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Billing provider behind Fon de-cloaks, attacks MVNO enterprises

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They say that before you launch a mobile billing company, you should have customers, or nobody will take you seriously. That's presumably why BlueTab has waited a year before revealing that it is a mobile billing company.

The customer is a high profile one: Fon, the Spanish "social WiFi" network created with investment by Google and Skype, and billed as "The largest WiFi community in the world" at launch.

Now, trading on an instant track record, founders Matthew Goodsall and Tom Uhart say they can help the new generation of tier 2 and tier 3 MVNOs and low-power GSM and convergence carriers set up a low-cost billing system, using Open Source technology.

"We won't be taking on the two gargantuan giants of this business," Goodsall told NewsWireless. "But the point of our announcement is that there are an awful lot of tier 2 and tier 3 players in the market, who don't necessary have the budget and long lead times to engage with those vendors. if you are a new entrant with time to market very important, we can operate with you."

The third founder, Jose Luis López, led the initiative on site at Fon in Madrid, while Goodsall admits to being a "closet geek" with a degree in computer science before his work in banking and venture capital with Vesta, and Tom Uhart is a telecom specialist.

Until now, the company has presented itself as a transaction processing specialist.

"We're not so much a new venture... the way to characterise our expertise, is 'we are experts in building transaction systems.' with a lot of experience in building billing solutions," said Goodsall. "What we're trying to say is that there's a particular opportunity in the UK and more broadly in Europe."

His analysis of a number of developments in the UK telco market, suggests that finding cost effective billing solution is becoming increasingly an important thing. "Also the space is becoming increasingly competitive as convergence and new technology comes in. So billing is moving from a very boring part of the system and something you wouldn't want to think about... to being the differentiator. An MVNO mvno can't differentiate by network, so it's either pricing or competitiveness."

Urhart says that the past confusion in billing isn't going to persist in the smaller markets.

"There are some interesting trends in MVNO. One is that it is becoming affordable for them to have soft HLRs (home location registers). The real problem these operators face is not the billing information provided by the host. Their difficulty is that they are small, and don't really own the customers; they belong to the donor organisation, the host. One interesting development: soft solutions are emerging. So in the same way that the don't have to buy an enormous piece of HLR kit from Ericsson, but buy a Linux box, they can use Open Source billing solutions, too."

Urhart concludes: "We're not in the operational support space; we're in business support. But because they can acquire operational support, so they can become independent of the billing structure of the host. We can build transactions, manage prepaid accounts, settle transactions, manage purchasing , manage Paypal, credit cards, and we have an ecommerce front end. We have an 'on-demand' model where by they can call up new modules and pay when they need them."

These people, he says, "aren't looking to buy Amdocs for their billing any more than they want to buy Ericssson. We offer pay as you grow, we offer pay on demand. We can keep their costs down. We make it out of open source, and that's easier to manage as well as build."

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