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I participated in the IMS 2.0 World Forum keynote panel this morning.  The topic was how to achieve IMS Globalization.  In preparation for the discussion we were asked to give thought to a number of questions that needed to be addressed.  Since the questions were thought provoking, I figure I’d put my questions and answers in this blog to share with others interested in communications and cloud computing.

IMS 2.0 World Forum – How to Achieve IMS Globalization

What are the constraints of Telco world when compared with IT?

· The most obvious constraint would be that telcos provide regulated services like voice over the switched/circuit network. In the US, the legacy of telecoms as a regulated monopoly has created different rules for providing services that benefit new entrants. These regulations are based on technology rather than application – so they don’t cover ‘voice’ they cover voice over the PSTN and not voice over IP. So, VoIP providers can offer services with less costs in terms of maintaining quality of service (QoS) and paying other taxes like the Universal Service Fee.

· Also Telecoms have large up-front capital expenditures, for example spectrum licensing and network build-out, that make product/service deployment expensive with long release cycles.

How can the Telco world compete with the IT world?

· To put this question in perspective, telecom is the world’s second largest industry. Telecom companies touch almost every business and consumer in the advanced and developing economies, so I don’t see a problem with telecoms competing in the future.

· That being said, I think that there are two emerging technological mega-trends in which telecoms have an inherent advantage:

  • Cloud computing infrastructure – if you look at how the cloud is monetized: computing, storage, and networking telecoms are guaranteed revenues from the networking end. Couple that with the fact that (at least in the US) telecoms have large data –center infrastructures and presences in most metropolitan areas allowing telecoms to offer their own processing/storage services as well as other infrastructure services like content-delivery services and you can see huge opportunities for telecoms in this space.
  • Always connected intelligent devices – taking the fact that “smart phones” are basically small form-factor computers, Telecoms are the largest distribution channels for computing endpoints. This puts them at a huge advantage when it comes to application distribution. They can distribute their applications to millions of customers at the point of sale. This can be for business or consumer users.

Is IMS for all?

· To answer this question, I believe the IMS architecture needs to be analyzed from two perspectives: the network layer and the application plane.

o Since this question requires a definite answer, I’d have to say no. Without mobile roaming, SIP federated across network providers, and the associated billing transactions, there is no need for a carrier to implement IMS.

o To that point, you need to ask yourself if can presence-based, real-time communications using SIP be facilitated without IMS infrastructure? The answer is obviously yes. Most enterprise communications works this way already at a large scale and these services can be federated across enterprises. Can this be done at a carrier-scale? Yes. Can this be performance-tuned to achieve good QoS? Yes.

At what point does an operator need IMS?

· There are two drivers to large-scale IMS deployment, one in the network layer and the other in the application layer:

  • Parts of the IMS will be required for mobile operators to provide global service with ‘Roaming’ capabilities across operator’s networks – this will be complicated by the fact that 4G has two competing types of access networks: LTE and WiMAX.
  • The ability to federate SIP sessions across Service Provider domains. This poses an interesting complication for Service Providers because OTT communications providers can run over any IP network – including WiFi, WiMax, … - regardless of carrier.

What are the monetizing strategies for IMS?

· I see a couple of monetization strategies:

  • Using location-based services and social networking to drive local advertising to a consumer. Leveraging the telecom’s existing relationship with businesses can allow telecoms to quickly develop an ad platform – similar to the “yellow pages” in the US.
  • Up-sell consumers based on QoS and value-added applications. By offering interesting applications, for example follow-me video conferencing, carriers can get a customer to sign-up for a premium data subscription.

What is the status of IMS in the developing world/emerging economies?

· Since I don’t work for a mobile carrier and can’t disclose any conversations I have with carriers, I can’t comment on this question.

What will applications be like and how will they differ from IMS services in the developed world?

· This is a great question whose answer lies in the type of government that the developing/emerging nation has open or closed.

  • A closed market with a state-run telecommunications company may be more likely to implement a fully featured IMS strategy for the following reasons
    • IMS can support a “walled garden.” Taking this approach the government can have complete control of the content and applications that a user can access from the device to the network.
  • A single national provider won’t have to be concerned about network roaming and they can focus on other IMS services.
  • In any implementation Service Providers will need to take local behaviors into consideration – how do people communicate in that locality. Certain nations prefer to communicate over SMS instead of voice. I can also see voice to text being a popular application in nations with multiple dialects – the text can be translated to the other language and then sent to the recipient.

What can be learnt from the developing world?

· An interesting facet from the developing world is that in some instances companies can basically start from scratch without being hindered with legacy technology. After the earthquake in Haiti, there has been a conversation as to whether the old telecommunications network should be rebuilt, or if Haiti should move forward with a modern wireless network. By implementing a wireless network, Haiti can build out a telecommunications infrastructure that can help provide efficiencies that we see in modern nations – like in the field of medicine in which doctors can monitor patients help from a distance, or in education in which students can have access to top-tier educational institutions from around the globe. The successful services can then be leveraged in more isolated areas of advanced nations.