SPECIAL will develop and validate an information model for customer care within a service provisioning environment for consumer-oriented interactive applications. This includes a customer care system and billing functions that take into account heterogeneous service platforms including variable upstream and downstream bandwidths. It will fulfil a number of requirements such as suitability for a large number of multimedia services, conditional access, ATM-related billing and openness for interconnections to cross-border multimedia service sites. In addition, customers' acceptance of these different services which is reflected in their service usage as well as willingness to pay will be evaluated.
SPECIAL aims to define the relationships between all different entities involved in multimedia service provisioning and their implications for all players.
IC stands for "InfoCity NRW", SPECIAL's field trial environment. InfoCity NRW is a large scale trial which offers multimedia services to about 10000 residential users. It is an ideal situation for testing the chosen approaches in a realistic environment.
The main achievement of the first twelve project months is the development of a billing and accounting prototype system. It shows a number of features such as hot billing, flexible tariffing schemes, service bundling, re-rating, etc. The prototype will be enhanced during the second year. An initial customer care model and a security concept have been defined. SPECIAL has established a strong relationship with InfoCity NRW which is reflected in the fact that SPECIAL's reverse channel approach has been implemented in the trail cable sites. Initial User requirements investigations have been carried out and will be complemented by evaluation studies. The foundation for interconnection between SPECIAL and the Italian AMUSE project via the JAMES network has been laid.
SPECIAL addresses a novel field within multi media research because so far, very little material exists on billing and customer care for multi-service platforms in a heterogeneous network environment. It is particularly important that SPECIAL can conduct its work in the context of a pilot test that generates real traffic. The project's integration within this pilot test will also contribute to the development of realistic approaches in tariffing for a variety of consumer-oriented services.
Currently, there are a number of multi media pilot projects all over Europe. Their goal is to exploit the technical potential of future ATM-based networks but also to assess the economic viability of such service environments. SPECIAL will advance the issue of customer care and ATM related billing which are vital aspects for the overall success of consumer-oriented interactive services. The project will cover all perspectives involved: the end user as customer, the service/contents providers and the network carrier.
Main contributions to the programme objectives:
The Infocity trial demonstrated interactive broadband services to 5000 homes: the project developed also online payment systems (E-cash and cybercash) billing and accounting systems.
Contribution to the programme
Largest cable trial in Europe, opened the way to interactive video service for all citizens.
In order to achieve the goals outlined above a theoretical and a practical stream of actions is pursued. The project's technical approach is based on a thorough analysis of current technological options. This refers to billing systems, reverse channel and conditional access as well as approaches to customer care. The result is a plan that specifies those components which need to be adapted and those for which new developments are required. This plan will contribute to the development of a business related model.
Based on the results of this work a prototype showing the way to realisation will be developed. The first version of this prototype has realised a number of interfaces (e.g. service, accounting system, network, user identification, etc.) to three selected services, namely telemedicine, an information system with telelearning component as well as teleshopping with advertisements. The prototype system is being tested and evaluated. Later the prototype system will be employed in a limited size field test to obtain further experience.
The results of these tests will be evaluated and necessary changes implemented. The results will then be integrated into the pilot test environment with large numbers of end-users.
Summary of Trial
The project is an integral part of InfoCity NRW, a pilot test with about 10 000 end-users in Germany's most densely populated region, covering 120 x 60 km in the industrial area of North-Rhine Westphalia. InfoCity NRW is based on private telecommunications infrastructure and hence an active step towards liberalisation in Europe. Private consumers will gain access to a variety of interactive services ranging from Video on Demand to citizen services and point-to-point connections.
The following key issues are being addressed by the project:
Billing for a multi-service platform
Assessment of the impact of heterogeneous networks (fibre optic, ATM, CATV) on billing models
Definition of a scaleable approach
Integration of all components
Verification of models in an environment that is as realistic as possible
Connectivity with other projects