IMS's Web 2.0 Problem

The inevitable anti-hype cycle is now in full spin for IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). After being widely proclaimed as the telecom industry's Next Big Thing, the immutable force of gravity has pulled IMS back down to earth a bit. IMS continues to develop, but at a painfully slow pace, considering the rapid changes going on outside the telecom world.

One of those changes now promises – or threatens – to alter or even usurp the role of IMS as the key enabler of next-gen telco services. The emergence of Web 2.0 mashups from the IT world may put a new spin on telco service creation that could ultimately render an emerging generation of IMS-based applications obsolete.

Web 2.0 application development technologies complement the hybrid Java EE/Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) application servers being promoted by IT vendors and their service-oriented architecture model of service development. As the current edition of Light Reading's Services Software Insider shows, momentum behind the Web 2.0 phenomenon has now grown to the point where the idea that the IMS service layer should remain a separate, telco-oriented platform – able to develop a universe of services that will differentiate telcos from their powerful Ihe herenternet competition – looks increasingly misguided.

Right now, the invasion of Web 2.0 into the telco service development world is getting little attention. While IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) all believe that Web 2.0 is the way forward for new IP service development, both Internet and telco, most technology vendors don't want to make too much noise about it, for fear of "scaring the horses." But as this report shows, some of the horses have already heard the noise, and at least one – BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) – is reacting to it in a significant way.

There's general agreement that SIP is a good, accessible protocol for redeveloping core telco services, as BT and other leading operators are doing. But IMS SIP is not, on its own, enough to enable an operator to deliver a rich set of revenue-generating services to the market. While each telco core service has an intrinsic value, operators will make more money out of them in a next-generation IP world if they can blend their core services in innovative ways with other functions to create value-added services. In other words, they need to make these SIP-based core services available for mashup.

Unfortunately, traditional telco application vendors are building a next generation of SIP-based applications in the "black box," stovepiped manner that has characterized the telco industry for so many years. Ironically, it was this stovepipe mentality that IMS was intended to tear down. Each black-box application has the vendor's own instance of a core service locked inside it. The core service has been implemented using IMS standards and protocols, and it runs on a SIP application server. But it is not available to anyone else for mashup, which restricts what an operator can do with the core service once the service is deployed.

At the same time, IMS is competing against a growing number of "over-the-top" protocols and architectures emerging from the Web 2.0 world, from non-telco competitors such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO), and Microsoft. Web 2.0 is bringing with it a new set of non-IMS protocols for presence, location, and call control that could become the new industry standards in these areas. Popular IPTV solutions aren't IMS-based, and operators increasingly need to support what Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is calling "Video 2.0": the mixing of user-generated content with IPTV and streamed content, using over-the-top protocols. Some operators are fighting back, using clever middleware or a Java APIs for Integrated Networks (JAIN) Service Logic Execution Environment (SLEE) to expose their existing legacy core services to a Web 2.0 world – they feel they can't afford to wait to migrate to an IMS service layer. The availability of so many alternatives to the IMS service layer should be ringing alarm bells within the community.

That's alarm bells, not a death knell. Web 2.0 is a viral technology that is catching on at a tremendous rate. Industry developments over the past six months illustrate powerfully that Web 2.0 is now a mainstream trend, and one that will be important for a long while. Web 2.0 is leading to new business models built on the consumption, brokering, and development of new services that threaten to render operator portal strategies irrelevant.

As a result, the need for operators to augment the IMS service layer with IT tools and technologies is increasingly compelling. And operators should be urging their next-generation application suppliers to get with the Web 2.0 message, too: Get them to open up their black boxes and make both core and value-added functions reusable and mashable, so that the telco industry as a whole can increase the rate of service creation and beat the Internet companies at their own game.

— Caroline Chappell, Analyst, Light Reading's Services Software Insider

Telco Web 2.0 Mashups: A New Blueprint for Service Creation, a 31-page report in PDF format, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Light Reading's Services Software Insider, priced at $1,295. Individual reports are available for $1,250.

rwelbourn 12/5/2012 | 3:07:20 PM
re: IMS's Web 2.0 Problem In other words, they need to make these SIP-based core services available for mashup.

I can well imagine that you could build some highly innovative web-based services if you had access to call identification, presence and mobile location information, and could act on this information by performing call control. However, this would give rise to serious concerns over privacy, fraud and the integrity of the service provider's infrastructure.

I don't think the issue is so much to do with SIP or IMS, but the ability of the telcos to open up their infrastructure to third parties in a secure manner.

Wouldn't it be great if I could use a personal concierge service based on something like Iotum's Relevance Engine, and have it plugged into Verizon's network?

But seriously, how would that work -- what would be the nature of the commercial relationships? Would the telcos offer trusted third parties access to their infrastructure in return for a share of revenue?

Rob W.
tomaz1 12/5/2012 | 3:06:59 PM
re: IMS's Web 2.0 Problem I think IMS was one of the first steps toward implementation of NGN idea in Telco industry that started years ago. Original idea was to decompose monolythic Telco infrastructure and to make it more competitive in order to lower costs and to drive new services offerings. On the other hand, yes, services are what users want, but you need to have right infrastructure for that. So telecom and IT segments clashed and so called convergence is happening to all of us.
In this respect I see the mashup idea (web2.0, ajax, open interfaces etc.) more as a complementary concept to IMS rather than competitive one. Yet it is true, service (delivery & creation) platforms and especially services (applications) are part of IMS story, too. And in this area competition between IMS and mashups may produce some interesting results for Telcos and especially for end users. With IMS telco industry introduces simpler concept, yet still very comprehensive one resulting in implementation problems and delays.
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