “Billing and Charging Evolution” (BCE) expected to be used alongside TAP (Transferred Account Procedure) at early stages and then gradually replace it as adoption gathers pace.


The decision to revise the existing standards was driven by a number of considerations. Although new technologies, such as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), are unlocking new opportunities, they are bringing many new challenges as well. And inter-carrier settlement is no exception. According to market analysts’ projections*, there will be 3.5 billion IoT connections and 1.8 billon 5G connections served by licensed cellular networks by 2025 worldwide.

With experts predicting Voice over LTE (VoLTE) could continue growing at a steady annual rate of 6.57% up until 2024, this is yet another good reason for operators to take a closer look at the new standard and consider taking practical steps to implement it.

Adopting new wholesale roaming monetisation models will enable operators to generate more revenue from these business segments.

Why the existing TAP process does not match up to the changing market demands

Firstly, with the rapid development of the IoT ecosystem, exchanging IoT data through TAP is becoming a real burden for mobile operators. As both per-KB rates and the amount of data generated by a device are going down, operators earn less money from data charges exchanged in a TAP file than they spend on billing partners for those charges.

Moreover, they have to manually issue invoices for small-sized data transfers.

Another limitation is that TAP currently supports only 100 petabytes, which makes it a poor fit for 5G roaming.

Finally, let’s not forget about the cost of services provided by clearing houses that serve as hubs facilitating the timely and secure exchange of valid TAP files between operators.

The new GSMA’s standard for flexible charging and simplified billing

In the nutshell, the Billing and Charging Evolution (BCE) is a more flexible and simpler way of invoicing for wholesale usage of communications services delivered by operators. Unlike with TAP where invoices are generated for each transfer of data, minutes or SMS, BCE enables billing based on usage data aggregated on a per-day basis.

The BCE process introduces the following new report formats:

  • Detailed Data Record (DDR)
  • Usage Data Report (UDR)
  • Billing Statement Report (BSR).

The benefits of the new standard:

  • Wholesale roaming process automation: BCE reports are exchanged at agreed intervals (daily/weekly/quarterly or annually)
  • Faster and easier dispute resolution: If a dispute arises, the parties exchange detailed, non-aggregated reports (DDR)
  • Lower costs: As operators are the only parties to data exchange agreements, they can save on clearing costs
  • Support for additional charging models: Operators can implement count-based (per IMSI per day or per tariff change) or volume-based charging
  • Effective ways of monetising new technologies: BCE is designed to support 5G and MIoT (NB-IoT, LTE-M)
  • Greater flexibility in terms of data volume limitations: BCE enables transfer of any volume of data.

BCE adoption

During the transition period, BCE will be used alongside TAP. Some operators, such as, for example, Japan’s NTT DOCOMO or Switzerland’s Swisscom, have already announced the launch of BCE. As more and more major operators are joining the GSMA’s initiative, we can expect a significant number of implementations as early as 2021.

Nexign’s approach

We are currently working on a solution that will enable mobile operators to implement BCE to meet their wholesale roaming settlement needs.

The new Nexign solution will provide the following capabilities:

  • DDR records processing
  • UDR reports generation/processing
  • UDR records charging
  • Invoice generation/processing
  • Full reference data maintenance (via GUI)
  • Reject & Dispute process
  • Roaming Agreement EXchange (RAEX) data (for BCE) uploading

In addition to the core functionality listed above, the solution will borrow some useful features from Nexign RSS, such as broker services, validation error masking and incremental data uploads for integration with external systems.

In order to facilitate migration, Nexign BCE will support both BCE and TAP.

The solution will be built on a modern stack of technologies enabling it to be deployed and run on Unix-like operating systems and on Windows. A friendly user interface will provide complete control over transactions, including calculation of settlement amounts, a clear view of charging documents and continuous monitoring of document exchanges during a reporting period.

To conclude, it is worth pointing out that BCE has already been recognised as the only industry-approved replacement for TAP. What that means is that at any time roaming partners can ask a mobile operator to consider a transition to the BCE process. Our task is to ensure smooth and easy migration to the new standard for our customers, equipping them to face the emerging challenges of the 5G era.

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