Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Geoff Huston: Forget about Convergence 

Sitting currently in the ETSI TISPAN mid-plenary discussing the future direction of IMS over fixed networks, I started drifting away and reading some articles on my stack and came over Geoff Hustons: Convergence? and one paragraph catched my eyes:

The effort to arm networks with complex quality and service manipulation capabilities in the guise of NGNs and QoS networks appears to be a step in precisely the opposite direction to what customers demonstrably want from networks.

Hah, a wake-up call for TISPAN!?

The article starts with:

If there is one word in the telecommunications that has suffered from over-abuse for many years now, its convergence.

I fully agree.

Voice over IP is certainly the most prevalent conversation within the industry at present. While voice continues to play the role of mainstay of the telco industry, the signs of further disruption to this model are certainly evident. From an Internet perspective voice is a small volume and relatively undemanding UDP application. Call signalling is just a rendezvous application, commonly implemented as an XML application. When combined with the DNS as a line database, and tied into the regular E.164 PSTN numbering plant via ENUM, then all of the critical components of VOIP are defined. VOIP, as a service platform , is both completely functionally compatible with traditional telephony and also poses the greatest risk to the future viability of traditional telephony. It is now largely a matter of the regulatory sector defining the timeline for VOIP adoption, and with that adoption mass market voice services will once more be the subject of further price pressures. If VOIP is priced in a manner consistent with the cost of supporting this application within the larger network, then voice will cease to be the backbone application of the industry.

So why TISPAN and 3GPP making it so complicated?

Some Telco operators just presented a HIGH-PRIORITY wishlist (10TD218 for insiders) here for TISPAN Release 2 which IMHO will keep TISPAN busy for at least 4 years, not to mention the mid and low priority items.

There is no next vertical killer application coming, and it certainly isn’t going to be just VOIP.

We are seeing a new suite of application components in the form of XML, Ajax, RSS, Torrents, Podcasts and similar, and methods of constructing content in previously undreamt of methods. Many of the more captivating services are now in the form of overlay applications, such as Skype for voice or Google’s Gmail for mail . The common factor here is that these services do not use dedicated network infrastructure, but exist as application level overlays. Its clear in this that user’s perception of where the value lies is shifting to the application rather than remaining with the network’s access infrastructure. This value shift is not coalescing within a single application, however. What is evident is that the application space is now an area of intense innovation, and we are seeing diversification in this space, rather than convergence. The richness of structured data sets and their potential to create innovative services is an obvious outcome of this application level activity.

and Geoff concludes:

Perhaps its time to forget about convergence, and instead look at what it takes to survive as a carrier ISP in today’s deregulated, competitive, unconverged world. Certainly one of the more important principles is to stop attempting to add value to the network by spending large amounts of effort in providing a panoply of services that customers simply don’t want and don’t value. It would appear that what customers want today is for packet carriers to stick to the basics - keep overheads low and operate a network that is simple, stable, fast and cheap. User value construction is happening at the edge of the network through overlay structures, and the major attribute of networks today is not convergence per se, but the ability to open the network’s edge up for competitive innovation.

It appears that vertically integrated service providers are fading away, and convergence is fading away with it. The deregulated service industry continues to specialize rather than generalize. Valued service delivery is increasingly based on overlay systems that treat the network as a simple packet transmission service. The harsh lesson here is that the converged Utopia of the old world carrier industry is now no more than a piece of nostalgic mythology. And a rather dull and uninteresting one at that. The unconverged service world of layered applications is vibrant, innovative, exciting and very much alive . And maybe that’s a very good thing.

Vive la différence!

Thank you Geoff for this article

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