As network operators embrace digital transformation, cloud billing is becoming an increasingly vital way to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google.

It reduces upfront costs and creates more flexibility but operators have a lot of catching up to do to match industry best practices.

Network operators like AT&T, Vodafone and Telefonica are working feverishly to become digital service providers, after being relegated to mere dumb pipe providers.

They want to provide not just the pipe but also the new services that run through it.

However, this requires a dramatic revamp of their billing systems – adding the real-time engagement and online interface tools needed to launch, scale, and monetise digital services that can support dozens or hundreds of new operating models.

Enter the cloud, and specifically cloud billing.

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Compared to traditional, in-house billing systems, cloud computing economics enables operators to leverage automated, distributed computing services.

By adopting cloud billing, operators move away from the expensive and limited flexibility of legacy manual billing systems as they use build-as-you-grow and subscription-based software license models.

Adopting cloud billing is enabling network operators to emulate the likes of Amazon and Google that are providing over-the-top digital services.

Operators are now looking to cloud billing platforms to provide a more customer-centric experience. This includes online precision marketing, sponsored deals, do-it-yourself tools, and selecting preferred methods of payment.

Cloud billing also makes it possible to allow operators to position themselves more strongly to profit from emerging growth opportunities such as network slicing that enable enterprises to order specific network performance characteristics such as low latency or high availability and IoT applications like on-demand drone services and surveillance monitoring.

Operators will use more cloud billing to solve their customer relation pain points, especially in making the billing experience more customer-friendly and interactive and moving away from the unpleasantness and inflexibility of their past billing practices.

But operators must remain vigilant in scaling and supporting cloud billing systems, especially in maintaining flexible service package choices and integrating new features such as interactive bot technologies like Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa to enhance the billing experience.

Overall cloud billing plays an essential role in the long-term success of operators in competing against the online giants and other digital commerce competitors, but time is running short for operators to prove cloud billing can meet customer demand.