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Friday, November 25, 2005

How IMS and SDP fits within the wider OSS/BSS chain

I got an email yesterday from a practitioner working in the OSS space. He said:

“Thanks for a very interesting newsletter [October Edition of the 'IMS Insider' Report– subscribe at www.ims-insider.com]
. I would be interested to see more coverage of how SDPs and IMS relate to the rest of the OSS world, in particular how they overlap or complement such areas as inventory, activation and service assurance.”

In response I thought we should start by thinking about the evolution of IP based services and supporting systems.


Open Source platforms and specific developer communities have been successful in commoditizing horizontal markets with specific programs, services and solutions. Examples include web and enterprise application markets. IMS has the potential to create a horizontal market for IP communications. It is intended to not only provide top tier Operators with a more cost effective platform, but also to enable economies of scale by letting thousands of small vendors participate in a way that adds market value to their particular focus areas.

As a simple example, in the e-commerce space pioneers like eBay and Amazon promoted the idea of commoditizing basic services in order to open up a much larger and wider volume market of small vendors. Functionality for personalized web presence, online payment, shopping carts, bidding, and product marketing became available at very low cost. This allowed new ideas to be tried quickly with minimal risk. As a result there was a boom in e-commerce sites (some survived, some didn’t). This rapid turnover translated into greater levels of competition, greater innovation and dramatic improvements in quality of online services. The bottom line was that consumers became increasingly confident about online shopping - from books and gadgets to cars to even homes – as did B2B businesses in terms of online procurement and supply chain/demand chain management.

These trends from the internet are becoming increasingly required in the telecoms world where services are seen to be the future driver of revenues rather than voice minutes.

For Telco Operators, Service Delivery Platforms (SDP’s) are the current answer to enabling rapid deployment of services to customers in a controlled manner. As such an SDP sits squarely in the Services Layer of an Operator as per the e-TOM model [the industry standard roadmap/approach towards Next Gen OSS], with some overlap into the Service Coordination and Access Control areas, (see figure 1 below). Advanced or ‘Open SDPs’ (like those being developed by Sun Microsystems) can be seen to work seamlessly with IMS to support future dynamic convergent services, which will need to be created in the same sort of innovative environment as the internet world (as per figure 2 below).












ERP, CRM, SCM, Billing etc (“OSS/BSS”) are part of the enterprise logistics and customer care chain and, as such, are complemented by IMS and SDP. Direct links into the SDP process are made via systems such as mySAP ERP, mySAP CRM, or Sun Microsystems’ Access Manager, or Identity Manager (www.sun.com/identity). As each Operator has a somewhat different system and strategy in this area we can say, in general, that these systems are normally accessed via the SCAC or Control layer in figure 1 above.























We will be going into this issue in more detail as part of a wider debate on creating a ‘Killer Environment’ for IP-based service delivery in future editions of the IMS Insider Report. We also have a more slides, case studies and data on SDP, NGOSS and IMS structures/architectures, which are available to subscribers of the IMS Insider Service. You can subscribe at www.ims-insider.com.

In the meantime, please email me with any comments and thoughts on this topic –
editor@ims-insider.com.





Thursday, November 24, 2005

‘Open IMS’: could the LINUX model work?

LINUX was, and still is, an open, “community developed” software. After several years of developments and enhancements mainly by volunteers, it is now considered stable enough for enterprise applications. Not only that, several companies have “adopted” it (e.g. IBM) and even offer technical support for it. The core group that “coordinates” LINUX is still not for profit, and is funded via pooled resources from several sources where nobody dominates or has an upper hand.

Can this be model be replicated for an ‘Open Source IMS’? Operators would certainly benefit, their customers would certainly benefit, but the NEPs will certainly dismiss it, just as the big proprietary vendor in the IT world, Microsoft, reacted in the early days of LINUX.

I asked Ivelin Ivanov, founder of Mobicents (
www.mobicents.org) to describe the potential of ‘Open IMS’. Let me know what you think: editor@ims-insider.com

‘Open IMS’


Major telco operators are looking at a number of basic IMS features to enable the rapid creation and deployment of new generation services targeted to specific user audiences and with potentially short lifecycle [See October's Edition of the IMS Insider Report for new methodology for defining and prioritising high value IMS-enhanced/IP-converged services - www.ims-insider.com].


A few of the more common IMS infrastructure features include:

- Unified Communications over SIP, XMPP and legacy protocols, including potentially mobile client for VoIP on mobile handsets.
- Single Virtual Directory for user registration, profile information and configuration settings.
- Virtual PBX for phone line provisioning, call control and billing.
- Multiplayer Gaming environment that provides facilities for game setup, multiplayer communications, object sharing, state persistence and scalability capacity for millions of players.

Such basic features require serious investment to implement and do not translate immediately into increased ARPU. Some of the key factors that contribute to the sizeable investment are:

* *Standardization*. In order for IMS to reach its global potential, there need to be a number of industry standards that participants comply with. Standardization processes are very slow and tedious. They take years to be developed and cost a lot of research money.

* *Interoperability*. Standardization is just the tip of the iceberg. There are always a number of aspects that cannot be predicted during the standardization process, but they become apparent at a later stage during implementation. Interoperability initiatives need to be organized between vendors and validated by operators. This is an even more involving and resource consuming process than standardisation. The cost includes not only highly skilled corporate architects but also armies of development teams who have to interact among each other and close gaps between implementations.

* *Time to market*. Working, standards based products have to appear on the shelves in a timely fashion. Otherwise the market demand will be fulfilled by a variety of narrow-focus proprietary solutions, which will add insult to the injury and further fragment the market space. Skype is an example of a successful proprietary platform, which has a limited set of features but is nevertheless widely adopted by consumers.

* *Mainstream developer adoption*. The dream of thousands of off the shelf IMS applications could only come to fruition when the technology is embraced by mainstream developers. This demands availability of low cost, lightweight IMS execution environment and convenient development tools. Developers need to be able to run a self contained environment on their laptops running any major operating system.

Open Source IMS addresses all of the needs above at a lower cost compared to the traditional closed source approach. This has been recognized by several operators and vendors. Since the June release of Mobicents - the first and only certified open source implementation of JSLEE, new contributors have been joining each month. The number of visits to the project pages has been growing by a multiple almost every month and the download rate crossed 1,000 in October.

The benefits to operators are quite obvious - they get a working IMS platform at a low cost. Portugal Telecom Innovacao for example contributed Resource Adaptors for XMPP and Asterisk as well as many useful examples. Vendors can also derive benefits on their own. Aepona is leading the development of a Parlay Resource Adaptor, which will allow JSLEE applications to communicate with Parlay gateways. Lucent Technologies on the other hand is building a prototype hardware appliance that embeds Mobicents and guarantees certain levels of performance and reliability. Open Cloud contributed to EclipSLEE, with the hope that a tool for rapid service creation will grow the SLEE developer community.

The idea of Open Source IMS is not without challenges though. There are telco players that are very conservative about the potential risk of exposing Intellectual Property to competitors. This is a barrier that seems to be taking a long time to lift in some cases. Another problem is the low level of comfort for operators that are used to purchase multi-million hand-holding support contracts from vendors instead of dealing directly with a given technology. These operators prefer to wait until their primary NEPs (network equipment providers) offer a product or service before they consider it. There is a certain amount of substance to such logic since at its heart Mobicents is driven by a team of volunteers with real day jobs and lives beyond IMS. Recently two of the core team developers stepped back as other priorities have demanded their time. This had immediate impact on the project liveliness.

While the idea of an Open Source IMS platform is meaningful and has produced concrete positive results it has yet to find a sustainable business model. Over the last few months Mobicents members have circulated the idea of forming a formal body - Mobicents Foundation - to look after the long term interests of the project and its community. It would provide a structured way for committed members to steer the development roadmap. The foundation would also secure funding for a dedicated core team that will be responsible for enhancing the kernel as well as reviewing and glueing together the various add-on contributions in an optimal way. The Foundation might be the missing piece that makes Open Source IMS a huge success. Pooling resources for a common infrastructure layer has been proven successful in the cases of Linux with OSDL and Development Tools with Eclipse. It could work for IMS too. [See www.mobicents.org]

editor@ims-insider.com


Friday, November 18, 2005

IP-based Converged Services - how to build and launch them?

Below is a preview of November’s IMS Insider Report (published on 30th November, subscribe at http://www.ims-insider.com/).

In it, we build on the IP-based converged services prioritisation method we described in the October edition, and explore what Operators need to do to launch a specific high value new service type. The example we use is a full-service IPTV/film rental/purchase proposition that is:

- Personalised
- Device-agnostic
- Bearer-agnostic
- Integrated with communications (voice, IM etc.)
- DVD-quality

In the report, we describe the proposition in great detail, outlining the end-to-end customer experience. Our sister consulting company, STL (
http://www.stlpartners.com/), also helped us to determine what an Operator needs to do to build and launch such a service. They identified 3 x Technology Building-Blocks ("TBBs") and 3 x Process & Organisation Elements ("POE's") – see the chart below.

Commenting on how well operators are addressing the 6 requirements, Chris Barraclough from STL says:

“It is clear from our client work and wider analysis that most Operators are progressing well with regards to developing the core technology building-blocks. They are all moving at different speeds and focusing in slightly different areas, but essentially the roadmaps for technology are in place.

Where we believe there is a clear weakness is around the supporting process and organisation capabilities. The Marketing and Commercial functions need to be working much more closely with the technology areas to (a) develop propositions and (b) deliver them. Currently, there is a short-termist attitude in most organisations. This is natural because companies need to hit their near-term numbers. However, these companies will lose out in the medium-term, as IP-convergence develops, because more nimble companies with a clearer view of how marketing, technology, financial, customer, commercial and partner forces need to be harnessed to create great services will begin to invade this space.” [chris.barraclough@stlpartners.com].



We work through each of the requirements for sucess in detail in the November IMS Insider report (www.ims-insider.com), but here is a quick summary:

1.) Technology Building-Blocks – the basic functionality that must be in place to deliver the service:

Bandwidth. An IPTV/film rental/purchase service, which is independent of bearer or device, requires omnipresent bandwidth. We believe that this service needs to be supported by fixed internet, Wi-Fi/Wi-Max and, from a mobile perspective, HSDPA, so that the customer can be guaranteed fast download speeds. This is particularly important if the service provider plans to stream free preview clips to the customer since this cannot happen in the background.

IMS functionality. Clearly, IMS is required to enable seamless roaming across networks and devices (enabling, for example, a customer to download a film to a TV from their handset). Such a service requires excellent identity and authentication management and session control. Similarly, if friends wish to share and talk about video previews then the multimedia aspects of IMS are important. However, IMS is also required to deliver seamless billing across network domains so that customers can pay for the film/service from any device or network.

HSDPA/SIP/IMS-enabled devices. Exciting propositions (involving converged services) require widespread availability and adoption of IMS-enabled devices. Without this, customers will simply not be able to take advantage of things like multimedia sharing, presence etc. (Remember the problems with MMS – nobody to send the message to). If this is achieved then, ironically, over time, device dependency will reduce because increasingly information (telephone numbers, calendar), functionality (presence, conferencing) and services (IP-TV, Games) will be in the network and accessible from ANY device.

2.) Process and Organisation Elements – the ability to leverage functionality to develop and launch compelling propositions:

Compelling differentiated propositions. The IP-world opens up a myriad of opportunities for new services. However, the open nature of IP also means that the application layer is open to new competitors. Telco operators have historically focused on price-, rather than value-based, propositions (they have, after all, been dealing with a commodity product). IP changes this because service providers can now provide value-added services. The winners in this market will be those companies that can leverage skilled AND IP-knowledgeable marketing and product development departments to produce exciting offerings.

Integrated development/delivery processes. The IP-converged world is more complex that the circuit-switched world. Technology elements can no longer be seen in isolation – instead organisations need to be able to develop propositions in response to the combined interactions of the bearer, platform and device elements. Things are complicated by the increasingly important role of 3rd party content providers who also need to be considered in the development and delivery process.

Marketing skills and organisation structures. Underpinning required changes in proposition composition and development delivery processes is the need for new skills and structures. We feel this is particularly important in the marketing function where a group who are proposition-focused AND working to a longer time-horizon than other marketers (say 12-24 months) will be increasingly important.

The detail behind each of these points can be found in our November issue of IMS Insider (
http://www.ims-insider.com/). In it, we outline the key steps that operators should take (and vendors should assist with) to develop the key technology building-blocks and the process and organisation elements.

Let me know if you have any comments/ideas or would like to contribute to future editions of IMS Insider and/or this blog.

The Editor, IMS Insider

editor@ims-insider.com


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

IMS Market Trends - Review















Neeraj Patel of Continuous Computing (www.ccpu.com) presented a great review of 2004 IMS forecasts at the IMS World Forum in Amsterdam in October. I asked my colleague, Pranay Kohli, from our sister IMS Consulting Practice (www.stlpartners.com) to give his own perspective.
NB: In December's 'IMS Insider' Report we'll publish our forecasts for 2006 - subscribe at www.ims-insider.com.

Forecast 1: Users will want ubiquitous access to their communications and entertainment services: more true than ever! Yes, customers still want this, instead of remembering a plethora of userids/passwords for each service through a different process each time. Has it happened? Not yet. But attempts are underway, for example with the concept of Federated Identity which is being developed by the Liberty Alliance (www.projectliberty.org).

Forecast 2: Emergence of a new set of intelligent, interactive & location based broadband services: this is a 'happening' field. Google Earth already offers a good quality “proximity” service, Microsoft is not far behind. But, what about the Mobile operators? Well, there are number of privacy hurdles, but they are sure to go away in the near future. Stay tuned on this area!

Forecast 3: Service control architecture will be standardized over SIP-based services: yes, that’s the long term trend and is slowly taking shape. Like a giant supertanker being built, gradually, piece-by-piece…
Forecast 4: Operators want open IMS systems and apps, but for now prefer reliable, easy to use single vendor solutions over multi-vendor efforts. Very true. Almost all the large IMS projects and trials have so far gone to Network Equipment vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia et al. Will this continue as such? Doubtful, as IT players such as IBM, HP and possibly Sun come up with their own “best-of-breed” IMS solutions and challenge the “closed” solutions from the telco vendors. Of the NEP's, are Motorola and Nokia best placed because they have handsets as well as back end equipment? No way! Ericsson is far ahead of Nokia and Motorola on IMS even though it does not have many handsets and is not so tightly integrated with its SonyEricsson JV.
Forecast 5: Some IMS deals will flow to incumbent packet core vendors, esp. early on: We haven’t seen much movement on this yet. (Please let us know if you know of any developments here - editor@ims-insider.com)

Forecast 6: Vendor partnerships at the services layer, combined with the ability to integrate 3rd party applications will grow in time: Absolutely! In fact some partnerships such as the one between Sun and Ericsson is going very well.
The main forecast that was missed off of course is the critical need to a.) engage the commercial functions inside Operators in planning IMS services, and b.) start putting IMS services onto the formal Product Development roadmap. This hasn't happened yet, but will do in 2006. (See postings below in this blog).
For details of how to plan and prioritise IMS-enhanced services, and of theTop 6 most profitable IMS Services, subscribe to the IMS Insider monthly report - www.ims-insider.com.

The Editor
editor@ims-insider.com

Thursday, November 03, 2005

IMS Services - what Marketing functions really think

This week my friends at IMS Insider's sister consulting practice - STL Partners (www.stlpartners.com) - were talking to senior marketing managers in two major operators about fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), IP-based services and IMS. One was a pure-play mobile operator, the other a full-service fixed/mobile operator.

Below is an edited transcript of what they said.

The most striking thing is how limited their company's focus is on 'value added services' (IMS-enabled or otherwise).

This supports the key theme of this month's blog about the importance of getting the Marketing and Technical functions much closer together to create greater understanding of the unique and tangile opportunities for growth that IMS brings. This quote sums it up:

"The [IMS] tecchies just think about creating neat technology. In the commercial functions there's probably only 2 people in the whole organisation who are even thinking about converged multimedia services. In practice no one has these services on their development roadmap. This obviously needs to change...and fast. That's why I was so impressed by your IMS Services Roadmap/Prioritisation Methodology..." [NB: This is described in depth in the October edition of the IMS Insider monthly report. You can subscribe at www.ims-insider.com].

What's your position on 'FMC'?

Major Mobile Operator: “With no fixed network, we see FMC as a clear threat to our business since converged operators can offer things we can’t at present. We are currently seeing this most on the Business side and are looking for creative solutions to negate this threat.

Essentially, we see lower prices plus higher bandwidth plus, over time, increased mobile functionality (presence, IP-Pbx etc.) as the tools to ensure that fixed connectivity becomes less relevant. For example, HSDPA offers 8MBS bandwidth which means that we can offer basic broadband connectivity for laptops and PC’s and so attack this market.”


Full Service Fixed/Mobile Operator: “We are only just starting to scratch the surface of this. It clearly gives us a big advantage over fixed-only or wireless-only players. Currently, most of our development in this area is simple pricing bundles – for example, discounts for mobile taken with fixed internet access.

However, going forward we believe that the real interest for consumers is in FMC services. Clearly, communications will be the starting point – like BT’s Fusion offering (
http://www.btfusion.bt.com/), but over time we see other ways in which we bring the fixed and mobile world’s closer together.

Take music, for example, why not have the mobile handset being the tool whereby you download or stream songs which are then played on your handset OR by your home hi-fi equipment? You could download over-the-air (HSDPA/3G) or via Wi-Fi – the bearer wouldn’t matter. What makes this appealing to consumers is (1) the personalisation associated with mobile (we can log preferences and push relevant music to them), (2) the convenience of anytime, anywhere music, (3) the bandwidth and quality associated with the traditional fixed network. The same could easily be true for TV.”

What's your current thinking around converged IP-based Services?

Major Mobile Operator: “At the moment, to be brutally honest, this is not the priority for us. We are on 3-6 month time horizons in marketing. IP services that leverage presence and SIP are not top-of-mind because we don’t see them as something that will be widely deployed for 18+ months.”

Full Service Fixed/Mobile Operator: “Internally I have painted a very bold picture about the future but sometimes I feel that I am a lone voice in thinking 24 months out. We have dabbled with IP-services but really the focus of the business at the moment is cost-saving.

Management believe, perhaps justifiably, that there is more money to be made in getting our handset supply-chain sorted than in worrying about “peripheral” services. What is likely to happen is that in 12 months time we will all be told that the time has come for us to make a bold statement and we will need to rush out some exciting services in 6 months. Given that our development cycle is 12+ months, this should be interesting!

I liked the services prioritisation [in IMS Insider, October edition - www.ims-insider.com] because it gives us a simple framework to start thinking about IP/IMS-enabled services NOW.”

And, how is IMS seen generally in your organisation?

Major Mobile Operator: “We are making all the right noises about IMS. However, it is being driven exclusively out of Technology and R&D – there is little interest in Marketing. Why? Because we don’t see the need. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that most of the things IMS offers can be done without it and any new capabilities are hardly justified by the required investment. The numbers don’t seem to add up. So we have a situation where the Technology and Marketing roadmaps are largely produced independently of each other. Crazy, but similar to most operators, I think.”

Full Service Fixed/Mobile Operator: “There is wide split between the technical functions and marketing on this. Technical are working hard to deploy IMS and ensure that we have the functionality in the network for FMC and the next generation of IP-Services. We are looking to deploy SIP-enabled devices across the business from next year.

However, if you ask anyone in Marketing about IMS they will either look blankly at you or give you a hundred reasons why it is not relevant! I think this is a wider symptom of the problems we have of managing the interface between Technical and Marketing.”

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