IMS/SDP North America, 5-7 November, Dallas TX

The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of my findings from Informa’s IMS/SDP (IP Multimedia Subsystem) North America conference that ran from the 5-7 November in Dallas TX; I gave a preview of the event in this article.  I’ve also put a few slides together to give a flavor of the conference at the end of this entry.  Overall the conference has the key players in IMS/SDP for North America in attendance; has the latest insights and initiatives being presented; provides a very frank and honest status check on the industry; and I think we’re starting to see some practical customer focused steps forward such as the Rich Communication Suite initiative described by Feza Buyukdura of AT&T.

Mark Kaish of Cox Communications presented on “The Business Case for IMS in the Cable World: What is Their Vision?”
He provided an update on Cox’s IMS experiences from an IMS / Packet Cable 2.0 trial, in which 8 applications where tested.  The most significant challenge as they move from trial to initial deployment is BOSS (Business and Operational Support Systems) integration.  The business case has proven difficult.  In the end they took a ‘cost neutral’ approach.  A critical yardstick is the total cost per subscriber (including integration and BOSS) for IMS.  If this figure can be shown to be close to the revenue generated they can push through action based upon the potential of IMS.  Mark indicated a ballpark cost figure of about $4 per subscriber, which requires a ‘light-weight IMS.’  Other interesting observations, which have also been reported other operators, were:

  • “IMS Compliant” means nothing, each vendor is an island;
  • Integration remains a challenge between network elements, BOSS and with clients;
  • Internally developed applications took the longest, a simple SDK (Software Development Kit) for developers is essential to stimulate service innovation;
  • Mark echoed Andre Moskal’s (Telus) comments on the need to ‘believe’ in IMS as the business case is just not there; and
  • The importance of Tru2way in opening up the STB to open innovation.

Feza Buyukdura of AT&T presented on the “Rich Communication Suite”

RCS is a broad-based industry initiative that soups-up the address book with presence to drive advanced communication services such as video calling, video share, IM (Instant messaging), file share, etc.  Think of it like taking a best of breed IM client onto the address book, and enabling it to work across operators.  This breaks through the networking effect which currently limits mobile video-telephony as discussed in the “Internet’s Gone Video” article, is a critical step in the industry.  RCS is a bridge between now and OMA Converged IP Messaging (CPM) that utilizes the existing IMS standards and guidelines (no new standards) and focuses on inter-carrier interoperability (the critical piece).  The service uses capabilities provided by IMS, and is sort-of being positioned as a driver for IMS, but the actual implementation within an operator does not mandated a ‘full’ IMS implementation.  I recommend people keep an eye on this as it has potential – as long as it focuses upon the service and not trying to push IMS – to dramatically change the everyday communications experience.

David Moro of Telefonica presented on WIMS 2.0: Mixing Web 2.0 and IMS to get the Best of Two Different Worlds
WIMS 2.0 (Web 2.0 and IMS) is an initiative promoted by Telefónica seeking convergence between Web 2.0 and the telecom new generation services based on IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), to create innovative, appealing and user-centric services and applications. The WIMS website contains much more information.   Where as RCS is focused on an operator provided application that can run on IMS; WIMS focused upon opening up IMS capabilities to the web.  I think it provides an important technical experiment to demonstrate service innovation to help break the dam to open innovation.  However, I think the main problem facing the industry is around the operational and commercial changes required within an operator to step out of the way and let application developers and customers create value.

Lucia Gradinariu of the TMForum presented Service Delivery Frameworks and their Role in the Rapid Assembly and Commercialization of New Services
Providing an overview of the SDF, an integrative layer across the SDPs an operator has in their network, e.g. IPTV, IN, Messaging, content.  Enabling mashed-up or combinatorial services to be managed, e.g. provisioned, fault reporting, etc.

I also gave a brief presentation as an introduction to one of the panel sessions reviewing the fundamental change operators must react to, that is customers now expect to be engaged in a dialog with their service providers, and for services to improve in weeks not 6-12 months.  Simply customers’ experiences with web-based service providers has reached a point where operators must react.  The success of Apple’s App Store, with 200 million applications downloaded in just over 100 days since launch shows customers want applications.  Operators provide the ideal channel to market for many applications, with control over their network and devices, a billing relationship with the customer, a nationally recognized and trusted brand, high-street store presence, and a strong position in the industry’s ecosystem. I then reviewed a number of operator initiatives in fostering open innovation and set out an action plan.  The punch line is: “It’s NOT the Technology: It’s your PLAN!”

Other comments / insights:

  • On Ribbit, one panellist commented, “BT has bought themselves $105m of cool.”  But with non-standard APIs; the limitation of Flex; and a relatively small UK market (fixed centric operator): its unclear if there’s enough of a market to stimulate developers to join the BT party once the hype dies down and people look to how they can make money.
  • Several operators admitted to having IMS installed in their networks with no services running on top, or if they did have services running on IMS they’ve been closed down.
  • Is IMS too old?  Given IMS was created when Web 2.0 was not mainstream, mobile broadband was not ubiquitous, HSPA+ was not about to deliver 20+ Mbit/s to customers, and inter-operator issues were secondary to the “walled-garden.”  Does the architecture need to be reconsidered?  Is such fine grain policy control required?  Is openness and web 2.0 compatibility now essential (c.f. the WIMS 2.0 initiative)?
  • General consensus on the lacking of an IMS business case.  Which, as I discussed in several articles in the weblog means the focus must change from the technology to the commercial plan; implement only what is necessary for open innovation plan, rather than the backwards thinking of “How do I build a business case for IMS?”