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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
www.ims-insider.com


Saturday, September 23, 2006

A-IMS...more comment

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

See:

- 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
www.imsservicesforum.com

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
www.ims-insider.com





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
www.imsservicesforum.com


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.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Small Business Market - Web 2.0 opportunities for telcos

At the Big Brainstorm on 4-5 Oct we'll be demonstrating a number of Web 2.0-type applications that IMS service designers need to know about. One offers 'Voice Over GPRS', another 'Carrier-Independent PSTN + VOIP' and another, which can be white-labelled by telcos provides Webex-type collaboration tools to SMEs (Small, Medium sized Enterprises) for a fraction of the cost and hassle. Here's a taster of the latter:

"Organisation development consultants tell us that a satisfying day at the office is completing what you need to do and going home early. [I'm still at my desk at 10pm, still fighting through the in-tray, so I can agree! - Ed.]

95% of UK businesses employ less than 10 people - that's 25% of the workforce. Throughout the rest of Europe (large markets like Spain, Germany and Italy) it's a bigger proportion. However the Small and Medium Sized Enterprise ('SME') market is perhaps the most unloved and underserved segment by telco’s and service providers and can benefit the most from next gen ICT tools and services that increase productivity.

In a survey of SME's conducted by Yuuguu (www.yuuguu.com) 90% said they used Skype regularly, the ones that didn’t were too busy to install it. But most SMEs sell into large companies who block Skype and so the benefits of greater connectedness and lower friction are lost. Transaction costs therefore go up. Enterprise collaboration tools like WebEx, GoToMyOffice, IBM Sametime, Microsoft Live Comms work well for larger corporates but don’t meet the needs or wallet size of SMEs and distributed solo knowledge workers (a growing market).

'Going Bedouin' is the buzz term – all you need is a WiFi-enabled laptop, smart phone and Starbucks for the infrastructure to set up a '2.0 business' with your colleagues. So how come service providers are so slow to respond to this trend? Here’s a clue in Conway’s Law - ‘any organization that designs a system will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s own communication structure‘ – old school can’t play by the new rules.

So for next gen services for SME's to be compelling our survey said they have to be:

· Low cost and high value. Why has Skype been such a success? Because it’s free – although interviewees said they would pay £10-20 month on top of a monthly flat rate for bundled services provided they could see the ROI.

· It has to work out of the box and zero touch setup

· It must have a great user interface – and be intuitive to use - we don’t want WAP all over again

· It must be accessible from any device – like the Martini advert of the '70s – anytime, anyplace, anywhere

· And be secure – interviewees are put off by the fear of unsolicited VoIP calls and being flooded by viruses and junk mail.

· And finally customer support with a human touch.

A the IMS Services Brainstorm on 4-5 October in London, Anish Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Yuuguu, will be talking about what this primary research really means for telcos, and demonstrating some new applications that support a.) the needs of SME customers and b.) the needs of Telcos to offer valuable (high margin) services today."

The Editor, IMS Insider
www.imservicesforum.com


IMS Services - Young Customer Hothousing at BT

In a post a few weeks ago (Start with the psychology) we described the problems in introducing new technologies to consumers. We're therefore delighted to have Dr Tony Houghton, BT Group's internal 'Customer Perception Adviser', to stimulate us at the IMS Services Big Brainstorm on 4-5 Oct. Tony's a psychologist by background and will be telling us about BT's 'Young Customer Hothousing' technique that goes well beyond the normal 'focus groups'.

BT is a featured company in the Telco 2.0 Report, and this is another example of their innovative approach to the market. Tony sent us these words as an introduction to what he'll cover on 4th October:

Expectation shock: Young Customer Hothousing

Hothousing is BT’s way of kick-starting IT products and services development. It brings together customers, BT business experts and technology developers to work in competing teams in an intensive, competitive, yet fun environment over three consecutive 12-hour days. The objective is that this ‘hot’ environment fosters creativity and energizes teams to come up with a prototype, accompanying specification and plan to develop the product or service over the subsequent 90 days. The key question is:

Can the Hothousing approach be successfully adapted for young customers (the 'digital kids', our future customers) and with what benefit (to the students themselves, BT and telcos more generally)?

In his presentation, Dr Houghton will look at:

‘Classroom is not four walls’ – virtual classroom (fixed mobile, video) with community collaborative learning.

· Active Supermarket Trolley – featuring LBS shopping support, entertainment, advertising and reward points-based community build up.

· iVine intelligent technology that grows - Multipurpose Handheld device meeting the KISS needs of a 14-16 year old customer

· Driving Force – in-car service featuring LBS push entertainment, route information, road pricing, vehicle security

Tony will also show some video clips of the process in action, showing how Hothousing supports and energises the development of the prototype deliverables.

Can't wait...!

The Editor, IMS Insider
www.imsservicesforum.com


Thursday, September 14, 2006

VON buzzwords

An interesting piece here from Martin Geddes at the VON conference in Boston here.

Martin will be giving a provocative stimulus presentation at the IMS Services Big Brainstorm on 4th Oct. He'll be describing what he thinks are the real assets (competitive to internet alternatives) that Telcos can leverage and suggest a more appropriate role for IMS to support this commercially.

I'm delighted to confirm today Motorola as a sponsor for the event in addition to Lucent, Siemens, Detecon, Intel and LogicaCMG. Motorola are kindly lending us Dr.
John Waclawsky, their Global Software Architect, and a Board Member of OMA, who's coming over from Chicago to help us understand some of the real problems around Handsets. I understand John is a provocative speaker as well. We're briefing him next week.

We're currently in the throws of helping all the stimulus presenters create short (15 mins only), highly focused and relevant talks, using hard data and real examples rather than all the normal 'IMS guff' that gets re-cycled at normal IMS conferences. This is the best way of achieving our ambitions for the 'Big Brainstorm'.

Delighted that every day we're getting senior people booking in... especially I think as the
Telco 2.0 Report is being bought and digested (all 250 pages of it!) by more and more companies.

The Editor, IMS Insider

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

FMC - do users care?

Very useful article here by my colleagues from Telco 2.0 blog about FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) - a "solution in search of a user problem?"

We will be debating these points at the IMS Services Industry Brainstorm in 20 days time. This is co-located with the Telco 2.0 Brainstorm, where we're delighted to have senior participants from across the value chain.

The Editor, IMS Insider

Monday, September 11, 2006

IMS - real sources of comparative advantage for operators

'QoS' is seen by many as the key differentiating benefit of IMS vs internet-based services.

We have strong reservations about this phrase. QoS gives users predicatability, but it denies them flexibility and functionality. QoS is very static. Preferences are set in stone each time they are set or re-set and cannot be dynamically discovered via user behaviour.
More important benefits that IMS brings are around 'Security' and 'Billing Simplicity'. These values have far greater resonance with customers, and should be the things that IMS plans and propositions focus around (they aren't currently!).

The IMS Insider team held an internal brainstorm over lunch the other day. Building on our analysis of
PSTN 2.0 - ie. what are the real defensible assets that telcos have vs internet players - we drew up a list of the real potential user benefits of IMS which offer comparative advantage vs internet services. Here's the list:

IMS offers user benefits in these areas, which the internet world cannot match as effectively:

- End-user authentication (Single/Reduced Sign On)
- Payment Discovery (the network automatically knows what I can/can't pay for)
- Fine-Grain Provisioning (automatically negotiates access)
- Interoperability (across many networks and technologies)
- Security (managing denial of service attacks, auditability of usage, avoiding social abuse)
- Integrating Device Identity (SIM) into service deployment.

- Access Cost Transfer (getting 3rd parties, eg. advertisers, to pay for access, rather than the user).

This is a great list of benefits to create propositions around.

However, we are just not convinced that complexities of roaming that are inherent and implicit today in multimedia/combinational service plans will be effectively resolved (commercially or technically). We also believe that a reliance on SIP will inhibit innovation on the device, where we believe resides greatest value for the user.

Question: So, in the meantime, while we debate the 'real time' (synchronous) objectives of IMS, which customer groups will be most interested in the unique benefits that IMS brings listed above?

Answer: It's not consumers (directly). They will work round the telcos' network, they will not adopt complex service propositions (see previous posting), they may take up generic IMS services types, but operators will make no money from these tablestakes offerings.

Question: Who has a problem that IMS solves and who are willing to pay a premium for it?

Answer: 1.) Enterprises (to support their internal users), 2.) Small & Medium Sized Businesses (to support their internal users), and 3.) Upstream business partners (advertisers, community websites and others).

The latter is an area that is currently entirely untapped today as a market segment. More on this at the IMS Services Industry Brainstorm on 4-5 October...

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