Integration Issues

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2003-10-09 Print this article Print

Cingular handles customer service with an in-house application and external billing with software from Amdocs of Chesterfield, Mo., a software company affiliated with SBC. Those two systems are the survivors of a consolidation round that eliminated 11 different customer service and billing applications. Meanwhile, the company is planning to migrate to Amdocs Clarify customer relationship software.

Arroyo wouldnt reveal what the company is spending on its billing systems, but regulatory filings offer a hint. For the six months ending June 30, Cingular had expenses of $31 million for development and support services with Amdocs.

Cingulars current systems were set up to handle blocks of numbers handed down from a pool shared with other carriers. That has meant that Cingular would get a set of numbers in a particular area code, such as 617, and the following three numbers, say 823, would be its and its alone to use.

Now, though, all numbers will go into a "virtual number pool" where numbers wont be associated with a specific carrier. To manage the numbers being swapped between wireless carriers, Cingular relies on Telcordia, a Morristown, N.J.-based software provider. Telcordia, which serves the bulk of wireless carriers, also manages the telephone number pool for wireline suppliers.

For Arroyo, much of his preparation revolves around delineating rules, some of which havent been set in stone by the FCC or wireless carriers. Although applications have been set up in theory to accept billing information from other carriers, wireless companies—with the exception of Verizon Wireless and Verizon Communications—havent worked out the standards and intercarrier agreements to exchange identifiers beyond phone numbers, says Roger Entner, an analyst at the Yankee Group.

The initial technical aspects—setting up fields in databases and billing systems to accept out-of-network wireless numbers—have been largely handled, says Entner. But the rush will come when the FCC rules and carriers ink intercarrier agreements, which may not all agree on how to define items such as street abbreviations and other billing information.

Cingular is also working to integrate number portability into its Web-based point-of-sale software—a problem considering carriers havent agreed on rules to swap information such as names and addresses. Ideally, Cingular could just plug into another carriers database to pull billing information and assign a portable number. But until rivals allow access to their billing data, many transfers after Nov. 24 may have to rely on paper and facsimile documents.

Currently, a typical sale requires a customer order, a credit check, verification with other carriers, number assignment and activation. With portability, Cingulars systems have to determine the customers standing with his current carrier, account for what numbers can be moved and estimate a time when theyll be available.

Arroyo also has to alter network relationships such as when a call is considered a roaming charge to account for numbers coming and leaving its customer databases.

Chris McMahan is chief information officer for Wireless Retail, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that sells wireless phones in retail kiosks and collects a bounty from carriers. He expects to see order processing hiccups after the FCC deadline. As a result, many orders are likely to be handled manually, reducing his companys sales volume.

McMahan usually freezes implementations on Nov. 1, so all systems are "go" for the holiday shopping season. So he doesnt relish retooling his point of sale software up to Thanksgiving.

"This may cause a problem on the processing side," says McMahan. "I havent seen a definitive [point-of-sale wireless portability] spec from any carrier."

Next Page: What you should do to simplify compliance.

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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