A newly formed industry group is looking to codify a standard means of metering and billing IP services to bring coherence to the current babel of formats.
The IP Detail Record Group (IPDR.org), which held its initial meeting recently, is positioning itself as a catalyst for usage-based tracking and billing of IP services. According to observers, it could ultimately simplify IT managers' tracking of expenses and performance.
IPDR.org is working to define a standard, extensible record format for exchanging usage information among network equipment, network management systems, mediation, operation support billing, and other systems used in providing IP-based services.
Not surprisingly, the group has tabbed the World Wide Web Consortium Extensible Markup Language to be the means of exchanging IPDR data.
The group will also define key parameters for IP transactions, and will maintain a repository of IPDR formats, according to IPDR.org officials.
The current confusion of formats and conventions for gathering and exchanging IP data stands in the way of widespread usage-based billing for such services as voice over IP, videoconferencing, high-speed Internet access, and others, according to Matthew Lucas, the group's acting chair.
"There's a lot of confusion among carriers as to how to interface with network elements to extract useful information," Lucas said.
"(Vendors) need to be able to extract the usage information from the network in such a way that they can build consistent services and billing systems," Lucas said.
One key constituency missing from the initial membership roster is the equipment manufacturing sector, according to Christopher Nicoll, an analyst at market research firm Current Analysis.
"They need the likes of Nortel, Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia and Siemens in that group, or if they get Lucent, Nortel, and Cisco, they've pretty well got it covered for the United States," Nicoll said.
But Nicoll underscored the need for a reporting format beyond the current call-detail record commonly used in telephony, in order to handle such technologies and concepts as voice over IP, quality of service, and IP multicasting.
The clear beneficiaries of such a standard would be on the supply side, from equipment vendors through metering vendors and service providers. Whether the usage-based pricing that would likely result will prove better for customers remains to be seen, according to analysts.
"Many businesses want flat-rate billing for network services, so they won't be shocked. Flat-rate is easier for budgeting. And usage-based anything on the Internet is a tough sell, because people are used to this 'all-you-can-eat' model," said Melanie Posey, an analyst at IDC.
Nevertheless, IT organisations could expect to have access to standardised billing and usage information, which would be more easily tracked, compared, and internally reported, according to Current Analysis' Nicoll.
The IPDR.org group will coordinate its activities with the Internet Engineering Task Force, American National Standards Institute, and relevant telecommunications industry standards bodies, Lucas said.