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Title:
METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR PROVIDING CREDIT TO SUBSCRIBERS OF A PRE-PAID SERVICE PROVIDED BY A TELECOMMUNICATIONS NETWORK
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2007/120117
Kind Code:
A9
Inventors:
FAJARDO, Alfredo, C. (71 Tindalo Street, Monte Vista SubdivisionMarikina City, Manila, PH)
Application Number:
SG2007/000105
Publication Date:
October 25, 2007
Filing Date:
April 19, 2007
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
VERITAS MOBILE SOLUTIONS PTE. LTD. (17 Upper Cirular Road, #03-00 Juta Building, Singapore 5, 05841, SG)
FAJARDO, Alfredo, C. (71 Tindalo Street, Monte Vista SubdivisionMarikina City, Manila, PH)
International Classes:
H04M17/02
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
YU SARN AUDREY & PARTNERS (190 Middle Road #12-04, Singapore 9, 18897, SG)
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Claims:

Claims:

1. A method for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network comprising the steps of: receiving confirmation from a subscriber that they wish to have the credit available to them with an operator of the telecommunications network automatically extended on their credit level equalling or falling below a predetermined value; receiving notification of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to a subscriber of the pre-paid service on the subscriber's account balance with an operator of the telecommunications network equalling or falling below the predetermined value, the notification also including subscriber-identifying information; assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit; instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with restrictions, if any, as determined during the assessment; and accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

2. A method for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network comprising the steps of: receiving notification of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to a subscriber of the pre-paid service on the subscriber's account balance with an operator of the telecommunications network equalling or falling below a predetermined value, the notification also including subscriber-identifying information; assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit; communicating the determination of whether the subscriber should be extended credit to the operator of the telecommunications network and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit; receiving confirmation that the subscriber is accepting of the extension of credit with such restrictions, if any; instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber; and accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

3. A method for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network comprising the steps of: receiving notification of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to a subscriber of the pre-paid service on the subscriber's account balance with an operator of the telecommunications network equalling or falling below a predetermined value, the notification also including subscriber-identifying information; assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit;

communicating the determination of whether the subscriber should be extended credit directly to the subscriber and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit; receiving confirmation that the subscriber is accepting of the extension of credit with such restrictions, if any; instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber; and accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

4. A method for providing credit according to any one of claims 1 to 3, where the step of instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit involves instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to transfer credit from a credit facilitation account held with the operator to the subscriber's credit account.

5. A method for providing credit according to any one of claims 1 to 3, where the step of instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit involves instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to charge a credit facilitator for the amount of credit extended to the subscriber's credit account.

6. A method of providing credit according to any one of claims 1 to 3, where the step of instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit includes the sub-step of accepting responsibility for payment of the extended credit in the event that the subscriber fails to make payment within a predefined time period.

7. A method of providing credit according to any preceding claim, where the restrictions include at least one of the following: restrictions on the number of times a particular service offered by the operator may be used; restrictions on the types of services offered by the operator that may be used; restrictions on the duration that the subscriber may use a particular service offered by the operator.

8. A method of providing credit according to any preceding claim where the step of assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit is based on a weighting derived from information contained in a subscriber profile.

9. A method of providing credit according to claim 8, where the information includes information on at least one of the following factors: subscriber expenditure as a function of time; frequency of credit provided; average time to repay credit.

10. A method of providing credit according to any preceding claim, where the step of accepting payment involves accepting payment directly from the subscriber.

11.A method of providing credit according to any one of claims 1 to 9, where the step of accepting payment involves accepting payment from the operator of the telecommunications network on receipt by the operator of the telecommunications network of a first payment by the subscriber following the extension of credit to that subscriber.

12. A method of providing credit according to claim 11 , where the step of accepting payment includes the sub-steps of: receiving a request from the operator of the telecommunications for details of any outstanding extended credit amount owed by the subscriber making payment; and providing details of any outstanding extended credit amount owed by the subscribed making payment, including any additional penalty fee or commission payable.

13. A method of providing credit according to any one of claims 2 to 12, as dependent on claim 2 or claim 3, where the step of receiving confirmation that the subscriber is accepting of the extension of credit involves receiving such confirmation directly from the subscriber.

14. A method of providing credit according to any one of claims 2 to 12, as dependent on claim 2 or claim 3, where the step of receiving confirmation that the subscribed is accepting of the extension of credit involves receiving such confirmation from the operator of the telecommunications network.

15. A method of providing credit according to any preceding claim, where the step of instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit involves sending at least one code to the operator, where the at least one code is representative of the amount of credit and restrictions, if any, imposed on such credit to be extended to the subscriber.

16. A method of providing credit according to any preceding claim, including the steps of: checking a flag value associated with the subscriber to determine whether the subscriber has already been extended credit; setting the flag value to indicate that the subscriber has been extended credit after the step of instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber; and resetting the flag value to indicate that the subscriber has not been extended credit following the step of accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

17. A method of providing credit according to any preceding claim, including the step of notifying the subscriber of the extension of credit.

18. A system for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network comprising: an operator of the telecommunications network; a subscriber; and a credit facilitator where, the subscriber informs the credit facilitator, directly or indirectly, that they wish the credit facilitator to provide credit with the operator to them automatically on their credit level equalling or falling below a predetermined value, the operator of the telecommunications network thereafter operable to notify the credit facilitator of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to the subscriber with the operator on the subscriber's account balance with the operator equalling or falling below the predetermined amount, such notification also including subscriber-identifying information, wherein the credit facilitator thereafter assesses and determines whether the subscriber should be extended credit, and if so determined, instructs the operator to extend credit with restrictions, if any, as determined during the assessment, for which the credit facilitator charges a fee.

19. A system for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network comprising: an operator of the telecommunications network; a subscriber; and a credit facilitator where the operator notifies the credit facilitator of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to the subscriber with the operator on the subscriber's account balance with the operator equalling or falling below the predetermined amount, such notification also including subscriber-identifying information, wherein the credit facilitator thereafter assesses and determines whether the subscriber should be extended credit, and if so determined, communicates that determination to the operator and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit, the operator thereafter sending a message to the subscriber requesting confirmation that the subscriber wishes to avail themselves of the credit extension on such terms, if any, as are set by the credit facilitator, wherein if the subscriber issues such confirmation, the confirmation is forwarded to the credit facilitator which instructs the operator to extend credit wish such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber for which the credit facilitator charges a fee.

20. A system for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network comprising: an operator of the telecommunications network; a subscriber; and a credit facilitator where the operator notifies the credit facilitator of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to the subscriber with the operator on the subscriber's account balance with the operator equalling or falling below the

predetermined amount, such notification also including subscriber-identifying information, wherein the credit facilitator thereafter assesses and determines whether the subscriber should be extended credit, and if so determined, communicates that determination to the subscriber and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit and requests confirmation that the subscriber wishes to avail themselves of the credit extension on such terms, wherein if the subscriber issues such confirmation, the confirmation is forwarded to the credit facilitator which instructs the operator to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber for which the credit facilitator charges a fee.

21. A system for providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 21 , where the instruction to the operator to extend credit requests the operator to transfer credit from an account of the credit facilitator held with the operator to the subscriber's credit account.

22.A system for providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 21 , where the instruction to the operator to extend credit requests the operator to credit the amount to the subscriber's credit account and charge the credit facilitator for the amount credited.

23.A system for providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 21 , where the credit facilitator accepts responsibility for payment of the extended credit in the event that the subscriber fails to make payment to the operator within a predefined time period.

24.A system for providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 23, where the restrictions imposed on the credit extension include at least one of the following: restrictions on the number of times a particular service offered by the operator may be used; restrictions on the types of services offered by the operator that may be used; restrictions on the duration that the subscriber may use a particular service offered by the operator.

25.A system for providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 24, where the assessment and determination of whether the subscriber should be extended credit is based on a weighting derived from information contained in a subscriber profile.

26.A system of providing credit according to claim 25, where the information includes information on at least one of the following factors: subscriber expenditure as a function of time; frequency of credit provided; average time to repay credit.

27.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 26, where payment of the fee to the credit facilitator is made directly from the subscriber.

28.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 26, where payment of the fee to the credit facilitator is made by the operator following receipt by the operator of a first payment by the subscriber following the extension of credit to that subscriber.

29.A system of providing credit according to claim 28, where the operator requests from the credit facilitator details of any outstanding fee owed by the subscriber making payment and the credit facilitator provides details of the outstanding fee, if any, to the operator.

30. A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 20 to 29, as dependent on claim 20 or claim 21 , where the subscriber confirms their acceptance of the extension of credit directly with the credit facilitator.

31. A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 20 to 29, as dependent on claim 20 or claim 21 , where the subscriber confirms their acceptance of the extension of credit with the operator who notifies the credit facilitator of such acceptance.

32.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 31 , where the instruction to the operator to extend credit is represented by at least one code, the at least one code itself representative of the amount of credit and, restrictions, if any, to be imposed on the credit to be extended to the subscriber.

33.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 31 , where on being notified that a subscriber has depleted, or will soon deplete, their credit balance with the operator, the credit facilitator checks a flag value associated with the subscriber to determine whether the subscriber has already been extended credit associated with this depletion and, if the flag indicates that credit has not been so extended, the credit facilitator sets the flag value to indicate that the subscriber has been extended credit at substantially the same time as instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber, the credit facilitator further operable to reset the flag value to indicate that the subscriber has not been extended credit following the step of accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

34.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 33, where the operator notifies the subscriber of the extension of credit.

35.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 19 to 33, where the credit facilitator notifies the subscriber of the extension of credit.

36.A system of providing credit according to any one of claims 28 to 33, as dependent on claim 28, where the operator advises the subscriber of the

revised credit balance they have with the operator following deduction of the fee.

37.A computer readable medium having software recorded thereon for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network, the software including: opt-in means for receiving an indication from a subscriber that they wish to have the credit available to them with an operator of the telecommunications network automatically extended on their credit level equalling or falling below a predetermined value; communication means for receiving notification of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to a subscriber of the pre-paid service on the subscriber's account balance with an operator of the telecommunications network equalling or falling below the predetermined value, the notification also including subscriber-identifying information; credit check means for assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit; interface means for instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with restrictions, if any, as determined during the assessment; and payment means for accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

38.A computer readable medium having software recorded thereon for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network, the software including: communication means for receiving notification of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to a subscriber of the pre-paid service on the subscriber's account balance with an operator of the telecommunications network equalling or falling below a predetermined value, the notification also including subscriber-identifying information; credit check means for assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit; first messaging means for communicating the determination of whether the subscriber should be extended credit to the operator of the telecommunications network and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit; second messaging means for receiving confirmation that the subscriber is accepting of the extension of credit with such restrictions, if any; interface means for instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber; and payment means for accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit. 39.A computer readable medium having software recorded thereon for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network, the software including:

communication means for receiving notification of the depletion, or impending depletion, of credit available to a subscriber of the pre-paid service on the subscriber's account balance with an operator of the telecommunications network equalling or falling below a predetermined value, the notification also including subscriber-identifying information; credit check means for assessing and determining whether the subscriber should be extended credit; first messaging means for communicating the determination of whether the subscriber should be extended credit directly to the subscriber and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit; second messaging means for receiving confirmation that the subscriber is accepting of the extension of credit with such restrictions, if any; interface means for instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber; and payment means for accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

40. A credit facilitator for providing credit to at least one subscriber of a pre-paid service provided by an operator of a telecommunications network, where the credit facilitator is informed by the a subscriber that they wish the credit facilitator to provide credit with the operator to them automatically on their credit level equalling or falling below a predetermined value and hereafter to receive notification from the operator of the level of credit available to the subscriber with the operator equalling or falling below the predetermined value, such notification also including subscriber-identifying information, wherein the credit facilitator thereafter operable to assesses and determine whether the subscriber should be extended credit, and if so determined, instructs the operator to extend credit with restrictions, if any, as determined during the assessment, for a fee.

41. A credit facilitator for providing credit to at least one subscriber of a pre-paid service provided by an operator of a telecommunications network, where the credit facilitator is notified that the level of credit available to the subscriber has equalled or fallen below the predetermined amount, such notification also including subscriber-identifying information, wherein the credit facilitator is operable thereafter to assesses and determine whether the subscriber should be extended credit, and if so determined, communicates that determination to the operator and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit and thereafter operable, on receipt of confirmation that the subscriber wishes to avail themselves of the credit extension on such terms, if any, as are set by the credit facilitator, to instruct the operator to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber, for a fee.

42.A credit facilitator for providing credit to at least one subscriber of a pre-paid service provided by an operator of a telecommunications network, where the credit facilitator is notified that the level of credit available to the subscriber has equalled or fallen below the predetermined amount, such notification also

including subscriber-identifying information, wherein the credit facilitator is operable thereafter to assesses and determine whether the subscriber should be extended credit, and if so determined, communicates that determination to the subscriber and the restrictions, if any, on the extension of such credit and thereafter operable, on receipt of confirmation that the subscriber wishes to avail themselves of the credit extension on such terms, if any, as are set by the credit facilitator, to instruct the operator to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber, for a fee.

43.A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 42, where the instruction to the operator to extend credit requests the operator to transfer credit from an account of the credit facilitator held with the operator to the subscriber's credit account.

44.A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 42, where the instruction to the operator to extend credit requests the operator to credit the amount to the subscriber's credit account and charge the credit facilitator for the amount credited.

45.A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 42, where the credit facilitator accepts responsibility for payment of the extended credit in the event that the subscriber fails to make payment to the operator within a predefined time period.

46.A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 45, where the restrictions imposed on the credit extension include at least one of the following: restrictions on the number of times a particular service offered by the operator may be used; restrictions on the types of services offered by the operator that may be used; restrictions on the duration that the subscriber may use a particular service offered by the operator.

47.A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 46, where the assessment and determination of whether the subscriber should be extended credit is based on a weighting derived from information contained in a subscriber profile.

48.A credit facilitator according to claim 47, where the information includes information on at least one of the following factors: subscriber expenditure as a function of time; frequency of credit provided; average time to repay credit.

49.A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 48, where the instruction to the operator to extend credit is represented by at least one code, the at least one code itself representative of the amount of credit and, restrictions, if any, to be imposed on the credit to be extended to the subscriber.

50. A credit facilitator according to any one of claims 40 to 49 where on being notified that a subscriber has depleted, or will soon deplete, their credit balance with the operator, the credit facilitator checks a flag value associated with the subscriber to determine whether the subscriber has already been extended credit associated with this depletion and, if the flag indicates that credit has not been so extended, the credit facilitator sets the flag value to indicate that the subscriber has been extended credit at substantially the same time as instructing the operator of the telecommunications network to extend credit with such restrictions, if any, as accepted by the subscriber, the credit facilitator further operable to reset the flag value to indicate that the subscriber has not been extended credit following the step of accepting payment of a fee for the extension of credit.

Description:

"Method and System for Providing Credit to Subscribers of a Pre-Paid Service Provided by a Telecommunications Network"

Field of the Invention

This invention relates to telecommunications services and in particular to the provision of mobile phone services to subscribers of a pre-paid service.

Background Art

The provision of mobile telecommunications services has come of age around the globe and has evolved as a basic utility similar to fixed line phone services. In some markets, adoption of mobile phone services even surpasses that of fixed line services.

The maturity of mobile telecommunications services is reflected in the fact that providers worldwide almost uniformly offer two subscription modes: post-paid and pre-paid. Depending mostly on specific local market conditions and partly on business strategies, providers have a varied mix of these subscription types.

Post-paid subscription involves the provision of a service to a subscriber, who is billed after such service has been rendered. Typically, the subscriber is billed periodically, e.g., monthly. Also, the subscriber typically pays an agreed fixed fee plus a variable amount based on consumption over the covered bill period. Because payment is due after the service is rendered, subscribers are screened by the provider based on financial credit capacity. Further, subscribers typically sign contracts covering a minimum subscription term equivalent to several billing periods (e.g., in the case of monthly billing, a minimum term of one (1) or two (2) years).

Pre-paid subscription involves the purchase by the subscriber of "usage credits" before being granted access to a service. The provider then provides the service to the subscriber, up to a certain limit, determined by the amount of usage credits purchased by the subscriber. The subscriber is able to "top-up" a pre-paid

subscription account by purchasing additional usage credits in the manner provided by the service provider. Because a subscriber pays before the service is provided, there is typically no need to verify the subscriber's financial credit capacity. Further, no minimum term is imposed on the subscription.

Because post-paid subscription necessarily involves a contract and a check of a subscriber's financial credit capacity, providers typically continue providing the service even in cases when the subscriber is remiss in settling a bill. Effectively, the provider extends credit (in terms of access to the service) to the delinquent subscriber. Depending on the provider's internal policies, possible local regulations with respect to the service being provided and other possible external factors, the subscriber may be allowed access to the service after one or several consecutive missed payments before disconnection of the service. Additionally, late payments may be penalized with additipnal fees.

By extending such credit to post-paid subscribers and not immediately disconnecting them in cases of missed bill payments, the provider is able to await eventual settlement instead of writing off missed payments as losses, maintain a stable subscriber base, and avoid the possibly complicated process of un- registering a subscriber and re-registering the same at a future date. From the subscriber's point of view, this extension of credit is an expression of flexibility on the part of the service provider; in the event the subscriber is unable for whatever reason to settle a bill on time, it is no reason to leave the provider or discontinue use of the service. Outstanding bills are settled as soon as possible (within set limits).

No such analog exists, however, for pre-paid subscription. That is, by definition, pre-paid subscribers are provided a service only up to the extent allowed by their pre-purchased ' usage credits. Once these usage credits are depleted to the point of insufficiency, service is immediately but temporarily cut off. Service is reinstated only upon replenishment of a subscriber's usage credits. Typically, if a pre-paid subscription is left " with zero usage credits for a specified amount of time, the subscription is permanently cancelled and cannot be reinstated.

This poses a problem for mobile telecommunications providers, particularly those operating in markets where pre-paid subscriptions dominate the subscriber base. Such markets normally exist in developing countries where the majority of the population is "un-bankable" or unqualified for post-paid subscriptions in terms of financial credit capacity.

Because most subscribers are. under pre-paid subscriptions, loyalty is difficult to achieve. The absence of a contract that binds subscribers aggravates the situation. Providers, then, are immersed in a volatile environment where the slight variations in competitor offerings, coupled with a base of low-income subscribers who may often run out of usage credits, can adversely affect a provider's revenues.

The preceding discussion of the background to the invention is intended to facilitate an understanding of the present invention. However, it should be appreciated that the discussion is not an acknowledgement or admission that any of the material referred to was part of the common general knowledge in any particular jurisdiction as at the priority date of the application.

Throughout the specification, unless the context requires otherwise, the word "comprise" or. variations such as "comprises" or "comprising", will be understood to imply the inclusion of a stated integer or group of integers but not the exclusion of any other integer or group of integers.

Disclosure of the Invention

The present invention provides a business method to address this problem, with minimum or no risk to the mobile telecommunications service provider. With this invention, it is possible to dynamically extend credit to pre-paid subscribers. The benefits for providers are an increase in subscriber loyalty, a decrease in subscriber "churn" (the act of leaving a provider for its competitor, or dropping use of the service altogether, whether voluntarily or otherwise) and ultimately higher revenues. Pre-paid subscribers, on the other hand, are given part of the benefits

enjoyed by post-paid subscribers, such as the ability to use the service even when usage credits are depleted.

In this specification the term "credit" includes both load or monetary value that may be applied against any or all of the services provided by a mobile telecommunications provider, or a measured quantity of access to all or some services, such as- for example, five SMS messages. Where the expression "dynamic credit" is used, this refers to the extent of credit that may be allocated to a particular subscriber based on their credit worthyness based on factors such as their pre-paid usage history, and usage history of the credit system of the invention, itself.

In accordance with the invention there is provided a system for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network provider, said system including a facilitator in communication with said telecommunications network provider and having access, to information relating to one or more subscribers; where said facilitator is arranged to receive a low balance message from said telecommunications network provider when a said subscriber balance reaches a predetermined level, said low balance message including subscriber identity data; where on receipt of said low balance message, said facilitator accesses credit rating data pertaining to said subscriber to determine whether credit is to be extended to the subscriber, and if credit is to be extended, said facilitator communicates a credit message to said telecommunications network provider; whereafter if credit is accepted or not refused by said subscriber, said facilitator updates transaction data pertaining to said credit against particulars of said subscriber to whom said credit has been extended; where said facilitator receives a credit top-up message from said telecommunications network provider when said subscriber has paid for further prepaid services with said telecommunications network provider and desires to pay for said credit and any commission due therefor, and on receipt of payment or reconciliation for said credit and any commission therefor, said facilitator updates said transaction data to reflect said payment or reconciliation.

The credit message may be a credit proposal message, requesting confirmation from the subscriber that they, require credit to be extended to them, or requesting confirmation from the subscriber that they do not require credit to be extended to them.

While the facilitator in said system is intended to be stand-alone to said telecommunications network provider as a . third party service provider, said facilitator may be incorporated within said telecommunications network provider in an integrated manner.

In the step where said facilitator communicates a credit message to said telecommunications network provider, this message may be communicated directly to said subscriber by the telecommunications network provider, or may be reformulated by said telecommunications network provider for customisation purposes. The latter might be desirable where the. facilitator is providing credit facilities to more than one said telecommunications network provider.

Preferably said facilitator determines the credit value to be extended to said subscriber and communicates the credit value in said credit message.

Preferably the credit message sets out the amount of credit to be extended and the terms.

Preferably said credit message is communicated to said subscriber via said telecommunications network provider. .

Preferably said- credit message is communicated to said subscriber, by short message service (SMS).

Preferably said facilitator stores subscriber profile information from which a weighting may be derived to calculate a credit rating for any said subscriber.

Alternatively said information includes subscriber profile information from which a weighting may be derived to calculate a credit rating for any said subscriber.

Preferably said subscriber profile information includes information selected from subscriber expenditure as a function of time, the frequency that credit is provided, and average time to repay credit.

The telecommunications network provider may determine which services are available to said subscribers when said subscribers are using credit provided through the facilitator.

Preferably when credit is extended, said facilitator communicates a credit extended message to advise that credit has been extended to said subscriber to said telecommunications network provider.

Preferably said system is operated in a manner that subscribers can opt-in to automatically have credit extended to a said subscriber when said facilitator receives a said low balance message, said facilitator recording affirmative opt-in status against particulars of said subscriber; where when said facilitator receives said low balance message, said facilitator accesses credit rating data and opt-in status pertaining to said subscriber to determine whether credit can be extended to the subscriber, and if credit can be extended, said facilitator communicates a credit message to advise that credit has been extended to said subscriber to said telecommunications network provider, and said facilitator updates transaction data pertaining to said credit against particulars of said subscriber to whom said credit has been extended.

Also in accordance with the invention there is provided a method for providing credit to subscribers of a pre-paid service provided by a telecommunications network provider, said method including providing a facilitator in communication with said telecommunications network provider and having access to information relating to one or more subscribers; where said telecommunications network provider sends a low balance message to said facilitator when a said subscriber balance reaches a predetermined level, said low balance message including subscriber identity data; where on receipt of said low balance message, said facilitator accesses credit rating data pertaining to said subscriber to determine whether credit is to be extended to the subscriber, and if credit is to be extended,

said facilitator communicates a credit message to said telecommunications network provider, at least the substance of which is communicated to said subscriber; whereafter if credit is accepted or not refused by said subscriber, said facilitator updates transaction data pertaining to said credit against particulars of said subscriber to whom said credit has been extended; and where said telecommunications network provider sends a credit top-up message to said facilitator when said subscriber has paid for further prepaid services with said telecommunications network provider and desires to pay for said credit and any commission due therefor, arid on receipt of payment or reconciliation for said credit and any commission therefor, said facilitator updates said transaction data to reflect said payment or reconciliation.

The credit message may be a credit proposal message, requesting confirmation from the subscriber that they require credit to be extended to them, or requesting confirmation from the subscriber that they do not require credit to be extended to them.

The facilitator in this method may be either stand-alone to the telecommunications network provider as a third party service provider, or may be incorporated within said telecommunications network provider in an integrated manner.

In the step where said facilitator communicates a credit message to said telecommunications network provider, this message may be communicated directly to said subscriber by the telecommunications network provider, or may be reformulated by said telecommunications network provider for customisation purposes. The latter might be desirable where the facilitator is providing credit facilities to more than one said telecommunications network provider.

Preferably said facilitator determines the credit value to be extended to said subscriber and communicates the credit value in said credit message.

Preferably the credit message sets out the amount of credit to be extended and the terms.

Preferably said credit message is communicated to said subscriber via said telecommunications network provider.

Preferably said credit message is communicated to said subscriber by short message service (SMS).

Preferably said facilitator stores subscriber profile information from which a weighting may be derived to calculate a credit rating for any said subscriber.

Alternatively said information includes subscriber profile information from which a weighting may be derived to calculate a credit rating for any said subscriber.

Preferably said subscriber profile information includes information selected from subscriber expenditure as a function of time, the frequency that credit is provided, and average time to repay credit

The telecommunications network provider may determine which services are available to said subscribers when said subscribers are using credit provided through the facilitator.

Preferably when credit is extended, said facilitator communicates a credit extended message to advise that credit has been extended to said subscriber to said telecommunications network provider.

Preferably said method is operated in a manner that subscribers can opt-in to automatically have credit extended to them when the facilitator receives a said low balance message, said facilitator recording affirmative opt-in status against particulars of said subscriber; where when said facilitator receives said low balance message, said facilitator accesses credit rating data and opt-in status pertaining to said subscriber to determine whether credit can be extended to the subscriber, and if credit can be extended, said facilitator communicates a credit message to advise that credit has been extended to said subscriber to said telecommunications network provider, and said facilitator updates transaction data

pertaining to said credit against particulars of said subscriber to whom said credit has been extended.

Best Mode(s) for Carrying Out the Invention

A preferred embodiment of the invention will now be described in the following description. The embodiment is a business method implementation that enables mobile telecommunications service providers to extend dynamic credit to their pre-paid subscribers, based on individual usage history. The method is implemented by a third party facilitator utilising server technology which has software integrated with the software systems of the telecommunications network provider. The facilitator extends a credit service using the system and method of the embodiment to subscribers of the telecommunications network provider, via the telecommunications network provider.

For the purposes of this description, the terminology "dynamic credit" refers to the issuance of credit with limits specific to each subscriber. Dynamic credit (or dynamically determined credit) is determined for a specific pre-paid subscriber based on individual usage history. A weighted average determination method may be used to arrive at individual credit limits. Usage history is built through tracking of pre-paid subscriber behaviour, which may include amount and frequency of top-up, frequency of occurrence of zero balance episodes, and .usage of the dynamic crediting service itself. Hence, a pre-paid subscriber's credit worthiness may be continually evaluated and may result in varying limits of credit over time.

Such extended credit can be in the form of usage credits ascribed to the availing subscriber's account (e.g., 10 usage credits), or a measured quantity of access to the provider's services (e.g., 5 SMS messages). In the case of . usage credits being ascribed to the subscriber's account, such extended credit can be applicable, for use in accessing any of the services of the provider, or limited to selected services (e.g., 10 usage credits for voice calls and SMS messaging, but not . data services).

The following is a description of the method by which dynamic credit is extended to a pre-paid subscriber. In the description, the facilitator performs a check of a pre-paid subscriber's credit worthiness. The facilitator may also assume the role of guarantor of credit dynamically extended to pre-paid subscribers availing of the credit extension.

The method has the following process steps:

1 Upon depletion of a pre-paid subscriber's account (i.e., when said account runs down to zero credits), the telecommunications network provider's pre-paid system informs the facilitator's crediting system of such depletion.

2 The facilitator's crediting system verifies that the pre-paid subscriber is creditworthy and dynamically determines the amount of credit to which the prepaid subscriber is entitled.

3 Upon successful verification and dynamic determination of credit entitlement, the facilitator's crediting system informs the subscriber of the possibility of availing of the determined amount of credit.

4 Upon receiving confirmation from the pre-paid subscriber that such credit is desired, the facilitator's crediting system does either of the following:

a. Tops up the pre-paid subscriber's account with usage credits equivalent to the determined entitlement; or, b. Instructs the provider's pre-paid system to allow the pre-paid subscriber to access all or selected services of the provider up to a limit based on the determined credit entitlement.

5 The pre-paid subscriber is informed of the successful extension of credit and is able to continue accessing all or selected services until such extended credit is itself depleted.

6 On the pre-paid subscriber's next top-up operation and before allowing the subscriber to use the top-up amount, the provider's pre-paid system informs the facilitator's crediting system of the top-up.

7 The facilitator's crediting system checks whether the pre-paid subscriber has been extended credit that has yet to be settled, and debits whatever amount is pending (composed of the credit extended plus any applicable service . fees and/or interest payments) from the top-up amount.

8 After the facilitator's crediting system debits the necessary amount to settle the subscriber's outstanding debt, the provider's pre-paid system tops up the prepaid subscriber's account with the resulting balance.

The process may subsequently be repeated from Step 1.

Variations in the process outlined above may be made. For example, Step 1 in the process described above can be modified to have the provider's, pre-paid system communicate to the facilitator's crediting system an impending depletion instead of a total depletion of a pre-paid subscriber's account. For example, instead of communicating that a pre-paid subscriber's account has been depleted to zero credits, the provider's pre-paid system can inform the facilitator's crediting system when the said account contains less than a specified threshold of usage credits, e.g., when the subscriber has only 2 credits left. Among other things, this will allow the dynamic credit service to be possible even for mobile telecommunications service providers who completely disconnect subscribers whose accounts contain zero credits, even from typically free services such as operator calls.

Step 2 involves a dynamic credit determination mechanism on the part of the facilitator. Such mechanism may be based on various business rules and formulas, such as a weighted moving average of the specific pre-paid subscriber's related usage statistics.

Step 3 in the process described above can be modified such that credit is extended automatically, with no confirmation required from the pre-paid subscriber if the latter agrees to such automatic extension.

In the. case of Step 4a, it is necessary for the facilitator to have an agreement with the- mobile telecommunications service provider that it is authorized to issue top- up commands to the latter's pre-paid system, or must itself have an account with the service provider from which it can transfer usage credits to pre-paid subscriber accounts.

In the case of Step 4b, it is necessary for the facilitator to have an agreement with the mobile telecommunications service provider that it is authorized to issue instructions to the latter's pre-paid system, and that such pre-paid system is capable of allowing limited access to selected services to specific pre-paid subscribers, in spite of said subscriber's account containing zero usage credits.

In Steps 6 and 7, the top-up operation can occur after or before depletion of the dynamically extended credit. The process will proceed in the same manner. That is, the amount used to top-up is debited the corresponding dynamic credit amount extended (plus possible service fees and interest) before it is credited to the pre- paid subscriber's account.

Steps 6 to 8 constitute the settlement process, whereby the pre-paid subscriber effectively pays the facilitator for the dynamically extended credit of usage credits or limited service access.

An interface must exist between the facilitator's crediting system and the mobile telecommunications service provider's pre-paid system. Such interface will require that the pre-paid system of the mobile telecommunications service provider issues notifications to the crediting system of the facilitator based on specific events such as the depletion of a pre-paid subscriber's account and the top-up of a pre-paid subscriber's accounts. Further, the pre-paid system must accept specific instructions from the crediting system, such as the top-up of a pre-paid subscriber's account or granting of limited access to a pre-paid subscriber with zero credits, and the debiting of an account during a top-up operation.

The following is an example of a transaction:

1 Pre-paid subscriber A ("Subscriber A") makes a phone call and uses up all her credits.

2 The mobile telecommunications service provider's (the "Provider") pre-paid system flags Subscriber A's account as. having zero credits and sends a notice of the zero balance episode to the facilitator's (the "Facilitator") crediting system.

3 The Facilitator's crediting system checks the usage history of Subscriber A. It finds out that Subscriber A has availed of the dynamic credit extension service several times in the past and on average tops up (and effectively pays for the credit extended) within 24 hours of availing of the service. Additionally, Subscriber A's average top-up amount is 100 usage credits. In view of this record, the Facilitator's crediting system determines that Subscriber A is entitled to a credit of 15 usage credits, instead of the usual 5 usage credits extended to new or undependable users of the service.

4 The Facilitator's crediting system sends an SMS message to Subscriber A, informing her of the depletion of her account, and offers to extend a credit of 15 usage credits, to be settled via automatic debit of 20 usage credits on her next top-up operation.

5 Subscriber A replies to confirm that she wishes to avail of the credit extension.

6 The Facilitator's crediting system instructs the Provider's pre-paid system to top up Subscriber A's account with 15 usage credits, to be charged to the previously set up Facilitator's account with the Provider.

7 Subscriber A's account is topped up with 15 usage credits. She receives an SMS message with this information, along with details of the dynamic credit extension.

8 The Facilitator's crediting system logs the completed credit extension transaction as part of Subscriber A's usage history.

9 Subscriber A continues to use her mobile phone and uses up 10 usage credits. Subscriber A is left with 5 usage credits from the 15 extended to her, when she purchases a top-up card worth 50 usage credits and performs a top-up operation.

10 Before completing the top-up operation, the Provider's pre-paid system informs the Facilitator's crediting system that Subscriber A is performing a top-up operation involving 50 usage credits.

11 The Facilitator's crediting system checks its record of outstanding collections on dynamically extended credit, and finds that Subscriber A has availed of 15 usage credits to be paid with 20 usage credits upon next top-up. The crediting system instructs the pre-paid system to debit 20 credits from the 50 credits being topped up, in favour of the previously set up Facilitator account with the Provider.

12 The Provider's pre-paid system performs the debiting operation, and informs the Facilitator's crediting system of successful crediting of 20 credits to the latter's account, and a resulting top-up of 30 usage credits for Subscriber A's account.

13 Upon receiving settlement confirmation from the Provider's pre-paid system, the Facilitator's crediting system sends an SMS to Subscriber A, informing her of successful payment of the extended credit, and that her resulting credit is 35 usage credits,

14 The Facilitator's crediting system logs the completed settlement transaction as part of Subscriber A's usage history.

Step 3 above illustrates a basic determination of credit entitlement. In an alternative implementation, a credit determination mechanism separate from the dynamic crediting system may be used, resulting in credit ratings for each availing subscriber. The crediting system then evaluates credit entitlement based on this credit rating. For example, an "A" credit rating might be equivalent to the

extension of maximum credit (e.g., 15 usage credits), whereas a "D" credit rating might be equivalent to no extension of credit.

It should be appreciated that other minor changes may be made to the method and system without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.