Mobile operators must change their current billing systems before 3G (third-generation) mobile services see mass adoption.

“We need new billing systems that support the different types of services and transactions that 3G will be offering,” said Andrew Tiller, vice-president of product marketing at Geneva Technology Inc.

The current billing software is designed for global system for mobile communications (GSM) voice telephony. Hardwired with specific parameters such as time and distance, the current system is only capable of charging on a “per minute” basis, Tiller told press members at a roundtable discussion last week.

The present systems therefore are inadequate as they are unable to handle billing by “per transaction” or “per megabyte per minute,” Tiller explained.

Thus, telco operators that want to grab a piece of the lucrative 3G pie – where the mobile phone can be a payment system

have to work to get their customers’ trust and confidence first, said Bertrand Bidaud, research director for Telecommunications at Gartner Inc. Asia-Pacific.

“If your telco has a bad reputation in giving out erroneous or messed up phone bills, the last thing that a user wants is a credit card-like bill which may not be accurate,” Bidaud said.

Bill Tickner, acting general manager for Geneva Technology in Asia expects that banks will challenge the operators in this space. The latter lacks the competencies needed for effective financial management of customers and will need to build customer confidence to compete.

“The banks preferred route is to become Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), with access to a network without the cost of owning one. This way they can ‘own’ the mobile commerce customer totally and control the revenues with minimal sharing,” Tickner added.

Like financial institutions, telcos must be ready to take the risk of assuming bad debts. “If I lose my credit card tomorrow and inform the bank the next day, I will not be liable for the expenses incurred thereafter – will telcos take that risk?” asked Bidaud.