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Managing Telecom's Currency: The CDR

Whether a communications company sells or resells local, long distance, wireless, paging or prepaid services, the generated CDR is what drives revenue.

by Byron Middendorf
September 1999

What do the dollar, yen, peso, and call detail record (CDR) all have in common? They are all currencies. The currency of the telecom industry is the CDR, which is an accounting record produced by switches to track information about individual calls including time, duration, trunk groups, origination, destination, etc.

Over the last ten years the CDR has evolved to include several new fields, indicated by the growth in size of the CDR record from approximately 80 bytes to over 200 bytes. As technology and new marketing opportunities have evolved, more information has been added to the CDR. For example, today’s CDR reveals detailed information such as the route choice and third party billing information. As a result of all of this new and valuable information, CDRs are now used for network monitoring, traffic analysis, CABS reconciliation, fraud detection, customer care, and facility capacity planning in addition to customer billing.

Whether a communications company sells or resells local, long distance, wireless, paging, or pre-paid services, the generated CDR is what drives the revenue. Without obtaining the CDR, delivering it to the billing system, and invoicing the customer, carriers have no method to prove the rendering of telecom services and to demand payment. Indeed, carriers must protect their processed CDRs with a high level of security similar to how a bank might protect cash reserves.

This security is crucial because multiple operations support systems (OSSs) rely on accurate, real-time CDRs to maximize company resources. Advanced fraud detection systems need the CDRs in real-time to quickly identify telecom fraud, billing systems require the CDRs to generate accounts receivable, and traffic analysis systems use CDRs to optimize network resources. Therefore, having immediate access to your CDRs is like having control over the money of your business. 

Lee McDaniel, a Network Consultant with over thirty years of telecommunications industry experience, encourages his clients to use CDRs to determine if traffic is being routed appropriately. "A CDR contains a world of traffic analysis information including the origination, termination, and routing of a call," notes McDaniel. "You tell the switch what you want it to do when these numbers are dialed, and the CDR will show how the switch actually routed the call, correctly or not. Unlike network statistics, the CDR is authentic, real-time information." As McDaniel’s experience suggests, applications that allow carriers to quickly interpret and respond to valuable CDR data provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

In fact, several telecom companies have already implemented applications that manage CDRs from switch to back office to customer. Useful CDR applications include: organizing CDR records based on the trunk group and/or billing number, giving customers electronic access to their CDRs, searching CDR files, relaying CDR records to billing systems, importing CDRs into spreadsheet or database applications, and creating individualized call record reports on demand. In the competitive telecom market, it is absolutely crucial to handle and manage CDRs in an efficient fashion. The common denominator of CDR applications is that they allow carriers to manage their business down to the smallest detail. 

Richard Harding, an Oracle Database Administrator with LDInet in London, explains, "The CDR is the base unit. Without the CDR you have nothing - you cannot run the business. Within the CDR we focus our analysis on seven fields: trunk group incoming, trunk group outgoing, A Number, B Number, date, time, and duration. Then, through ExtractCDR, an Equinox CDR filtering and conversion system, we manage all of our CDRs in a uniform way so we can compare apples with apples. The primary benefit of this common pool of data is the ability to perform invoice reconciliation and make intelligent strategic planning decisions."

Telecom companies initially spend and invest a lot of resources into building their network and obtaining customers. Unfortunately, these companies often neglect their currency, the CDR, which measures the efficiencies of scale, and shows if revenue is being lost due to mismanagement of CDRs. In other words, neglecting CDRs is equivalent to a bank leaving the vault unlocked.  

Although reluctant to admit CDR mismanagement, stories abound of carriers who have ignored specific trunk groups on a switch for months due to filters established by uninformed users. Often, telecom carriers will have two sets of contradictory CDR information within the company as the Billing Department might use one set of information for invoices while the Network Management Department uses a different CDR data set to allocate network resources.   

In addition, changes in switch loads that are not reflected in the downstream operations support systems (OSSs) can have disastrous ramifications. Recently, a leading switch manufacturer changed the way that they calculate duration within the CDR. One company that ignored this change in the CDR calculated the duration incorrectly within all of their operation support systems (OSSs).  

As one can see, managing CDRs in an efficient fashion is critical. Mismanagement of CDRs damages not only the bottom line, but also:

  • Network Resources
  • Public Trust & Confidence
  • Corporate Image & Reputation
  • Stock Value

Intelligent telecom companies are recognizing the strategic value of efficient handling of CDRs and are implementing advanced CDR applications such as Equinox’s ShowCDR, ExtractCDR, and AccessCDR to maximize their resources. Now more than ever, carriers need to manage CDRs efficiently to compete in this competitive telecommunications marketplace.

Russ Johnson, the Vice President of Operations of Atlas Communications, explains, "We use a CDR application that inputs CDRs from different sources in distinct formats and delivers the CDRs to our billing system in one format. This type of utility is invaluable from a logistical point of view because we do not need to have three or four different billing systems to accommodate the differences in the CDRs that we receive. Consolidating our CDRs in this type of application provides us with the ability to effectively manage our cost structure and thus offer the most competitive rates in the industry while meeting our profitability goals."      

Although the CDR is the smallest piece of the telecom puzzle, the CDR is the building block for the network and provides the detailed information carriers need to leverage themselves appropriately in this competitive marketplace. Knowledge is power. In the telecom industry, the CDR not only translates into currency, but also into power.      

Byron Middendorf is the CEO of Equinox Information Systems, a leading provider of custom and commercial software to the telecommunications industry.

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