Summary of the Open Mobile Alliance Messaging Workshop 12 July 2012, Brooklyn USA

The conference agenda and slides can be downloaded here.

At first blush it would appear RCS (Rich Communications Suite) has adopted OMA’s (Open Mobile Alliance) Converged IP Messaging (CIM) spec so work is complete.  But that means CIM is wholly dependent on RCS, which has the dumb dependency of IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), which is expensive and time consuming to implement.  Granted fat application server solutions have appeared that reduce the implementation cost by essentially offering the UNI (User Network Interface), API (Application Program Interface) and NNI (Network Network Interface) and all the internal interfaces disappear into a black box.  So a discussion point for the conference was what should OMA do to ensure broader adoption of CIM?

Through the morning presentations I saw several fallacies presented as core operator differentiation:

  • “Operators have QoS (Quality of Service) in their favor”: my AT&T service worked intermittently throughout the conference as did the AT&T service of many other conference attendees, while Skype through the OMA provided WiFi remained solid.
  • “Operators have great customer service”: operators’ customer service sucks, see the JD Power survey, at least Vodafone admitted they needed to improve customer service.
  • “Relevance of operators APIs and their developer communities”: long tail developers do not care about most operator APIs, it isn’t cool to be a telco developer.
  • “Operators protect people’s privacy”: remember Swisscom and the aggregate location data controversy, the BT Phorm debacle, and the ongoing discussions on monetizing customer data does not inspire customer confidence.
  • “There must be one solution (ours)”: let customers use whatever they want, just make sure you’re the service customers pay for by working across most people in a nation with a great experience.
  • And finally many slides were measuring the wrong thing, just comparing “user” numbers is pointless.  Firstly, the user numbers are false, see this BBC report on the likely 90 million fake Facebook profiles.  Why do advertisers see better results in more traditional advertising like TV?  Because the customer numbers are real as they have to pay for TV.  The elephant in the room in the “economy of free” is there is likely 100M+ “digital rent a crowd” of fake online accounts that can be used for a price.  That’s why so many times a perceived popular app looks like a ghost town once when you go inside.

I gave a presentation on “The Over The Top Messaging Landscape” based on this article and the slides are shown below.  It covered:

  • Why didn’t the first phase of free OTT Messaging (Instant Messaging) in the nineties and naughties kill SMS?
  • Reviewing the OTT messaging landscape: Apple iMessage, Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, Tango, Voxer, Facebook, PingMe, Vonage, Tu Me (or is it Me Tu?)….  In fact messaging is embedded in many applications, web sites and services, e.g. Words with Friends, Draw Something, xbox live, PS network,, etc.
  • Understanding the business model for the current hyped up OTT apps beyond “Facebook will buy us for One Billion dollars!”

IM (Instant Messaging) on digital systems goes all the way back to 1961 with Compatible Time Sharing System, and we can follow its evolution to my first experiences with Quantum Link on the Commodore 64, Forbidden Forest was my favorite game on that system.  Then in the ’90s and the naughties a rash of silo’ed IM systems appeared from Yahoo, AOL, ICQ, Google, and MSN.  I’m sure many had multiple clients running simultaneously on their desktop.  Most did not interop as in the economy of free lock-in is essential as: “They don’t want the pigs they raised going into another farmers barn to be taken to market.”  And when Skype came out with a broader proposition most migrated to that platform as IM became a feature used to escalate to a call, which is now being destroyed by Microsoft as Skype service quality has dropped dramatically, especially this year.  Which brings me onto the WebRTC based services that are coming in to replace the gap created by Skype’s poor performance, check out this link for some WebRTC service replacements.

BUT critically interop of IM systems is possible when the business model supports it, which is in the enterprise where XMPP is extensively used because enterprises are paying for the service.  And this point leads to how in the UK in 1998 the mobile operators acted in their and their customers’ best interests in enabling SMS interconnect, and the rest as they say is history.  Messaging is now embedded everywhere and iMessage is a particularly insidious OTT messaging service which should have operators worried.  I then shared some of the business models for OTT messaging.  And finished on the conclusions which are essentially OTT services will continue to love their silos, the ones to worry about are not Viber or Whatsapp its Apple and Google as people have conversations.  And the fundamental weapon an operator has is cross-carrier interoperability, first at a national level (because that has the biggest impact for a customer) then on a regional and then global scale.  Without that the only thing left is the ISP (Internet Service Provider) business.

In the afternoon Alan Kaplan, CTO, Drakontas gave a great presentation on the use of messaging / collaboration tools in the police – XMPP based.  And OpenMarket’s key point that the user experience of OMA Push (WAP push) sucks so bad, it’s useless.  This became a common theme in subsequent discussions, there’s enough standards, its about creating guides and implementation specifications that avoid the mistakes of WAP push, as RCS has done (but it’s dumb IMS dependence remains an albatross around its neck.)

Dean Bubley gave an excellent presentation on the reality of how people communicate and how the OTT services fulfill those needs better than any globally interoperable service an operator can offer.  In the panel discussion Kevin Holley raised an important set of points on the importance of WebRTC, the need for simplicity, and the importance of implementation guidelines to avoid the mistakes of OMA Push and the initial MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) missteps.

Overall there was no call for the death of OMA, rather a refocusing, getting more strategic marketing involvement and more end user involvement.  But with that said I could see many vendors looking on and worrying about how such as approach would remove their “value add” through “lock-in competitive differentiation”.  It was good to see OMA being prepared to change, but with the current DNA its unclear if that change can be affected, it may required the DNA be changed.