Opengardens, walled gardens and mobile web 2.0

This article discusses the impact of walled gardens on web 2.0 and mobile web 2.0

Open systems

Historically, major technology vendors have used the philosophy of “walled gardens”, often with considerable success. However, over time, we see walled gardens crumbling all around us and being replaced by Open systems and Open source. If ‘customer lock-in’ was the byword of the older players, web 2.0/mobile web 2.0 are all about relinquishing customer control.

Openness is a philosophy as opposed to a specific technical standard. For instance, AOL, although deemed a walled garden, uses RSS feeds to open up their ecosystem. Similarly, Microsoft uses an open standard called SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for Internet telephony instead of using its own standard or another proprietary standard.

‘Openness’ itself can mean many things

- Openness of access for the customer : The ability to access any content

- Open APIs/ Open platforms: A level playing field for third party applications as compared to the provider’s

applications and the ability for any developer to use a published API(Application programming interface) or

- ‘Open source’ as defined by http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition_plain.php

There are many areas on the web where open systems are playing a role (and will play an even greater role in future). These include elements like Identity, Open Media, Microcontent Publishing, Tags and so on. What is apparent is: Open systems are fast becoming pervasive over the web. The Mobile ecosystem cannot remain in isolation locked up from the rest of the world for long.

OpenGardens and Walled gardens

We (Ajit and Tony) first coined the phrase ‘OpenGardens’ when we wrote the book late in 2004. OpenGardens is the opposite of walled gardens.

A ‘walled garden’ is a mechanism to restrict the user to a defined environment i.e. forcing them by some means to stay within the confines of a digital space. This restriction, often defined by a single company, is a means of exercising control and supposedly maximising revenue.

What are the ‘bricks in the wall’ i.e. the elements that make up a walled garden?

A walled garden is any mechanism for an entity (not just a Mobile operator) to restrict the user experience by confining the user to a specific region / space as defined by the entity. The rationale is – the user is served better and the service is more profitable for the provider. In an Internet/Mobile environment, this can often take the guise of restricted browsing but has other facets as we see below.

From a developer perspective, a walled garden could mean ‘restricted access’, i.e. – your application in some way cannot access all customers OR the provider’s application has access to some features that you cannot access. These restrictions can be commercial or technical. In conversational terms, walled gardens are deemed to mean any restriction placed on users or applications, which are aimed at confining the user to a set of features controlled by the provider.

Within the Mobile data industry, a Mobile operator has some elements that lend considerable power i.e. a large customer base, Knowledge of the subscriber’s location, Billing relationship to the customer and Customer services and marketing reach

There are others especially on the voice side but these elements are critical for data applications. In addition, in a portal situation, the Mobile operator has the ability to control the positioning of the user on the menu, which is yet another ‘Brick in the wall’.

Extending the concept even further – Mobile operators are not the only ones in the walled gardens game. Brands are often viewed as a safe bet – especially branded content. A friend uses the colourful and insightful expression ‘Elephants mate with elephants’. This means the large content providers of the world may well have done deals with the large Mobile operators leaving little scope for the smaller player. There is already evidence of this with some content deals in Europe.

The issue of walled gardens first arose with WAP (Wireless access protocol) phones, which are used to “browse” content. It arose due to a specific legal situation with a European Mobile operator who prevented users from changing the default settings on their phone. This means, users always started with a specific WAP site (i.e. home page) as directed by the Mobile operator and further they could not change the home page itself. While this model was commercially appealing to the Mobile operator and also the advertisers, it was not conducive to the small developer. A developer successfully appealed against the Mobile operator and won. In retrospect, the whole issue seems irrelevant in the case of WAP – because for various reasons, consumers never used WAP sites in large numbers.

So, do walled gardens exist?

While the ‘hardcoded WAP home page’ does not, there are indeed other ways to create restrictions.

A true OpenGardens ecosystem would exist if ‘all applications had a level playing field’. Where ‘menu positioning’ seems to be the most obvious ‘choke point’, there are other ways to cripple applications belonging to external developers specifically if they are denied equal access to certain resources for example location information.

Certainly, Mobile operators and developers have a different mindset. One person (working for a Mobile operator) referred to a quaint phrase ‘revenue leak’ – and no prizes for guessing who they think the revenue is ‘leaking to’.

While most Mobile operators genuinely don’t know how to tackle the brave new world of applications development, there are other factors at play here. Some Mobile operators are concerned about pricing a service ‘wrongly’ in their view. Their fear is – the service will be popular but not profitable. Hence, a further reluctance to relinquish control since a global ‘free for all’ access tends to reduce prices. The sad by-product of this limited thinking is: the service is never launched at all!.

In addition, there are some issues which are controlled by neither the Mobile operator nor the developer – such as legal and statutory guidelines. Thanks to a certain measure of control, the Mobile data industry has been spared the worst excesses of the Internet such as SPAM, copyright violation, privacy violation etc. As the industry matures and adopts more guidelines – the question is that of ‘intent’. Is control a sign of maturity or is it a smokescreen? Clearly, the Mobile operator cannot flow against the rising tide of the Internet and the global flow of information i.e. the Internet is the driver to mobility and not the other way round.

OpenGardens

The phrase ‘OpenGardens’ evokes a variety of responses, ranging from the open source evangelist who gets misty-eyed thinking of ‘Linux on every Mobile device’ to the Mobile operator who insists : ‘There are no walled gardens!’

OpenGardens is not an anti Mobile operator stance. But that does not mitigate the fact that the mobile network operators are the biggest culprits.

OpenGardens/Open systems primarily means ‘open platforms’ when applied to the mobile network operator. By ‘openness of platforms’, in the Mobile applications context, we mean the Mobile operator’s infrastructure. An OpenGardens ecosystem is a holistic/inclusive environment, which could foster the creation of next generation utility led (as opposed to existing entertainment led) Mobile applications. These applications could often span multiple technologies/concepts and are created by ‘assembling together’ a number of existing applications. In web 2.0 terminology, that’s a ‘mashup’.

Technologically, in its ultimate form, this approach can be viewed as ‘API enabling’ a Telecoms network. API (Applications Programming Interface) is the software that enables service provision by the Mobile operator. The external application can make a software call via the published API, thereby creating a ‘plug and play’ ecosystem. The API model is also called by other names such as ‘networked model’, ‘Bazaar model’ or ‘web services model’.

Mobile web 2.0 and OpenGardens

It is in this context that we need to look at OpenGardens again. Specifically, as web 2.0 and mobile web 2.0 become prevalent because Web 2.0 is all about harnessing collective intelligence. To harness collective intelligence effectively, we need a large ‘body of intelligence’ i.e. a large body of people.

Walled gardens, closed standards, proprietary systems hinder web 2.0 / collective intelligence in two ways: firstly by reducing the number of participants in an ecosystem and secondly by limiting the activity of the participants who are in an ecosystem. The Web is one big ecosystem. By fragmenting the web through proprietary standards, we create smaller silos within the one large ecosystem.

Will walled gardens work?

Will walled gardens work? Lets come back to AOL.

Walled gardens are not new. One of the best-known instances was the early AOL. On an extreme case, in the early days, users could not email others outside AOL! (remember this was only about eight years ago). However, the early users liked these restrictions since there was the perception of ‘the big bad world out there’ and AOL was deemed to be a trusted provider. As users matured, they realised that the restrictions were often a hindrance and ultimately, there are lot less restrictions now on AOL.

It appears that walled gardens do not stand the test of time and become irrelevant as the medium matures. We believe this will happen in the Mobile data industry.

A note about the image: The image shows a perplexed leonardo – a genius trapped in a ‘walled garden’. It was the original motif I used for OpenGardens

Mobile TV/video: DMB v.s. DVB-H – and the winner is ..

winner.JPG

Note: see blog about correction to this article HERE rgds Ajit

Introduction – the disruptive potential of mobile TV

Most industry analysts are bullish about Mobile TV. With the soccer world cup upon us and with various ongoing trials of mobile TV in conjunction with the world cup, its a good time to address this topic now.

This article outlines :

a) The significance of Mobile TV and

b) My views on the success of it’s two major competing standards: DMB and DVB-H.

But let’s start from the very beginning .. a very good place to start ..

Driven by digitisation, broadcasting itself is undergoing a seminal shift, and these changes are flowing on to Mobile TV. In the UK, seventy percent of households have access to digital TV. That will jump to 100 percent by 2012, when the last analogue transmitter in the UK will be switched off. Digitisation brings choice. But it also changes viewing patterns because of features like the Personal Video Recorder(PVR) which can store hours of programmes. These programmes can be played whenever we want(i.e. content is now time shifted). In addition, the TV screen is not the only place where broadcast content could be viewed. It’s also possible to view the same TV channels over the Internet(broadband).

Naturally, this logic can be extrapolated to mobile devices, and it is in this context that content owners are trying to deploy their content on mobile devices. These devices could range from the iPod, the mobile phone, the Playstation Portable etc.

Broadly, there are two ways to transmit TV to mobile devices. The first is through the telecoms/cellular network (streaming) and the second is through a broadcast network (broadcasting).

While there is always the potential to deploy video clips via streaming, as per an industry estimate,(source: http://www.analysys.com/ ) , even if half of mobile phone owners watch even a few minutes of TV a day, 3G networks could overload within a few years. Thus, for most part, when we are speaking of Mobile TV, we are referring to Broadcast Mobile TV (as opposed to streaming Mobile TV).

Conceptually, ‘broadcast mobile TV’ is similar to ‘broadcast mobile radio’ i.e. some older mobile devices have had the capacity to play FM radio. This is similar to any FM portable radio (and portable radios could be independent of phones). The significant element being: the radio is receiving the content from the broadcast channels and not the cellular network. Mobile TV also functions in the same way as mobile radio. And this has interesting possibilities as we shall see below.

Oddly enough, when the 3G forecasts were made back in year 2000, the potential of broadcast mobile TV appears to have been overlooked.

Historically, the industry has always said:

- Text on mobile devices = GSM data services

- Still pictures on mobile devices + simple animations = 2.5G (GPRS)

- Video on mobile devices = 3G

When you factor in Mobile broadcasting, that picture now seems severely flawed, and with it, many of the market forecasts then produced.

For one thing, the broadcast space is regulated by the broadcast regulators (which are different from the telecoms regulators). Thus, once again, the familiar spectre of spectrum issues raises its ugly head, even as the Mobile network operators have yet to recoup their investments from the 3G licenses just a few years ago. Not only could Mobile broadcast TV and video cannibalise existing 3G streaming video services, but they could end up introducing a whole new class of competitors from outside the telecoms industry (specifically players currently in the broadcasting industry or entirely new broadcasters). Thus, financially, Mobile TV poses serious question marks on a number of market projections and forecasts.

Mobile TV is FAR more disruptive than anyone realises:

For example, once we all have the capacity to view video clips on handheld devices: which existing services will no longer be relevant?

For example:

a) Why would you want to view a picture (MMS) on a phone, when you can view a still image on mobile video (not to speak of the whole clip)

b) Considering there will be a limited amount of time when we are ‘on the move’ – will we play multiplayer games or watch video clips(thus cannibalising mobile multiplayer games)

c) And what about music. I am not sure of the stats on how much music(excluding ringtones) is downloaded on a phone via the telecoms network, but .. Why bother to download music, when you can get a music video??

d) Information services: everything from weather forecasts to stock tickers.

Why go to a mobile portal, when you can get the same on a mobile TV(broadcast)?

And so on .. In a nutshell, mobile TV is definitely a major disruptive force. Let’s now address the issues it raises in detail.

Standards

There are two notable standards for mobile video: Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H)and Digital MultiMedia Broadcasting (DMB). There are others like mediaflo from Qualcomm, but DMB and DVB-H are the two main players. While DMB is here today(and most prominently in South Korea but also in Europe and North America), DVB-H requires additional infrastructure and spectrum availability. However, in Europe, DVB-H has greater mindshare and a number of ongoing trials.

DMB

The Korea Broadcasting Commission (KBC) and Ministry of Information Communication (MIC) coined the term Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB). DMB defines technology adapted from the digital audio broadcast (DAB) system and developed by the country’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) during 2003. There are, however, two forms of DMB. Terrestrial DMB (T-DMB) which utilises a terrestrial broadcast network, and Satellite DMB (S-DMB) which utilises a combination of geostationary satellites and terrestrial repeaters. The latter method has been employed by TU Media, a joint venture between Korea’s leading mobile operator SK Telecom (which holds a 30% stake in the venture), Toshiba and a number of other companies.

Both T-DMB and S-DMB utilises the video compression technology H.264 for video coding.

In July 2005, the DMB standards received formal approval from ETSI

DVB-H

DVB-H is an extension of the DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) standard for digital television distribution. DVB-H is spectrally compatible with DVB-T, allowing shared use of the DVB frequency bands with no impact on the performance of cellular bands. In Europe, these extend from 470-862 MHz. DVB-H allows service providers to use the same digital broadcast infrastructure for both fixed and mobile TV services. The network design allows service providers to address a variety of usage situations (outdoor or indoor; pedestrian or moving vehicle; etc.) . Transmission of encrypted data is also possible. The DVB project governs DVB-H but DVB-H is also strongly evangelised by Nokia.

The service

From a user perspective, the mobile TV service involves more than just receiving the transmission on a mobile device. It could also potentially include:

• Live or on-demand reception

• Time-shifted Presentation

• Electronic Programming Guide, personalised by the subscriber

• Premium Channel Purchase

• Personalised Real-time and Stored Interaction, and Programmed Alerts

• In-Stream Advertising and Mobile Commerce

• Integrated Music Content;

• Integrated Location-Based Services,

• Unified Billing, Provisioning and Authentication

Source: Mobile TV winners – Walter Adamson www.digitalinvestor.com.au, www.imodestrategy.com

From one minute ‘mobisodes’ for ‘snacking content’, to longer movie clips, there is a range of Mobile video content that can be viewed on a mobile device. However, inspite of the hype, it is actually unclear if people want to watch video/TV on their mobile devices. Customers have always listened to radio at work or when travelling. Would they be willing to watch video? Also, the usual culprits i.e. girls(adult), gambling and gaming do not lend themselves to this medium.

In a survey of 1500 people aged 13-55 for olswang only 17% wanted to watch television content on the mobile phone but 44% said they would watch programs on their PC. 70% did not want to watch TV on their mobile phones at all!

Similar results were reported by strategy analytics http://www.strategyanalytics.net/ where fewer than 20% of the people polled(in UK, Germany, Italy and France) expressed an interest in watching mobile video.

In my view, these reports are not indicative though because Mobile TV is a much more radical idea, as we have seen in our service description previously. i.e. merely polling people is a waste of time with most radical innovations (which Mobile TV clearly is – as evident from the service description above).

The biggest positive uptake of Mobile TV is in South Korea. In South Korea, Tu Media has already amassed 550,000 subscribers to it’s Satellite DMB based broadcast TV service, with phones running on SK telecoms mobile network(source Financial times London – print edition – June 1 2006). For Korea’s nearly 50 million people and almost 40 million mobile phone owners, 550,000 Tu Media subscribers are 1.4% of the total phone subscriber base. In Korea, customers pay about 7 dollars per month to view TV content on the phones. On top of 550,000 on Satellite DMB, there are another 600,000 terminal (handsets, pda, USB, laptop) sales for Terrestrial DMB, totalling to well over 1.1 million Broadcast devices for Broadcast Mobile TV.

A comparison and player motivations

Here is a comparison of the two technologies and an idea of the motivation of the various players involved.

IP broadcasting: DMB and DVB-H are conceptually similar since they are broadcasting IP packets to mobile devices.

Spectrum: At the moment, DVB-H is still waiting for spectrum to be released by governments for example in the UK and other countries in Europe. Hence, we see many ‘trials’ but no ‘live’ installations. In fact, DVB-H is expected to be ‘live’ only around 2012 in the UK when the last analogue channels will be switched off. DMB has no such restrictions.

History of DAB There is already a large pool of DAB (audio) transmitters who could naturally take up DMB(video)

Back channel: DMB also has a ‘back channel’ and it is already in place. That’s very significant. With DMB, the broadcast comprises of Audio, Video and Data. It’s ability to overlay value added applications through the data channel is significant because it is two-way. This back channel fosters customer interaction. Currently applications in Europe of this type are normally managed via SMS for the back channel which is much more limited. DMB could provide many more options

Channel support – national (DVB-H)and local (DMB)broadcasting: There are technical differences between DMB and DVB-H but ultimately, the uptake does not depend much on specific technical differences. In fact, the two technologies can (and will) co-exist!. In general, DVB-H is capable of supporting a larger number of channels, whereas DMB is probably more suited to smaller number of channels and localised broadcasting. Thus, we are likely to see Mobile network operators implementing DVB-H at a national level but a large number of other players(broadcasters and emerging players) supporting DMB for localised broadcasting(Note that the DMB trial for the world cup in Germany is conducted by t-systems and not t-mobile i.e. a systems integration arm of an operator but not the operator itself)

DMB more disruptive: DMB is the more disruptive technology because it enables a larger number of new and smaller players to enter broadcasting. Technically: retailers, department stores, existing DAB stations and many others could enter broadcasting via DMB because it enables localised broadcasting and the investment is not as steep as DVB-H.

Content providers and broadcaster benefit from controlling the value chain in DMB: In a nutshell, they can bypass operators!

Tesco TV anyone: DMB will allow more players to become ‘broadcasters’ – Tesco TV anyone?

Handsets: The key differentiator is handsets. In most countries – including the UK, handsets are subsidised by the Mobile operator. Thus, to truly open up the market for DMB, we need cheap handsets supporting DMB (note they need not be phones!). In fact, I can almost bet that they won’t be phones in case of DMB, considering that much of the operator community is supporting DVB-H. Thus, I expect to see many cheap DMB players (mainly Korean) to be the market enablers in Western Europe and North America. In contrast, DVB-H does not face this issue because most handsets will support DVB-H and will be subsidised by the Mobile network operators.

Operators: Have already lost their leverage in broadcasting. They favour DVB-H mainly for it’s capacity to create a greater number of channels and it’s large upfront investment (which inevitably keeps the broadcasters out of running a ‘network’ and implies that the operators are still the primary channel to communicate with the customer via DVB-H). It also provides Operators with a level of control

Nokia : Is in a unique position of evangelising DVB-H globally and is the main beneficialry of the uptake of DVB-H in Europe and North America. Interestingly enough, for the first time, it is the dominant partner in the relationship with the Mobile network operators. Since it’s days of ‘Snake’ and the innovation of ‘ringtones’, Nokia has been an innovative company and has always had ambitions to play a greater role in the content value chain.These ambitions are well and truly realised with DVB-H. Overall, I see this as a positive development for the industry because Nokia has clearly demonstrated it’s innovative credentials.

Who supports DMB? The Koreans? Good question – but it’s not very clear cut. The South Korean government actively supports DMB, both inside and outside South Korea. But that’s not the case of ALL South Korean vendors. Samsung, for example, will merrily develop a DVB-H handset

Governments: Love spectrum! However, they are unlikely to make the same kind of gains as they did with 3G since the industry is wiser now!

The video iPod: Is the potential dark horse. If the iPod model works(resynchronization to the PC), then video content may well be deployed through resync with the web

User generated content: May well be the big winner with any standard.

DAB-IP: Just to make life interesting, the world DAB forum which created DAB, also supports a parallel evolution path to mobile video in addition to DMB!. They call it DAB-IP. So, from DAB, there are two parallel paths to go to video i.e. DMB and DAB-IP! Their official press release is HERE. If you take away the marketing speak, you will see that in addition to DMB trials, BT Movio is running trials for DAB-IP. This is confusing for most analysts and initially I totally missed out DAB-IP as well and confused it with DMB – but the two are definitely different!

Conclusions

a) I started this document by framing a question in the context of DMB and DVB-H. The reality is more complex as we have seen, especially if you include the video ipod and DAB-IP. But, whatever the combination, I believe that these technologies will co-exist: this is not a GSM/CDMA situation where there is only one winner

b) I believe that DMB is more disruptive than DVB-H (mainly because DVB-H is suited for larger players since it needs an initial significant infrastructure investment). DMB will be suited to the many existing and new content providers (partly because dealing with operators is such a pain and the content providers can control the whole value chain(because DMB allows a back channel for feedback, ecommerce, cross selling etc etc)

c) Consequently, of course, DVB-H can support a larger number of channels. Thus, I see DVB-H to be deployed nationally and DMB for localised broadcasting

So, to answer the question – DMB vs. DVB-H – who will win? The rather boring answer is ‘Both’!! – DVB-H at a national level and DMB at a local broadcasting level and as a disruptive technology. We could even extend this to ‘all’ technologies if we include DAB-IP and the video iPod.

References: Mobile TV winners – Walter Adamson www.digitalinvestor.com.au, www.imodestrategy.com

Image source: http://www.carreonphotography.com/photos/los_angeles_photojournalism/photojournalist06.jpg

Of Sith lords and the dark side of IMS

sith.JPG

Introduction

I had been following the hype around IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) with some scepticism. On first glance, it sounded depressingly familiar, trailing the ghosts of long dead previous hyped up technologies (WAP. MMS, LBS etc etc). Most of the current media interest focuses on the question ‘Will IMS succeed?’ As we shall see below, this is a silly question often asked by people who are not familiar with the big picture (typically people who approach the industry from the business/marketing side and don’t understand technology)

However, when VON pioneer Jeff pulver (whose views I respect), compared IMS to the “return of the Sith”, I was intrigued. You see, the Sith and Sith lords get my attention(and that betrays my Internet roots i.e. you can tell I am not a telecoms guy originally). So, for the first time, we are talking not of the success(or otherwise) of IMS applications but of deeper (and darker?) motivations behind the hype surrounding IMS.

Of Sith and Sith lords

The return of the Sith is a star wars reference: meaning an old empire clinging to power.

If you need to revise your star wars, after losing the Sith wars with the Jedi, the Sith recouped under a secretive Sith Lord (Senator Palpatine of the Naboo first seen in Star Wars episode one ) and launched a comeback.

When I co-authored open gardens along with Tony Fish in Dec 2004, the walled garden edifice of the Mobile network operators seemed unassailable. It was deemed to be the ideal business model i.e. the Mobile network operator should be both the carrier as well as the provider of value added services. The services provided by the operator are, in some way, preferred to third party services. Users did not have open access to the Internet.

In little less than two years, everything has changed ..

Here are two examples:

a) The biggest exponent of the walled gardens model was the UK operator ‘3’ , (others followed a milder version of the ‘3’ mindset but ‘3’ was the operator which blocked all Internet access(i.e. full walled garden)). Has the ‘3’ strategy worked? As per timesonline, Three UK says its ARPU is 34.50 UKP (50 Euro/60 USD). Of that 25% is data. The majority of data is SMS. The point to note is: A majority of the data is STILL SMS, and that is no different from any other Mobile network operator. If the walled gardens strategy was working, then a majority of the data should be ‘rich media’(songs, movie clips etc), not SMS.

b) Did you notice that it’s a bad time to say that you are a mobile operator. The city is sceptical of the business model and the stocks of many of the mobile network operators are stagnant.

In the UK, Orange was just the latest company to announce that they are ‘not’ a mobile operator(rather they are some kind of a new converged communications company)

That’s a far cry from the strategy only a few years ago(voice revenues are going to decline but data(read some form of walled gardens) will rescue us).

So, the dark forces of walled garden mindset are on the run ..

But .. is there a Sith Lord plotting a comeback to the walled gardens?

Is that walled garden ‘IMS’?

What is IMS

Wikipedia provides a comprehensive definition.

The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is a standardised Next Generation Networking (NGN) architecture for telecom operators that want to provide mobile and fixed multimedia services. It uses a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) implementation based on a 3GPP standardised implementation of SIP, and runs over the standard Internet Protocol (IP). Existing phone systems (both packet-switched and circuit-switched) are supported.

The aim of IMS is not only to provide new services but all the services, current and future, that the Internet provides. In this way, IMS will give network operators and service providers the ability to control and charge for each service. In addition, users have to be able to execute all their services when roaming as well as from their home networks. To achieve these goals, IMS uses open standard IP protocols, defined by the IETF. So, a multimedia session between two IMS users, between an IMS user and a user on the Internet, and between two users on the Internet is established using exactly the same protocol. Moreover, the interfaces for service developers are also based on IP protocols. This is why IMS truly merges the Internet with the cellular world; it uses cellular technologies to provide ubiquitous access and Internet technologies to provide appealing services.

From the above definition, we see that SIP is at the heart of IMS.

The following definition of SIP is adapted from wikipedia

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a protocol for initiating, modifying, and terminating an interactive user session that involves multimedia elements such as video, voice, instant messaging, online games, and virtual reality. It is one of the leading signalling protocols for Voice over IP, along with H.323.

SIP clients traditionally use TCP and UDP port 5060 to connect to SIP servers and other SIP endpoints. SIP is primarily used in setting up and tearing down voice or video calls. However, it can be used in any application where session initiation is a requirement. A motivating goal for SIP was to provide a signalling and call setup protocol for IP-based communications that can support a superset of the call processing functions and features present in the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The SIP Protocol by itself does not define these features, rather, its focus is call-setup and signalling.

Some basic functions being implemented by SIP are currently being done by the SS7 network(signalling system 7 network) within the telecoms industry. SIP can do what SS7 does currently but it can do a lot more especially when it comes to multimedia sessions.

SIP is a simple peer-to-peer protocol. It is similar to HTTP and shares some of its design principles: for example It is human readable and request-response structured.

IMS was originally designed for mobile networks, but with release 7 of IMS, fixed networks are also supported. This led to Fixed/Mobile convergence – one of the main drivers for the industry today.

The motivation and inevitability of IMS

a) The business case underlying IMS: Inspite of all the hype and the controversy around IMS, I believe IMS will be implemented. There is a simple reason why. That’s because , from a Mobile network operator standpoint, there is a clear business case for IMS. If internally(i.e. within the Operator’s ecosystem), calls are handled using IP technology, then the Operator’s cost base decreases(and hence profits increase). That’s why I say it’s a silly idea to question the possibility of IMS itself.

b) The question mark around IMS services: The real question is, how will IMS impact services for the end user (and that includes new services which are yet to be created). That, I am much less optimistic about.

c) An analogy with 3G: We saw the same analogy with 3G. A lot was said about the viability and possibility of 3G. Today, 3G exists in most parts of the world. But the sad thing is, 3G services have yet to take off. Inspite of all the hype surrounding 3G, Operators had a business case for 3G because network capacity was already strained and needed to increase(and that includes network capacity to handle voice). So, 3G was a ‘no lose’ situation in any case for the Operator. IMS is the same because there is a defensive reason for Mobile network operators to deploy IMS (as per point (a) above)

d) The offensive reasons for deploying IMS: include the much publicised new services such as push to talk, presence based services, gaming, multimedia conferencing etc. I am sceptical of their success.

e) Fixed to mobile convergence: Both fixed line and mobile operators are deploying IMS because they see growth in getting a share of each other’s businesses i.e. mobile operators want to get some fixed line customers and vice versa.

f) The hype from other players: Besides the motivations of the Telecoms operators themselves, there are many vendors who are also bullish about IMS. Infrastructure vendors like Alcatel and Cisco see IMS as an opportunity to sell more equipment. Consultancies like Accenture and Cap Gemini see the potential of implementation fees. So, suddenly, we see a lot of activity in the industry stirred up by all these players.

g) Overcoming the threat of VOIP: One of the motivations behind IMS was to overcome the threat of VOIP. But VOIP is free! Its very hard to claim VOIP and then charge a cost(which is what telecoms vendors would have to do to cover their investment)

The dark side of IMS

On first impressions, IMS seems to open up the Telecoms architecture to third parties such as IT companies and other providers. The adoption of the IP protocol within the Telecoms network also appears to be a positive development.

But there is a problem ..

We can best understand it by comparing it to a wider debate about net neutrality taking place in the industry today, with net stalwarts like Tim Berners Lee weighing in their arguments in support of a neutral Internet(all packets should be treated equally)

The save the internet site elaborates this debate succinctly on its website

What is saving the Internet all about?

This is about Internet freedom. “Network Neutrality” — the First Amendment of the Internet — ensures that the public can view the smallest blog just as easily as the largest corporate Web site by preventing Internet companies like AT&T from rigging the playing field for only the highest-paying sites.

But Internet providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to gut Net Neutrality. If Congress doesn’t take action now to implement meaningful network neutrality provisions, the future of the Internet is at risk.

What is network neutrality?

Network Neutrality — or “Net Neutrality” for short — is the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet.

Net Neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.

Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It’s why the Internet has become an unrivalled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech.

IMS is the same effect played on the Mobile data industry.

Hence, it is a potential walled garden at the ‘packet’ level. And that’s why I compare it to Sith Lords! It’s the final attempt to recreate a model which is already doomed.

I am not the only one who thinks so. Martin Geddes , whose views I also admire, says in an article published by the Moriana group

It (IMS) attempts to capture the flexibility and ubiquity of Internet Protocol whist ditching much of the Internet’s design philosophy.

Thats spot on! The Internet succeeded precisely because it was designed as a dumb pipe with the intelligence concentrated around the periphery. In other words, intelligent nodes and dumb pipes go together. ‘Dumb pipes’ means : all packets are created equal. There is no intelligence in the network, only in the nodes.

IMS uses IP , BUT adds some intelligence in the network because it does NOT treat all packets equally.

IMS promises to improve the quality of service, reduce SPAM, provide better quality rich applications(such as video) and so on. The often hidden caveat of this promise is the understanding that packets may not all be treated equally. In financial terms, it translates to premium prices for premium connectivity.

Conclusions

So, there you have it!

I believe

a) Will IMS implementations succeed? That’s like asking will 3G implementations succeed. Yes, they will.

b) Will IMS services succeed? I am not too optimistic

c) Is IMS ‘good’ for the industry as a whole? In my view, anything that violates the principles of net neutrality aka ‘Sith Lords’ is not good for the industry. It all depends on the mindset of the Telecoms implementations. QOS(Quality of service) is a good thing, but tiered price points based on the same principles is not.

Communities dominate brands: aka why large brands don’t ‘get it’ ..

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Following on from the Boing Boing story in my previous post, we see yet another example of Communities dominate brands

Most big brands never get the power of digital communities and the blogosphere

Interestingly enough, following the original story, one blogger discovered that the World Cup rightsholder CEO had exaggerated his Harvard Business School claim

Why is this relevant?

Consider the two scenarios: In the first instance, the law firm in question had a bad PR story recently

The damage was limited to the firm itself.

This time however, following the Harvard post, the damage has now spread to the firm’s customer!

While one could dismiss the ravings of bloggers, this development is far more serious because it affects the firm’s customers.

Why is the blogosphere difficult to understand for most large providers/brands?

Let me put it this way ..

Most large companies, PR departments, brands are used to ‘one way’ flow of information – what I call – broadcast messages.

AKA – They talk – we listen

If we don’t like what we hear, we can switch off or ignore the message. Switching off is increasingly not possible in many cases(such as ads which appear on TV while a show is running)

Even if the ‘customer’ is irritated – there is little they can do because there is no easy feedback channel

Imagine an extreme case of this : the fly by night operator who sticks a poster on your garden wall.

Its irritating – but not much anyone can do about it

Now, switch to blogosphere.

The ‘offender’ in blogosphere leaves a ‘return path’ which can be traced at the click of the mouse.

The feedback(often negative) is no more than a comment on the blog/other relevant blogs

The offender also leaves open a path to their customers – and in fact – to the whole world

This amplifies the resultant impact, made worse by the scrutiny of a million eyes and their million subsequent comments ..

That’s why .. Communities dominate brands – BUT most established brands will never get it until it’s too late!

The Boing Boing C & D order: a viral marketing campaign?

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Amazing news about Boing Boing getting a C and D order from a silly law firm for ‘anticipating the possibility of unauthorized streaming and downloading of FIFA World Cup matches’

But why Boing Boing?

Here are my conspiracy theories..

a) This is an advertising gimmick/viral marketing campaign.. When I was speaking in NY early this week, people did not seem very interested in the world cup. By taking such action against a prominent US blog site, this is an attempt to ‘raise awareness’ shall we say ..

b) Someone thought that ‘Boing Boing’ = sound of bouncing balls = soccer = C and D??

To many who have worked at law firms, this option is not too far fetched!

Anyway .. This may well be an own goal for the law firm in question. (I don’t want to link to them and provide them extra coverage : because it may well be an advertisement for the law firm itself?

In which case, is it legal?

A hint – the firm has something to do with tomato ketchup and trousers ..

A sad day for the Internet ..

As per savetheinternet

Last night’s House vote against an amendment that would make Net Neutrality enforceable is the result of swarming lobbyists and a multi-million-dollar media campaign by telephone companies that want Congress to hand them control of the Internet.

The fight now moves to the Senate, where there is stronger bi-partisan support for a bill — put forth by Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) — that would protect our Internet freedom from AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.

google to launch a spreadsheet today?

so says Steve Rubel one to watch for sure! A sneak peek HERE

The carnival of the mobilists: at Darla’s blog ..

A bit delayed since caught up in the travel bug .. but Dala Mack posts a carnival on her blog. As usual, it makes great reading. See it HERE

in NY on June 4,5,6 and 7 speaking at Ajaxseminar

I am in New York speaking at the AJAX seminar on June 5 and 6.

If you would like to catch up then, pls email me at ajit.jaokar at futuretext.com

Conference details as per THIS link

Its great to meet people like Dion Hinchcliffe, Jeremy Geelan and Judy Breck in person

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Mobile strategies/Tom Weiss in the Guardian ..

One of our books (Mobile Strategies ) was featured in the Guardian (print edition) last week.

“If you have a decent knowledge of the subject, then this could be an extremely useful book” – The Guardian 26th May 2006 on the mobile strategies book

Tom has worked hard to write this book and his first hand experience working for a Telecoms operator, written in his unique style, makes insightful reading.

I would also like to thank the team working with futuretext on this book including Phil Hutton at pmhprint , Maggie Baldry at VEP and Laurence/Alison Wellman at perfectblue

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