Thursday, March 16, 2006

VON Day 1 - Wednesday Afternoon - Is IMS Really a Walled Garden 

This panel was outraging - I am fuming. And for this b*llsh*t I skipped the Regulatory Update: International.

In the panel description it was stated: Many carriers are looking to federate their networks to support third party services, but few are paying attention to how the Internet has evolved for these services. Portals on the Internet have shown that the reverse may be the case and the federators maybe the application providers.

There where five panelists and a moderator (Kathleen Jarosinski, Verizon), all of them denying that IMS is a Walled Garden. Either they did not understand the question and the issue, or I did. Some said that IMS is an open standard, anybody can use it, some said that third party providers are free to provide their multi-provider services and applications (ha) and it is basically depending on the business model choosen. The only honest statement was from Dan Steingas (Intel) who said he did not care, it is not his business where IMS is put.

Ok, the title was wrong, it should have been: Will IMS be placed in a Walled Garden?

Coming back to the session description: the Internet was not mentioned at all in the presentations, except on one slide: Torben Warming (Ericcson) had a slide showing 4 (four) walled gardens: the mobile walled garden, the home walled garden, the business walled garden and the Internet Walled Garden. To call the Internet a Walled Garden is a premiere.

We must live on different planets. So I waited for the questions, but first Misses moderator asked the panelists some questions and when the first question out of the audience was taken by somebody else, it was answered by one panelist after the other. I threw the towel and left.

My take: of course the IMS needs not to be in a walled garden, but all implementations I know put the IMS in a walled garden. Because if you would not put it there, you would only need one third of the boxes in the IMS architecture.

And especially for Ericsson: the Internet is NOT a walled garden, it is the street passing the walled gardens.

I was not at VON but I think the problem is a disconnect. I think that IMS and Walled Garden are two separate concepts. IMS is a technology for delivering services over IP. Whether it is placed in a walled garden or not is nothing to do with IMS but is part of the operator's business strategy.

Part of the confusion is because some operators think in terms of what I like to call a "fenced" garden. This allows full access to the Internet if desired but it also allows for operator-provided services (such as portals) which are managed and restricted by the operator. So, for example, if you want to type in a URL you can go anywhere you like but if you use the operator's portal as your home page you will only be offered sites within their fenced garden.

Most operators I talk to do not plan to implement a walled garden. A few do (personally I think that is a bad business move but it is their business not mine).

What the operators do plan to do is to offer interesting new services which people will voluntarily purchase from them. IMS technology will be used to deliver those services.

We must not forget that IMS is really not about voice -- it is really about delivering complex multi-media services, with high quality, and for a fee. I always like the example used by Xavier Weibel (from Swisscom) of the Karaoke service with its combination of video clips, audio mixing, buddy lists, distribution, etc.

If users can get similar services (maybe with different quality or at a different price) from elsewhere then we have a healthy competitive environment. The operators are well placed to compete in that environment -- they have brands, they have billing, they have access to the subscriber, they have economies of scale, they have bundling and promotional opportunities, etc.

IMS is just a technology to deliver these services.
Considering the well-document discussion elsewhere about the ambition of Verizons etc to bill the Yahoos for "using their pipes", the above comment is not really realistic. The IMS "whatever garden" and Net neutrality are not that far away of each other: key common target is to create an advantage for operator services or operator-associated ones.

It is also easy to reverse the question: if operators were able to compete WITHOUT this type of artificial advantage, then why are we not seeing them as truly dominating players in Internet services business today?
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