Both the conscious and sub-conscious parts of the communications world seem to have arrived at a consensus about how to price data services. Differently, they agree, but how? They simply do not know exactly what will work, but they know that they must – at last – be based on tangible, clear and easy to understand value. Evidence, both anecdotal and based on surveys, points to the next few months seeing the launch of a huge variety of plans, products and pricing models, in order to try as many options as possible. But there are risks to weigh against the rewards. Customer confusion is the most obvious, but there are others. For instance, it is possible that customers will adopt a particular experimental pricing plan, en masse, and it turns out to be a loss-making proposition for the operator. If that happens, there will be trouble ahead. The other conclusion that operators are coming to is that value based pricing is not possible without real time capabilities in all the billing processes that support the new pricing models. Real time enables the creation of the value based plans, their monitoring, their promotion and retirement. It is both a marketing enabler and business support system – exactly how billing should be seen by the business. The challenge is that only 10 percent of operators have real time capability in their postpaid systems, according to a survey conducted by Telecoms.com and commissioned by Openet. The good news is that operators do not just understand they need it, they accept that it is a priority and will, in many cases, be part of the next IT development. While there are immediate reasons for the implementation of real time capability to enable a whole range of commerce on operators’ platforms (the connective tissue formerly known as networks), there are less obvious ones too. Quality of Service (QoS) is a fundamental building block of customer experience, still – sadly – the only thing that billing underpins that reaches the CEOs consciousness. QoS is about quality of experience. It is one thing to know how your platform (network) is performing and to implement functionality that allows you to divert resources to ease congestion, it is entirely another to understand the impact of congestion on customers. Knowing that there was severe congestion in a suburb of Chicago at a certain time and that a certain number of customers were streaming video allows your customer service teams to be proactive, to truly serve the customer. A call, a text, an instant message that says ‘sorry, we had a couple of problems in your area, we hope that your video experience was not disrupted but please have two free movies on us’ delivers what surveys are now telling us customers really – really – want. They want to feel they are being cared for and rewarded for their loyalty. It is clear that customer experience and value based pricing are at the top of operators’ agendas in the next few months. It is equally clear that real time capability underpins the next phase of development for the communications industry as operators implement Direct Operator Billing and initiate win-win partnerships with, for instance, travel companies. Finally, it is equally clear is that the biggest counter argument to implementing real time functionality – the high cost – is disappearing as prices tumble and the options for implementing real time now include adjunct type solutions as well as complete replacement. The time for Real Time is – now. A Guest Post by Alex Leslie of BillingViews.