Where are the IMS applications?

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Earlier this week I spoke at the Osney media IP Telco world conference conference. This was a good conference with speakers whose views I respect like Niklas Blum of Fraunhofer FOKUS, Roberto Minerva of TIM, Graham Finney of heavy reading and others.

Many thanks to Ben Fletcher, Mari Tomkins, Sally Chatters and others at Osney media for inviting me to speak

I spoke on a panel called Deploying IMS: Opportunities and Challenges to Date – a challenging topic to say the least.

This blog is an extension of that talk with an attempt to continue the conversation ‘beyond the event’ – so to speak.

Graham Finnie, Chief Analyst at Heavy Reading chaired the panel asked : Where are the IMS applications? ( a now familiar question to many) – He then followed up by asking ‘Does anyone have a good word to say about IMS’?

So I decided to take the challenge – I partly answered the question on the panel – here is a more detailed reply.

Comments welcome on this chain of thought

IMS brings IP to the telecoms world.

IP traditionally implies dumb pipes – smart nodes(aka net neutrality principles – all packets are created equal)

Although IMS is IP based, it is philosophically the opposite of this principle since it seeks to make the network intelligent.

On one hand, thinking of IMS applications is a bit like thinking of 3G applications. Every application will be a 3G application but it really does not matter much anyway what the bearer is in most cases.

Consequently, if you flip this argument, then an IMS application needs to be an application that will make use of the (bearer) telecoms network itself.

So can such applications be possible?

In theory – yes.

In itself, making the network intelligent is not such a big issue.

Consider delay tolerant networks – which are used in military and space applications. In that case, all packets are not created equal especially when operating in hostile environments.

The real question is – are all packets created (commercially) equal?

Hence, the question spans more than the technical remit and is directly tied to business models and can be reframed as : Will people pay for applications with differential charging?

If such applications may be found then they would be ‘IMS’ applications in the true sense of the word

The context within which IMS operates cannot be ignored as well. The Internet and the Web are dominant. They are options for most IMS applications. The Internet and the Web are global and they are free. That does not help for IMS applications.

The Web / Internet is simultaneously IMS’s best dream(because the Internet is global and gets all the attention – features IMS aspires to acquire) but also it’s worst nightmare(because it is free and disruptive).

So, IMS applications must

a) Somehow uniquely leverage the network

b) For an Operator – and lets face it – IMS is mainly driven by Operators – be chargeable to the end user and

c) Must take the Internet into account – i.e. competing against the Internet will not work!

One key observation is; The Web is global. IMS is national at best – and in most cases sub-national in coverage(more than one Operator within a country). Also, end to end IMS connectivity issues are still not solved – and that hampers many IMS applications.

Ok. So what are the options. Here are some notes

a) Security: IMS can be viewed as a QOS network – and / or a secure network. Too much attention is placed on the QOS bit with the hope of gaining a share of the Internet pie – and not enough on the secure bit. Lets put it this way – will I tell my Operator about my music preferences? Probably not. However, can I trust my Operator to protect my 5 year old from malicious mobile content? Absolutely. So the security features of IMS coupled with trust are relevant – more so than the QOS features.

b) Mashups – SDP with IMS: I have touched on this a number of times on my blog. SDP(network abstraction) is a worthy goal. We will see it in some shape or form. Commercially, to make money tough, SDP needs to tie back to the mashups idea. This has some unsolved issues. For instance, have you seen a commercially successful mashup(for which people are willing to pay money for)? Its OK for Google to think long tail, mashups etc since the cost of experimentation is so low. But that does not work with network operators i.e. when there is an investment/cost – long tail is a difficult concept to adopt and hence there are some question marks as to how anyone will make money on an IMS/SDP approach.

c) Web services: IMS is not end to end yet – but there are options for instance SDP/IMS for an end to end IMS approach – SDP complements IMS by providing an end to end scenario. This area is being explored especially by Fraunhofer FOKUS(my company is a partner of Fraunhofer FOKUS). They key unknowns in this space are the billing model, the type of applications possible and the web services orchestration i.e. once the Telecoms/IMS service becomes like any other web service, how does it get monetised? How does it get orchestrated? See the issues pertaining to Web services orchestration

d) Local applications – I believe that telecoms will have a significant advantage with local applications – as will IMS (topic of a future blog)

e) Mobile VOIP – Topic of a separate blog. This can be a winner if managed correctly. End to End Mobile VOIP is an IMS application

f) Mobile Session based applications: In general – any session based applications which uniquely need the network / QOS to maintain quality of communication.

g) Applications that reduce friction and provide an instant response i.e. ‘better’ the same service available on the Web for free by using properties of the network in some way – topic of a separate blog

Comments welcome!

Mobile avatar widget from itsmy

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Itsmy has created a mobile avatar widget. I have been tracking itsmy / gofresh for some time now .. and their growth and innovation is truly impressive in the Mobile communities space. The widget allows users to automatically generate their personal avatar, based on the information in their profile, with one click.

The widget uses almost all target elements from the profile, like age, gender, location, price of device, keywords etc. The first version allows up to 10 million possibilities of combination.

The itsmy creation tool is offered free of cost in mobile internet at itsmy. In addition, it will be available for all communities from Q2/2008.

About itsmy.com

Itsmy is the off-deck, operator independent mobile community with more than 1 million registered mobile users, 4 million mobile home- and content pages containing 10 million mobile UGC-items

Online: www.gofresh.de; www.itsmy.com

Carnival of the mobilists: At mobhappy ..

The carnival is back to it’s spirtiual home at mobhappy

Ajax (facebook application) and IMS mashup using a JSON-RPC bridge

I have been discussing the interplay between IMS and Web 2.0 in a number of recent blogs.

To get our terminology right:

a) By IMS applications – I mean any application that is uniquely possible by using the IMS network. The operative word being uniquely – because many applications enabled by IMS are also possible through the Web 2.0 services for free.

b) For the purposes of this blog, I am using facebook as the Web 2.0 application.

On first impressions, Web 2.0 and IMS don’t mix. However, there are two obvious points of contact.

Firstly, many IMS applications can be done by Mobile Web 2.0 services (for free!). That means, the two are competitors.

Secondly, IMS can be used to enable many Web 2.0 applications if IMS functionalities can be abstracted as a service and can be accessed at the Web 2.0 level.

We are discussing the second point in this blog

As I have mentioned before, my company – futuretext – is a partner of Fraunhofer FOKUS.

The FOKUS team has been doing some pioneering work in this space.

Essentially, they have abstracted IMS services into a facebook application.

To understand this, we have to take a Web and a mobile view.

Taking a Web view, we have a facebook application – like any other facebook application.

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On the IMS side, we need a JSON-RPC bridge.

The significance is: this technique allows us to access IMS services in a browser.

This is significant since browser support for IMS is practically non existent (In contrast, Java has JSR 307 JSR 281 , Symbian has Symbian freeway which support IMS integration into their respective environments)

So, the IMS side looks like this

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The result is a mashup between the Web and IMS – one of the first instances of such a service I have seen as below

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If you have any comments or are implementing similar services, please comment here

You can see a YouTube video HERE

Of Networks, Open systems and the Mobile Internet – a historical perspective on Open Gardens

This article explores the wider issues and philosophy behind Open Gardens and networks. It is based on insights from the May 7 2007 issue of Forbes magazine called the 28 great minds on the Power of Networks. I have added to these insights and have extrapolated the ideas to the mobile / telecoms ecosystem.

Networks and Open systems – a sociological foundation

Networks are everywhere – from a network of neurons in the brain to a social network of friends and family.

The Internet is only the latest in a long line of networks – starting from road networks, telegraph networks, canal networks, radio stations and of course telephone networks.

The Internet is a network that connects computers and devices through the IP (Internet Protocol ). Like all networks, the Internet is about connecting people – and the Internet builds pathways across geography, race, economic status, religion etc. While road networks also do the same thing, Digital networks connect people globally in a much more efficient manner.

This large scale, global connectivity has a commercial and social impact.

Economically, the Internet can be viewed as extension of the free market. Adam Smith first defined free markets and included the concept of ‘voluntary association’ in that definition. A network of friends is a good example of a voluntary association network. Such free/voluntary networks are currently alien to many of us because the institutions we see today are, for most part, structured and regimented. These include family, business, religions and nations (but note that they do not include friends i.e. friends are voluntary). By its nature, a voluntary network cannot be controlled – and people who try to do so (such as politicians) find inevitably that they will fail because new and alternate connections can always be created to overcome the ones that are ‘blocked/walled up’.

The Internet amplifies this idea of voluntary associations on a global scale.

Thus when Karol Franks began thinking about donating a kidney to her ailing daughter Jenna, her family understood very little about what she was going through, but she formed a common bond with an online group of strangers who shared a similar experience.

We see the same phenomenon with online dating and relationships. Aaron Ben-Ze’ev author of the book Love Online: Emotions on the Internet, offers an explanation for psychology of online relationships in an article in psychology today:

Putting themselves into words, getting replies while they’re still in the emotional state of the original message, relying heavily on imagination to fill in the blanks about the recipient, people communicating online are drawn into such rapid self-disclosure that attachments form quite literally with the speed of light.

What is the value of a network?

Clearly people value these networks even if they cannot easily attach a monetary value to it – such as social support structures, dating etc. The value of a network can loosely be defined to be proportional to ‘more things you can do with added connectivity’ such as dating, buying books(Amazon), shopping(ebay) and so on i.e. value depends on the context.

Formally, the value of a network is governed by Metcalfe’s law (also referred to as the network effect) which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n2). Today, Metcalfe’s law is used to explain the rise of communication networks such as the Internet, Social networking and the Web. It’s been more than 25 years since Metcalfe’s law was first formulated .. And we have the benefit of hindsight in explaining its impact.

The impact of laws, such as the Metcalfe’s law, lies in their physical manifestation over time Anyone can create ‘laws’ and even have some mathematics behind them –but the acid test lies in checking if the law plays itself out in real life. Originally, ‘Laws’ were often created to market or to explain a product – in other words to sell. Thus, it is interesting to see that there were other laws – also designed to ‘sell’ things – some of which worked and some of which did not.

Take Gorsch’s law. We don’t hear much about it .. For a good reason .. It did not work! – The law can be interpreted to mean that computers present economies of scale: Bigger computers are more economical. No prizes for guessing where this law would have originated from(IBM). In contrast, Moore’s law is an inversion of Grosch’s law (transistor densities would double every two years) – aka smaller is better. And again predictably, Gordon Moore was trying to ‘sell’ microprocessors at Intel.

More than 25 years on, we can look back and see which laws ‘worked’ (Moore and Metcalfe) and which laws did not(Grosch). What does this tell us? Given the right conditions, the same laws could well apply on the Mobile Internet with similar results.

There are other factors accelerating the value and proliferation of networks. Fred Smith, founder and CEO of Fedex famously said, Information about a packet is more important than the packet itself. In other words, if the Customer is King then Meta data is ‘King Kong’. In addition, the nodes (people) within the Internet are now starting to produce content rather than becoming plain consumers. These two factors – ‘capturing intelligence about customers’ and ‘customers as creators’ (and not as mere consumers) are the drivers of the Web 2.0 movement.

Just as Web 2.0 encouraged people to become active contributing nodes in the Internet, other developments are causing devices to be more connected (and by extension creators of metadata as people were on Web 2.0). With the launch of the Kindle on Amazon, this is a practical reality – and it is merely the first step towards devices becoming active creators of Metadata. Hence, the Internet acquires yet another new dimension. The network, and its value continues to grow.

Telecoms and Open networks

It is in this backdrop that we explore the idea of Open systems in a Telecoms ecosystem. In the era of hyoerconnectivity(for both devices and people), the traditional walled gardens models are not simply not sustainable.

We can all see the rapid growth of mobile devices.

As of Jun 2007, there are 3 billion mobile phones and only as of 2005 the figure was 2 billion phones

However, the growth of Mobile phones does not necessarily translate to the growth of the Mobile Internet. The belief that “more people will be accessing the internet via their mobile phones than their PCs in 10 years time,” is flawed.

There are two problems here: For most part phones today have only two things in common – voice and SMS(text messaging). Billions of devices simply does not translate to billions of request to access the Internet. More importantly, it is unclear as to what ‘accessing the Internet’ means in this context. The Internet merely means any device connected by the IP protocol. Thus, accessing the Internet from a mobile device does not make much sense. I think by ‘accessing the Internet’ people mean ‘accessing the Web’. The Web is ofcoure higher in the stack – a protocol based on http and HTML.

More importantly, the deployment of the Internet to mobile devices means something much more fundamental. It means bringing the mindset of the Internet to the Mobile ecosystem. Hence, the real significance of ‘accessing the Internet from mobile devices’ lies in the proliferation of the network effect to the mobile ecosystem. Until we see network effects happening on the Mobile Internet, the rest does not matter as much.

The question of synergies between the Internet and the Mobile Internet(and by extension – openness in telecoms networks) has different facets depending on where in the stack you are addressing the question – at the IP/network level , at the level of the software stack, at the applications/services level or even at a social networking level.

In the purest sense, ‘Open’ means the ability to access a resource with no commercial and technological barriers(See How do you define Open)

There are three major interrelated developments that are impacting the openness on mobile networks:

a) Open source on mobile devices

b) Open social networks and

c) The deployment of the full the full Web on mobile devices.

These are topics of interest for me and also subjects of future books. Watch this space!

Any comments welcome

Is there a business case for differential pricing within IMS and are there lessons to be learnt from Japan and Korea?

As discussed in my last blog on this theme .. Person to Person IMS applications – will they take off or will there be only Web applications

I explore the question here: Is there a business case for differential pricing with IMS?

And the related questions:

a) Do we see any instances of differential pricing in mature markets like Japan and Korea and

b) Do users adopt differential priced services in Japan and Korea?

c) How is that differential pricing implemented? I.e. on the network, in the device, as a service level agreement in advance etc etc?

My proposition is:

If we don’t see customer adoption of differentially priced services in Japan and Korea, why do we expect that we will see them in the West? And the counter argument – if we do see such services, what can we learn from them?

To give some context to this discussion,

One of the key IMS motivations for many Operators is the ability to price a service differently .

On one hand, we have the principles of net neutrality (all packets are created equal). On the other hand, we have a situation where closed/private networks do not follow the principles of net neutrality.

Tim Wu explains this best(and I do follow Tim’s thinking) .. When he says explores the idea of what is neutral in context of net neutrality

I think the best, although still not ideal way to think about this problem is with the help of a private/public distinction. Private networks in this sense of the word are networks that aren’t interconnected with others. The cable TV network, described above, is a good example. On a private network, discrimination part of what gives the network its utility. By definition it is closed to outsiders, and that’s what makes it useful. The main point is that discrimination on a private network does have effects on the broader network – it doesn’t spill over.

So, there are instances of private networks which are exempt from the ideas of net neutrality. We see this on the fixed network as well with VPNs

Question is:

a) Does this idea(private networks) flow through to mobile operators? Note that if it did – it would coexist with the ideas of net neutrality

b) How will it be implemented?

c) Is there a precedence in Japan and Korea for such a service(a mobile private network or a mobile network with a guaranteed QOS and differentially charged)

d) If so, how is it implemented in Japan and Korea?

Note that I am speaking of mobile private business networks (not consumer scenarios).

If indeed such scenarios could be identified in Japan and Korea – we have the precedence of similar services potentially taking up in the West.

Why?

Because consumer scenarios may differ but I expect business scenarios to be the same between Japan/Korea and Europe/North America

Hence, it is an interesting question ..

Thoughts?

OMA smart card web server ..

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Last month I was invited to attend the OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) meeting in London. I am already familiar with the W3C and to some extent with OMA – so it was a good opportunity to see the latest developments from the world of OMA. I will be doing a series of blogs about OMA – since there are many developments that are likely to impact us going forward

Thanks to Stephen Jones and Bobby Fraher for helping me out with the content

Here is one – Smart card web server.

The specs are HERE if you are interested.

Why is this relevant?

According to the OMA documentation,

SCWS is a Web server running in the SIM card ((U)SIM, R-UIM, CSIM) that implements a network operator’s services and is portable across handsets. It provides static and dynamic web pages and allows transactions between the card and an HTTP based application running in the handset – for example a Web browser. Using the SCWS, an operator’s SIM applications, such as a Toolkit application, can benefit from the look and feel and multimedia capabilities of a browser. It also enables the deployment of secure services with standard Web technology by leveraging inherent smart card security features.

In terms of user benefits, the Web browser is easily accessible from any phone’s user interface, and the SCWS is accessible at all times including out-of-coverage scenarios. The SCWS Enabler also defines a protocol based on http(s) to remotely administer the smart card Web pages and content. The benefit to the end user will be that they gain the advantage of a well customized and up-to date web server on their smart card.

and here is a link from Telecom Italia on smart card web server showing a bit more about how this will come to fruition in real life ..

Definitely one to watch. If you have some developments / views in this space, happy to report them/blog about them

Mobile Network Operators Directory – Real/Scam/How useful?

Recently, I have had more than one companies offer me a ‘Mobile Network Operator’s Directory’

I am curious – since the English sounding names in the email end up ‘offshore’ when called.

There are no other contact details. At least two companies offer similar directories(leading me to question that either the information is freely available or it is unclear who has created it in the first place)

Can anyone endorse/give any more feedback?

Carnival of the Mobilists at Xellular Identity

This week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is up at Xellular Identity. Thanks Xen for including my entry ..

Person to Person IMS applications – will they take off or will there be only Web applications

Note: I changed the subject from ‘P2P’ to ‘Person to Person’. P2P was not the right phrase in this context

The Telecoms industry continues to promote IMS applications

Typically the list goes something like this.

Presence

Videoshaing

Push to talk

Voip

SIP-IM

List management

(From the book IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) by Gonzalo and others – A book I recommend)

Before we address the problem of P2P IMS, let me reiterate that .. IMS itself is a bit like 3G. It is needed by Operators since an IP core reduces cost. In that sense, it is futile to talk of IMS

Success/failure – just like it is futile to talk of 3G success or failure.

The question is: what do we need IMS for beyond the IP core? What applications are possible? – and furthur – why cannot they be done by the Web? – i.e. where is the value proposition end to end for IMS if the Web can do most of what IMS can do – but for free?

Agreed that IMS provides QOS, but look how many people use Skype? They dont worry about QOS as long as we have global connectivity at an affordable cost?

The problems with P2P IMS applications are

a) Lack of a value proposition: Many of these applications can be done by non IMS means on the Web. So, why would I need IMS for them(say for IM). This is the main reason for the interplay between Web 2.0 and IMS i.e. IMS is the ‘Telco’ way of doing the same functions that are done on the Web. The difference is the Web is free and it is global. Telecoms is not free and it is mainly local(sub national i.e. many operators within a country not all of which can interconnect). This is a killer for P2P applications.

b) No End to End: Many of the IMS applications promoted are P2P i.e. need IMS on both ends of the network AND need IMS devices at both ends i.e. customers need IMS devices.

This is not visible at the moment and far from any roadmap I can see. So, why will P2P IMS applications take off?. The IMS devices problem is well known .. As in .. there are not any on the horizon.

c) Merged services – same problem – bigger scale: Some IMS applications are based on merged services(phone call at the same time as we view a video clip). Again the P2P, device problems apply. So this is also a non starter unless other issues are resolved (for example partnerships with other vendors).

So, questions are:

a) Are these problems valid? I think they are. I cant seem to find anyone who can reliably answer these questions – and

b) What can be done about them?

We have a precedent here in MMS .. i.e. P2P MMS did not really take off at all because it has exactly the same problem for IMS applications(in a simpler form) – a.k.a you need network and device support at both ends, the user experience needs to be seamless, the charging needs to be transparent ..

Here are some approaches who claim to address this problem (end to end IMS / P2P applications)

Much of the industry seems to be taking an ostrich like view to this i.e. somehow all operators will simultaneously upgrade + all devices will be quickly capable of supporting IMS (and will be Operator locked down i.e. other means like Wifi connectivity are not possible – :) ) and then anyone can call anyone else using a video call by IMS

For that matter – to use video calling, we strictly don’t need IMS at all .. that’s a different problem which we are not addressing for now

I don’t endorse any solution and I have no commercial relationships with them – but to create a value proposition for IMS beyond reducing OPEX – we need to address the problem of P2P IMS.

a) IPX network – you can see more using the link

http://www.gsmworld.com/technology/index.shtml tab on Technology -> IP Interworking -> IPX (for general descriptions) Also, tab on Technology -> IP Interworking -> IPI Documents

IPX is undergoing pre-commercial implementation (PCI) trials. It still has many questions unanswered in my view .. I welcome any comments on IPX if you know more(pros and cons)

b) By adding a new network element like Application Session Controller or ASC. This approach is explained HERE.

c) SDP as the glue that unites IMS i.e. SDP on top of IMS. See this approach HERE(and its the most common of the approaches so far )

d) SDP as a replacement for IMS! Relatively new .. Who needs IMS when you have SDP 2.0?(pdf)

In any case, the problem needs to be addressed .. and there is little point of speaking of End to End IMS applications unless we do

I am also interested in knowing more about the experiences in Japan and Korea

While we do have interconnect and interoperability in Japan and Korea – I do not see the same picture being replicated in the west

So, my question is: are there any P2P IMS applications in Japan and Korea – specifically ones with differential charging(which is the goal of IMS from an Operator standpoint). These are topics of separate blogs – differential charging with IMS and its viability and the experience of IMS in Japan and Korea ..

However, the questions I raised before are valid .. and I don’t see any answers for them in a western scenario i.e. Why do we think that P2P/end to end IMS applications will take off in the West?