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Thursday, November 23, 2006

IMS Insider integrates into Telco 2.0

We've decided to merge the IMS Insider blog with our Telco 2.0 Blog. Together they've grown to over 4000 unique visitors per month, with more Telco 2.0 blog readers using the RSS feeds and email alerts. IMS will be a 'category' on the T2 blog site, which has much stronger functionality than Blogger.

The Telco 2.0 blog covers the following issues:
- 2.0 Business Models
- 2.0 Service Portfolios
- 2.0 NGN Architecture

..and the migration path to get there. Thus it provides in one space the critical context for IMS.

'Telco 2.0' in our terms means 'sustainable long-term growth for telcos'. As you'll see on the telco 2.0 blog site, and by the results of the survey so far, confidence levels within the industry are very low.

Our remit is to start to raise them. The best way of achieving change is to a.) hold up the mirror, b.) engage people in constructive and dynamic debate, c.) offer practical ways forward.

The blog, supported by our suite of information and consulting services will help that.

We'd love to meet you in person at the next Telco 2.0 Industry Brainstorm in March, where we have a special workstream on IMS and SDP. This avoids the normal waffle that you get at most IMS events, and focuses on the key things that can make a difference and move things forward. Book before Xmas and it's very cheap!

In the meantime, see you in a new part of cyberspace.

The Editor, IMS Insider

Friday, November 10, 2006

New Online Survey - Context for IMS

We have a new online survey focusing on strategic, commercial issues around Telco 2.0 - the critical context for IMS. Please do participate. It can be completed on-line in 15 minutes and covers:

Telco 2.0 - Is it a threat of opportunity for Operators?
- Investor views of Operators
- Timing: when the Telco 2.0 tipping-points will occur
- Operator strategies
- Execution - what’s going well and badly and what the barriers to change are.

There are 4 charts embedded in the survey for you to peruse and comment on which will challenge your thinking, these are:

- How the Telco industry is changing
- Potential Operator strategies
- Key factors for successfully executing the strategies
- A delegate poll at the Telco 2.0 October event on whether Operators will be successful in a Telco 2.0 world.

Every participant (who completes the survey) will receive a free summary copy of the results.

In our last IMS Insider survey we had 200-300 respondents from across the value chain and so were able to conduct some very interesting (and statistically significant) analysis.

Survey closes at midnight on Friday December 8th.
Here is the link again:

The Editor, IMS Insider

Monday, October 30, 2006

IMS is all back to front

In August the IEC, which runs major events for the telecoms industry among other things, published an article entitled "IMS – Putting Value Back into the Network and Increasing the Revenues Flowing Out" by Telcordia, an IMS vendor. Full transcript here.

It concluded: "Now that the long awaited 'network of networks' looks like it's finally emerging from the complex cat's cradle of coexisting and often competing technologies and protocols that have grown up in recent decades, it's important to remember that IMS is there as a true business enabler. Just as the invention of money revolutionized entire economies and social structures, replacing the inevitable time and space limitations imposed by bartering, so too is IMS set to open up the communications environment to new ways of doing business. In the process, new value–and new wealth–will be created."

We were stunned that this level of vendor hype still exists! Our large survey earlier in the year showed that people in the know really don't believe this. And our industry brainstorm in October - where for the first time at a major event all the participants were allowed to debate the issue anonymously and simultaneously in a structure manner and in real-time - confirmed very clearly that
The IMS Emperor (as originally promoted by vendors and, it seems, still promoted by some) Has No Clothes. It's amazing what can happen when you let everyone to have their say without fear of ridicule... Summary: There's plenty of technical usefulness within IMS, but not to the degree espoused here.

I asked our Chief Analyst, Martin Geddes, for his view:

Essentially, we at STL and Telco 2.0 disagree with Telcordia's premise. Yes, there are APIs needed into authentication and other services. But a lot of this stuff doesn't need the IMS architecture. You just do it over the current Internet, and roll a suitably lightweight protocol to exchange the data.

Things like QoS have been tried and largely rejected before. The problem is that asking all the nodes in the network to reserve some capacity takes time. Indeed, so much set-up time, that it becomes a problem. If a telco has one advantage over the Internet, it's the ability to deploy boxes geographically/topologically scattered around the network, to minimise latency. This is how cellular works: many HLRs and switches, rather than backhaul to a central location. We've already been here before with ATM (an earlier telecom protocol that many wrongly thought would displace IP.)

We've thrashed over the other supposed "benefits" of IMS before (see previous postings in this blog) -- the words sound good, but the business case is hollow because the same end-user value can be delivered too consistently over the Internet.

Telcordia in their article say:
"The prime purpose behind IMS is to enable the seamless convergence of all the communications services that we currently use but are partitioned by the nature of the networks that they run on. While we have become used to using fixed Internet for some transactions, our mobiles for others, and so on, this silo concept is increasingly inefficient and expensive for both user and service provider. ...

With traditional voice revenues under constant erosion, it is essential that service providers of all types are able to move up the value chain, away from basic connectivity and toward more advanced communications services that include multimedia, messaging, and business and lifestyle applications."

But Telcos have no history of success in rich application development. Furthermore, the assumption that you move *up* the value chain is Telco 1.0 thinking. The world is flattening, and most operators are going to have to relinquish dreams of being more than a utility pipe. The rich multimedia stuff is also contextual (e.g. as part of a game), and the owners of those services have no intention of sharing the pie with the telcos when there's an alternative, cheaper distribution mechanism (the Internet).

There are two possible exception areas: We basically agree with Telcordia's security pitch, although again I'm not convinced IMS is the right architecture. And the PSTN/legacy interconnect issue won't go away.

Old, dumb, edge nodes aren't going to suddenly get smart, so you need some smart network node to act on their behalf to integrate them into new services. But my desk phone isn't about to spout a screen, so
forget those multimedia combinational services. They'll emerge from the PC world (and indeed already have).

Fine-grained billing isn't loved by users. Predictability is in, and flat rate is one way to deliver it. The dream of a telco is to have a zillion rating rules, and for it to be impossible for users to comparison shop.

Ultimately, IMS is all back-to-front. Rather than trawling all the network traffic trying to find billable events, you just offer a bunch of service APIs that can be invoked under the control of the edge points (or third party servers). The billable event, if any, is under the control of the third party. Session control in the network doesn't add much value, and ultimately can't be charged for. Skype proves it -- we talked in wideband audio yesterday, no QoS or IMS needed.

Here's the crux: the telecom industry believes there are (i) new, mass-market services along the lines of voice telephony and SMS to be built, and (ii) they will be sold along the same lines -- metered service, connectivity puchased as part of the services and not separately provisioned (as with broadband).

We think #1 is false. There are some extensions to existing talk and messaging apps that will "go universal". But not many. There may be a few IMS-enabled apps that become popular within single carriers or regions (PoC, Video Sharing), but it'll be an exception.

There never will be a global, interoperable push-to-talk network from the telcos.
There will never be a telco IM system independent of the existing Internet portal players. There isn't a "one size fits all" conferencing system out there waiting to be built.

However, #2 is probably something that we'd want to move forwards with still. The end-to-end principle that defines Internet architecture says nothing about how the pipe is sold.

So there's probably a simpler architecture than IMS still waiting to be built. Telcos would still be involved in accounting for network traffic and billing it to either the user or application providers (or advertisers). But they wouldn't know anything about what the traffic really represents.

IMS can be used to do this, but it's a horribly complex way of doing it.

An alternative approach could be "a billion Internets". Create an endless succession of copies of the Internet address space. It's still a dumb (virtual) network, but you've got some kind of control over who is admitted. "Internet #18237232" might be for a particular purpose
like gaming. It gets a certain priority of service, and network traffic is billed to particular nodes. It's a bit like Paris Metro Pricing (see the IMS Insider Summer Report), but on a grander scale -- or on existing enterprise VLAN (virtual LAN) technology scaled up globally.

I think we'll do an article on this for our next IMS/Telco 2.0 Quarterly Report...

(In the meantime, a far more pragmatic discussion here on Telecom TV by some friends of our's).

The Editor, IMS Insider

Friday, October 20, 2006

IMS - operating in a vacuum

In early August, whilst the beaches were crowded with IMS architects and their families, we posted up our pre-event hypothesis of the issues facing IMS, the vendors and their operator customers. In reflection on our IMS Services industry brainstorm two weeks ago, there's little we would change.

Operators are clearly taking a very pragmatic line. Their story is less about an all-embracing architecture and vision of the future, and more about solving practical networking issues for voice evolution and FMC. There still remains considerable tension between the IMS standards vision being put forward, and the commercial reality of metered voice revenues heading down fast, sometimes to zero. Peer-to-peer networks are "crossing the chasm" and equally significant is "give it away in return for eyeballs" from Google et al. Many participants picked up on this, and the vendors appear to be coming in well below the bar being set by their operator customers. Without a vision of life beyond the walled garden and closed services, IMS faces an eternal uphill battle.

As always, the definition of new services remains a problem. This begs the question of whether the industry should be looking for new IMS services. If there was market pull, surely the services would already have been defined, with pre-IMS (or non-IMS) implementations widespread. The telecom industry may have traditionally been technology-push, but this is the first investment cycle where domestic broadband is widespread in developed markets. Standards for applications (rather than the technology platform) are even more fragmented, where they exist. Who should really define how a multimedia ringback tone should work? And what's the incentive for every carrier to support it?

The conclusion is that IMS is best deployed offering additional features to existing voice and messaging services. The accusation that IMS is technology pull can be answered if its scope is limited to existing successful products (voice and SMS), and their evolution. Some attendees were confused by RedKnee's pitch, which focused on identity and profile (accessed via a service architecture) rather than session control. Perhaps RedKnee and their customers are hinting that the value lies somewhere other than a "control plane" which no longer offers competitive advantage in the mass market? Or, indeed, that identity services are the new control plane?

The industry seems to lack a clear insight as to what the user needs are, or a philosophical compass that will help understand why certain services are successful. A good example of this is presence, which is normally part of an availability solution. The naive approach is that the fixed IM presence should translate straight to mobile. But if presence is really a sign of availability, and thus a signal of "I'm at my PC, not eating dinner or bathing the kids", there's no certainty that the model will translate to mobile. Instead, you would build a different availability model -- maybe a "request to call me" function instead.

A deeper concern, raised by Dr John Waclawsky, Chief Software Architect of Motorola, is that the real value is shifting from connecting people (which the Internet does very well too) to connecting personal devices (where the Internet is relatively weak). If my light switch wants to talk to my lightbulb, or my thermostat to my boiler, why does an ISP need to get involved? If he is right, IMS will arrive just in time to miss the next great wave of computing technology.

IMS standards are already fragmented, with different initiatives coming from the fixed and mobile worlds, as well as specific vendors and customers pressing ahead with partial implementations to solve immediate problems. The situation on handsets is cause for concern. The network may be ready, but it takes time to penetrate the handset base and software configuration management of an unproven technology is hard. How will carriers manage handset software updates? What are the real advantages over "pure SIP", which is already widely deployed? What if the user is roaming onto their home broadband connection and QoS guarantees no longer apply?

There is considerable uncertainty and disagreement as to what the role of IMS is in the Enterprise market (if any). The vendors are pushing this as a possibility; members of the audience were pushing back equally hard.

Perhaps the biggest problem is simply one of marketing and perception. IMS needs to be more clearly positioned as what it is: delivering the IN vision on IP technology in a way that more plausibly enables feature development using commodity IT tools. Some parts of the voice and messaging business, like premium rate calls and short code SMS, are doing very well. No Internet player is coming close to threatening these revenue streams. IMS looks likely to be the underpinning technology for these in future.

One of the most telling (if brutally blunt) comments came from the Voice & Messaging breakout of the parallel Telco 2.0 brainstorm:

“It is interesting to see the huge gap between the people in the IMS conference and the Telco 2.0 conference. We need to ensure the engineers get brought down to earth and listen to the market - I think many are them are still on planet Zog.”

Ultimately, IMS architects and network equipment vendors can't be expected to solve the structural business problems that operators face. As the sages in the room pointed out:

"I think the main advantage that internet start ups have is that they don't have the money or the time to continue talking without acting"

"This is about on industry that need to re-invent it self. ... IMS alone can't address a systemic problem with Telcos as currently structured."

The Editor, IMS Insider

Monday, October 09, 2006

IMS Services Brainstorm - Summary

Many thanks to Dean Bubley for acting as 'analyst-in-residence' for the IMS Services brainstorm last week. And to everyone who participated as speakers and participants.

We generated nearly 50 pages of 'user-generated content' (verbatim input from the audience via our 'Mindshare' collaborative technology). We're currently analysing this. But for those who weren't at the event, or would like a summary, have a look at Dean's thoughts here:


The IMS Insider Report (out later in the month) will provide a full and thorough analysis. Subscribe here.

The Editor, IMS Insider

Friday, September 29, 2006

IMS Services Brainstorm - Full Up!

The IMS Insider team is feverishly preparing for the Big Brainstorm next week, co-located with the Telco 2.0 brainstorm. We're processing the 60-odd stimulus presentations that will be given (helping to cut them down, make them audience-friendly, keep them to brief, make suggestions to improve) and planning the precise brainstorming process so we can generate some new industry insights and actions. We're delighted that people have spent a considerable amount of effort preparing special presentations to fit our focus and format. A big thank you to all.

We've now exceeded our target participant numbers and will be bursting at the seams on the day. Construction on the Tower Bridge Hilton in London was only completed in August, so we're asking them to put on an extension to house the extra people...

With the 'Mindshare' brainstorming process, we should be in for some very exciting discussion next week by the Thames.

For those who haven't been able to make the event, we'll be producing a number of in-depth Reports (IMS 2.0, Telco 2.0, Voice & Messaging 2.0, Ad-Funded Content, and Broadband Connectivity) after the event. These will be available from the end of Oct at very reasonable rates. More on this later...

The IMS Insider Report will be out in October for subscribers, covering August - Oct, and will feature a full review of the Big Brainstorm.

The Editor, IMS Insider

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A-IMS...more comment

We've had lots of comments back since the last post on A-IMS (see below).


- The comment from Global Crossing's Adam Uzelac to the post below (you can meet him at the Big IMS Brainstorm on 4-5 Oct)

- And some useful insight from some tecchies who seem to have actually gone through the 300 page spec here.

The Editor, IMS Insider

Friday, September 22, 2006

A-IMS - Verizon's 'Advances to IMS'

Interesting update to IMS Services Brainstorm agenda:

On Day One (4th Oct) Simon Wright from Lucent will be describing 'A-IMS' (Advances to IMS), Verizon's approach to the architecture that takes non-SIP applications into account. Lucent, along with Cisco, Motorola, Nortel and Qualcomm have been working with Verizon on this 'behind closed doors' for some time, and it was announced in June.

Simon will be describing what is 'A-IMS', why are NEPs like Lucent involved, and how Verizon intends to use it.

The Editor, IMS Insider

IMS is a...'routing platform'

Very useful response here to our post below from Colin Pons, chief IMS architect at KPN in Holland. We've talked before about why we like KPN's vision for IMS. Colin will be giving a specially prepared stimulus presentation at the IMS Services Brainstorm on 4-5 Oct in the section on 'New Technical Vision for IMS'. We'll be discussing SOA and other platform choices with Malcolm Wardlaw, Director Converged Services from BT Group and Pascal Correc, Chief Architect at SFR.

Colin says:

"Whether IMS is just an application may depend on your perspective. I would rather classify is as a routing platform. Some clarification may be in order. The CSCF is a SIP proxy, its split personality in IMS comes from the need to support roaming, mobile access networks and mobile devices; but is essence it is still a SIP proxy. In conjunction with the HSS it is able to act as SIP registrar. And in my opinion there is about where IMS should have stopped, focus on providing interoperable SIP networks able to satisfy mobile and fixed networks and different business models.

In reality we see that the NEP and many incumbent Telco's are promoting to be able to solve 'all' your convergence needs, seamless services, etc.

Many of these claims are on application layer. An if there would exist a unique IMS application ever, I bet I could develop it also with SIP. Point being: don't go looking around for 'IMS' applications, but define what you need at the SIP session control layer and buy the components you need; IMS could fulfill that need if you are selective.

Yet this does not conflict with also my personal belief that the future will be service-oeriented architectures. And I do belief that session-oriented platforms could support this providing additional enablers. IMS will not be the only session oriented platforms. For example IP TV needs one, and it is typically not IMS and it won't be for the at least the next few years. So IMS should be viewed as part of a larger body, a Service Delivery platform based on service-oriented architectures.

And who will most likely win out in that game...indeed IT vendors. And to my understanding also NEPs are starting to realize that if you look at all the partnership announcements etc."

The Editor, IMS Insider

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

IMS is just an application

It was my pleasure to spent some time at the VON conference in Boston last week having an off-the-record conversation with an executive from one of the big IT vendors. As a former Oracle employee, I have a pretty good insight to what makes the players in this space tick. They've all got big plans. If my correspondent is right (and history is on his side), there's about to be a major supply-side change in telecom.

A few years ago, IBM was heavily pushing their Service Provider Delivery Platform (SPDE) initiative. Whilst not completely congruent with IMS, it occupies more-or-less the same space. It got a bit stuck in the mud, probably being ahead of both its time and IBM's sales abilities. Everyone likes to use the "C" word (hint: _onvergence_) to describe change in this industry, none more so than the meeting of IT and Telecom. Yet almost every time you see the 11-letter swear word, you know some intellectual sin is hiding closeby. In this case, the "convergence" is really a titanic battle between traditional network equipment providers and IT vendors that mirrors the battle between the Internet players and Telcos for user attention.

Now everyone's playing the service delivery platform (SDP) game. IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and BEA vs. Lucent, Nortel, Alcatel, Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson (not to say Huawei and others). Cisco and others are hiding low enough in the stack to bypass the conflict zones. Both sides have seen massive commercial bloodshed in recent years, and are fit and hardened. My hunch is that the IT side is fitter, and is about to eat a lot of the Network Equipment Provider (NEP) business.

Some highlights of our discussion.

The big IT platform vendors have long offered a suite of both horizontal business applications (e.g. HR, Finance) as well as vertical solutions (e.g. manufacturing). As far as this vendor is concerned, a telco is just another software application that resides in a common application, storage and management framework. Granted, there are some special tweaks and extra capabilities needed, but not a separate supplier ecosystem.

As my source puts it: "IMS isn't a platform. We're the platform, IMS is just an application. And you don't hard wire an application into your network, particularly one as complex and inflexible as IMS."

We also know the story. Ghandi-like, the IT vendor enters with a fresh product unproven in battle, and gets laughed at by existing specialists in the domain. The consultants go on an implementation death march, the project manager loses his bonus, the salesman gets sacked. Then the product matures, and the enemy opens fire. Then the IT company wins: they work out not just the technology, but how to make the sale. In the case of IBM, for example, they'll package it with outsourcing services, and access to IBM's enterprise sales channels.

This is probably a good time to be concerned as an investor or employee of a NEP who isn't following the Telco 2.0 mantra: get ready to specialise in what you do uniquely well, or diversify into adjacent markets. We've been here before. Oracle's founder Larry Ellison was right a few years back when he said there would be horizontal consolidation, and he bought out Peoplesoft and Siebel. Now only small niche vendors can compete in HR and CRM apps. With less fanfare, he and his competitors are gunning to absorb the vertical applications.

The telco and NEP response historically is: we're special, real-time is too hard for generic IT kit, our volumes are too big, out uptimes too tough. That might have been true one day, but take Oracle as a case study again. Note how they have already absorbed companied like TimesTen whose original raison d'etre was to do the transaction processing for telcos that other databases couldn't touch. The sands of time are flowing against this argument that telecom is special and unique. Oracle will, naturally, be more than happy to take your money to deploy IMS applications within their framework -- as will IBM, Sun, BEA and others. In my conversation it was suggested that IMS will be just one of many service delivery "libraries" around -- its being a bloated Tower of Babel restricting its use to a few narrow PSTN replacement and FMC uses, and simpler systems being deployed for most uses. Service-oriented architectures are also a competitor, as they enable intelligent end-points to access the raw presence and profile data and make their own routing decisions, rather than have an inflexible network do it for them.

Each of the IT vendors has different strengths and weaknesses: IBM's services, Oracle sales, BEA's technology, Microsoft's zeal. Too early to say how much flesh each vulture will rip off the service delivery platform carcasses.

Also at VON were a host of smaller IMS vendors. A few will flip into the hands of the big IT companies as they fill out the components of their platform via acquisition. That means you need to focus on one component, do it better than anyone else, and look for the exit. The history of IT is littered with bodies of small companies that thought they could prosper independent of the ecosystem hubs. (There are a few exceptions like security products that for political reasons require market separation.) Given the weak differentiation message of some of these, I don't expect to see them around for too long. If you're not the _only_ or _best_ at something, I'd liquidate the capital quick and return it to the shareholders.

I personally believe the future is a service-oriented architecture, not a session-oriented one. There's a big "SO WHAT?" for operators here. They need to change culture, structure and process to avoid conflict between IT and network functions. The specific things we at IMS Insider think should be done will have to wait for another day, however.

Naturally, I'd be the world's worst salesman not to suggest you come to London on 4-5 October to debate this with your peers at our IMS Services Forum industry brainstorm event.

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