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September 1, 1999
Managing Telecom’s Currency: The CDR
By Byron Middendorf
What do the dollar, yen, peso and call detail record (CDR) all have in common? They all
are 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 and destination.
Over the last 10 years the CDR has evolved to include several new fields, indicated by
growth in the size of the CDR from approximately 80 bytes to more than 200 bytes. As
technology and new marketing opportunities have evolved, more information has been added
to the CDR. Today’s CDR, for example, reveals detailed information such as the route
choice and third-party billing information. As a result of this new and valuable
information, CDRs now are used for network monitoring, traffic analysis, carrier access
billing system (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 prepaid services, the generated CDR is what drives 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 identify telecom fraud quickly; billing systems require the
CDRs to generate accounts receivable; and traffic analysis systems use CDRs to optimize
network resources. Therefore, having immediate access to CDRs is akin to having control
over the money of a business.
Lee McDaniel, a network consultant with more than 30 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," McDaniel notes.
"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 interpret and
respond to valuable CDR data quickly provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In fact, several telecom companies already have implemented applications that manage
CDRs from switch to back office to customer. Useful CDR applications include: organizing
CDRs based on the trunk group and/or billing number, giving customers electronic access to
their CDRs, searching CDR files, relaying CDRs 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
Telecom companies initially spend and invest a lot of resources in 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 they are 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 OSSs can
have disastrous ramifications. Recently, a leading switch manufacturer changed the way it
calculates duration within the CDR. One company that ignored this change in the CDR
calculated the duration incorrectly within all of its 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 and
confidence, corporate image and reputation and stock value.
Intelligent telecom companies are recognizing the strategic value of efficient handling
of CDRs and are implementing advanced CDR applications to maximize their resources. Now
more than ever carriers need to manage CDRs efficiently to compete in this competitive
Russ Johnson, vice president of operations of Atlas Communications Ltd., Blue Bell,
Pa., 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 manage effectively 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, Madison, Tenn., a
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