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Friday, September 23, 2005

What New Services will IMS best enable?

With so many people subscribing to the IMS Insider service (www.ims-insider.com) since the launch last week, we've been furiously planning the next edition of the e-newsletter (available on 15th October to subscribers). (Some people are already taking up the 'Ask-an-Expert' email Q&A service, which is also keeping us busy!).

Next month in the newsletter we'll look in detail at what new services will IMS best enable. You'll need to subscribe to the newsletter at www.ims-insider.com, if you'd like this insight. However, here's a teaser:

IMS technology is clearly developing fast. However, it's unclear which new services will be the winners in an IMS-enabled world. So, what criteria should telco marketers and product developers use to prioritise their services?

Chris Barraclough, who used to develop propositions for European mobile operator, Orange, and who's now a consultant at our sister company STL (www.stlpartners.com), describes the issue as follows:

"We all know that the voice market is in decline. Operators we speak to are desperately seeking new services that can leverage IMS. They got lucky with SMS. Since then they are trying to work out the next 'big product'. The problem is there isn't a single one.

Operators recognise they need a portfolio of services, and they're getting there...but very slowly. And it's even more difficult to define a portfolio for IMS-enabled services that don't yet exist - it feels too hard, too esoteric.

As a result, we see very unscientific approaches to making investment decisions today, and they are not factoring in IMS enough/at all. (See the discussion in this month's 'Crow's Nest' in the IMS-Insider e-newsletter).

So, as part of our 'IMS Navigator' service (which I'm delighted is REALLY taking off with operators at the moment), we've created a simple framework that helps prioritise IMS service development. It's only as good as the analysis used to populate it, but if the analysis is creative, rigorous, thorough, we're finding it's a great help.

We've applied lessons from the pharmaceutical and oil industries in developing this framework. We think this 'unknown'/R&D oriented approach to product development is well suited to thinking through investment decisions around IMS-enabled services."

For details of Chris's framework, do subscribe to the October edition of IMS Insider (www.ims-insider.com). Chris's contact details: mailto:Chris.barraclough@stlpartners.com

Friday, September 16, 2005

Launch of IMS Insider info Service

Since we launched 'IMS Insider' today - a new info service for those in the telco, media and IT industries trying to make sense of the opportunities from a new concept called the IP Multimedia Subsystem - I've been inundated with messages.

It seems to be hitting the spot in the industry! Thank you to everyone for your support and interest.

We spent a lot of time in advance asking people (operators and vendors) what they needed right now. They told us:

- Something dedicated just to IMS.
- Something focused on 'commercialising IMS' ("We've already got loads of technical information").
- Something regular, but also short.
- Something that sifts the wheat from the chaff, the 'hot' from the 'hot air'.
- Something authoritative, to give us real direction: not from journalists, but from telco/IT. practitioners with real hands on experience of the telco industry.
- Something interactive: not just a e-newsletter.

So, for those who don't know, 'IMS Insider' is like a club. We have a monthly e-newsletter which condenses all the mountain of information about IMS into something useful (you can get the first Sept edition for free at http://www.ims-insider.com). To support this we have an email Q&A service, where each week subscribers can ask questions by email direct to our experts, who promise to reply within a certain time frame (you need to subscribe to get this!). And a quarterly register of IMS Deployments from around the world (again, subscription needed).

This blog is open to anyone. It contains some special stories, ideas, and helps newbies to IMS understand where to go to get the best information about IMS (SEE BELOW HERE).

We're very excited about the potential of IMS for the telco, media and IT companies. I look forward to stimulating the debate over the next year.

PS: If you subscribe to IMS Insider in September, there's a 50% discount on the annual subscription. Just go to http://www.ims-insider.com

Editor, IMS Insider

Finding IMS information – an ‘insider’s’ experience

If you are new to IMS or simply want to find out more, you can of course search the web.

But, as Arthur C Clarke pointed out, searching the web, even with Google, is rather like a thirsty man holding out a cup under Niagara Falls. This is particularly the case for new topics like IMS.

The ‘IMS Insider’ team trawl the web to help build insight into IMS. We bring you the best digest every month, on the theme of ‘how to commercialise IMS’. We also offer an ‘Ask-an-Expert’ email service and an IMS Deployments Register for paying subscribers (see www.ims-insider.com . PS: if you’d like to subscribe – 50% off if you sign up in Sept!!).

However, for those new to IMS, there are 3 excellent “entry-level” sites:

1.) www.telephonyonline.com/ims (for general IMS news, business news, whitepapers etc.)
2.) www.sipcenter.com (more focus on the technical side, but in a easily understandable language)
3.) www.wirelessreview.com (focus on wireless, but with lot of buzz on IMS) .

A really good recent article, from Greg Papadapolous, CTO and Executive VP at Sun Microsystems is useful to get a vendor's perspective: http://www.sun.com/solutions/documents/articles/te_ims_qanda_gregp_aa.xml

Need to search deeper?

Pranay Kohli (pranay.kohli@stlpartners.com), who works in STL’s IMS Practice (www.stlpartners.com), and who is on the editorial team of IMS Insider, has given me the following advice for would-be IMS researchers. He says:

“Since IMS is an emerging area, not a lot of refined information is available readily on the internet. Moreover, since the subject is technical in nature, it is easy to miss highly relevant IMS information, just because the word IMS does not appear in it. For example, soft-switch is a crucial component in the IP world, but a discussion of soft-switch will generally not veer towards IMS.

So: to be able to gather good and relevant IMS info, one must be able to understand (1) IMS (2) SDP (Service Delivery Platform), and (3) Telecom Application Layer. For more targeted research, these sites are very good:

- www.sipcenter.com
- www.findarticles.com
www.heavyreading.com (its IMS report is a rage in the telecom world at the moment!)
- www.telephonyonline.com
- www.shorecliffcommunications.com
- www.ibctelecoms.com
- www.3g.co.uk

Googling re IMS
One can start on the internet by a google search with the following example key words: Since IMS (as IP Multimedia Subsystem) is a relatively new acronym, be aware that if you use only ‘IMS’ as a key word you will get lots of results on ‘International Medical System’ and similar. So do pair IMS with telco-related key words. See the following:

i. ims ericsson architecture
ii. ims sdp
iii. ims service layer
iv. ims sip
v. ims architecture 3gpp

Industry/Market News relating to IMS

On general IT and business sites, if there is search functionality and you’re looking for key strategy announcements (e.g partnerships), product launches, M&A news, press releases and gossip from reputable sites/weblogs, on/from key industry players (both suppliers and major customers), then you should use the following keywords in your search: IMS (obviously), IP Multimedia Subsystem, TISPAN, Next Generation Mobile Service Platform, Next Generations Networks Service Platform, IP infrastructure, IP core networks, Content delivery infrastructure, NGN.

Vendor Sites

In addition, all of telecom vendors (Nokia, Ericsson, Sun Microsystems, etc) have IMS sections on their websites, where there is very useful information.

However, it is important to be able to see through them – as you’d expect, they promote their view of the world, which needs decoding (a job that IMS Insider, especially our Email ‘Ask-An-Expert’ service does - www.ims-insider.com

From a technical perspective, one has to look into each vendor’s perspective on “its” interpretation and implementation of 3GPP guidelines. This is a major issue and a lot of operators are looking for guidance on this. For this, one needs to take a walk on the technical side into “developer community” section of most telecom vendor websites.

We particularly recommend the Cisco site (www.cisco.com), which gives a nice IT twist on IMS.

Industry Body sites

You can search for major announcements, publications/white papers, developments or up-coming events from relevant industry bodies. Many developments in this area are very detailed, working-level standards setting and far too granular for the generalist.

www.ietf.org, www.3gpp.org, www.etsi.org, www.fixedlinemms.org, www.openmobilealliance.org, www.cablelabs.com, www.itu.int
www.wimaxforum.org, www.atis.org, www.gsmworld.com, http://www.3gamericas.org

Thursday, September 15, 2005

eBay + Skype = Stimulant for mass adoption of IMS?

What are the implications of the eBay/Skype on the telco industry? I don't think the financial analysts have quite got it yet. I also think this news could be a stimulant for faster IMS adoption.

I asked Dr Kenn Walters, Head of the IMS Practice at our parent company STL (www.stlpartners.com) to give his view. Kenn's been a senior exec at major fixed and mobile operators in 3 continents, and a consultant to most of the NEPs and IT vendors over the last 29 years of his career. Here's his take:

Ebay is a massively successful internet company based around online auctions and online payments systems. It has agreed to purchase Skype, which is a rather small, non profitable company specialising in VoIP and chargeable connections from VoIP to other telephone services. It's main assets are 54-60 million users. Skype has recently been moving towards becoming a VNO (Virtual Network Operator) and has started partnering with Mobile Operators (e-Plus in Germany is the big recent news).

Most financial analysts are saying that Ebay is paying too much money ($2-$4 Billion in total over the next 3-5 years) for a company that isn’t yet making money and whose technology could be replicated for $500 million - $1Billion, a substantial amount less than the purchase price. On top of that the service benefits that have been announced so far by Ebay and Skype execs don’t seem to be that exciting (e.g. allowing voice and video VoIP for Q&A in Ebay transactions).

So, are these financial analysts missing the point? How can Ebay secure the value potential that justifies the huge price tag it has paid for Skype?

There are 5 key points to be considered: 1.) Reach (number of users), 2.) Access to new markets, 3.) The move into new technology areas (e.g. Skype’s deal with German mobile operator E-Plus, and its discussions with other mobile operators), 4.) New service (synergy) possibilities for the merged company and most important of all, 5.) TIMING.

My strong view is that if Ebay and Skype can integrate quickly and seamlessly, they will become a major new player in the telecoms market, and this will justify the price tag. The key point for IMS watchers is that IMS will play a critical role in enabling them to realise this opportunity and, as a result, will stimulate mainstream operators (fixed and mobile) to speed up their adoption of IMS so they can compete.

Here's why:

Reach and Access to markets: Skype gives Ebay and Paypal (which Ebay owns) access to areas of geography where they have been previously weak, notably Scandinavia and the rapidly emerging areas of Asia such as China and India where they have also not progressed rapidly. Skype has between 54 and 60 million users currently, and is rapidly expanding its user base. This is not true of other VoIP companies, and is unlikely to be true of new start up services driven by other non VoIP companies such as Google etc.

New Technology areas: IMS will play a key role in allowing the integration of New Technologies within the new company. Skype was moving rapidly towards becoming a VNO (Virtual Network Operator), even before it started discussions with Mobile operators and signed a deal with E-Plus. A VoIP VNO, with Mobile access and Operator partners who have mobile clients loaded on the handsets, is something very new. Effectively it becomes a FMC (Fixed, Mobile Converged) VNO, utilising a VoIP/IP backbone… No other new entrant into the VoIP “boom” has announced anything along these lines (yet). Such a tie up with the Mobile world, as well as the fixed telephony world utilising either VNO or services such as “Skype out” opens a world of transaction and access possibilities to the merged company.

New Services Synergies: If the integration of new technologies comes into effect, IMS will also enable new services synergies. For example, Paypal (owned by Ebay, remember) could be used effectively as a micro payment system substitute, with payments for reservations, fines, tickets, top ups, “pay as you go” type Skype calls to fixed networks (building on the 'Skype Out' service). These will be able to be delivered via your mobile handset, or via Skype PC connections to Skype business users.

Imagine using your mobile or laptop to check out the local theatre listings, reserve and pay for tickets without having to give your credit card number via the phone, and when the call itself costs you nothing! The speed and simplicity of this will be compelling. This is only one of many new services that could rapidly become available due to this merger.

The merged Ebay/Skype company needs to rapidly adopt IMS to allow the effective deployment of these new technologies and services. A successful implementation of an effective IMS strategy now becomes vital.

Timing: Ebay has acquired Skype with its user base intact and growing, and with new technology areas/services in the pipeline. And this is just before Skype started to make significant revenue of its own. This is clearly an attempt not only to expand the Ebay business line up, but to beat off new start ups in the VoIP area while doing so. It's also an opportunistic attempt to make a quantum leap ahead of the competition, before the competition can respond with their new technology developments and deployments. The interesting thing is that, now, "the competiton" is redefined. And this is where I say, "Watch out, telcos!"

Implications: At STL we believe that IF Ebay and Skype can quickly integrate and deploy the new technology and services, using effective IMS systems and strategy, they stand a good chance of being the number 1 provider in the market space I call "the application/service-backed VoIP/VNO evolving into the fixed-mobile converged space" for many years to come. The implications for both competitors to Ebay/Skype in their traditional markets (such as Google), or traditional Mobile and Fixed operators could be enormous, with early adopters in partnerships with Ebay/Skype likely to benefit. Resistors or competitors will be forced to play “catch up” with very limiting price points for their services being set by the early adopters and partners.

Do let me know your views - kenn.walters@stlpartners.com

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