New software smooths the way for a real-time billing system

Carolyn Ong

The glitter and glamour of Internet startups has everyone mesmerised. But few think about what goes on behind the scenes after an electronic transaction or on-line service payment.

A California-based company, Portal Software, is trying to solve just that unsexy bit of the e-commerce puzzle.

The company provides software for Internet billing, which, according to Robert Lau, vice-president of Portal Software Asia-Pacific, is different from the old telecommunications billing system. Telcoms billing systems are designed for processing bills in one batch and are fine when ISPs want to charge for flat monthly-rate access or hourly subscriber fees.

But they break down as services - and the payment arrangements become more complicated. For instance, a customer's cost for leasing bandwidth may rise and fall instantaneously, depending on market prices and the amount and quality he receives at any given moment.

'We believe that Asia's Internet service businesses are already moving to this next phase of the value chain and the demand for real-time billing systems is already felt right now,' Mr Lau said.

Infranet 6.0, which Portal launched last week, helps ISPs track customer usage, including verifying passwords, monitoring log-in times and counting transactions. The software collects and stores all customer data from names, addresses and phone numbers to demographic data and preferred method of payment. It can print invoices, connect to a client's in-house accounting software or link to user's credit-card firms for immediate authorisation.

Portal has four offices in Asia and its regional headquarters in Hong Kong. Its customers in Greater China include PSINet, UUNet and China Telecom.