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Friday, February 24, 2006

More NetEvents musings

I'm still at NetEvents, an event which brings together a group of technology vendors, and a captive audience of tech analysts and journalists who get "briefed at". There is always a broad range of companies here, spanning the wider communications equipment (and sometimes software / services) space. Some of these are absolutely in my area (eg various WLAN vendors), some are relevant (eg access aggregation and enterprise wireless tools) and others pretty tangential (rather too many enterprise network security widget suppliers for my liking).

Some quick observations:

- a lot of enterprise technology vendors are assuming that dual-mode cellular/WLAN handsets are going to be more prevalent than I believe. As usual, there is not enough focus on the complexities of getting the software and user experience "right".
- hardly any mention of 3G, HSDPA, picocells or other cellular bits & pieces (apart from my own questions to confused vendors). The assumption is that enterprises will just use WLAN, fixed LAN, metro ethernet or maybe WiMAX at some point in the future. No mention of Flarion, IPWireless or the other niche wireless broadband suppliers.
- a lot more talk about WiFi mesh and municipal networks than I expected. I have to confess I'd always though meshes were sort-of-cool-but-ultimately-niche. I might have to rethink that one, both for urban areas and emerging markets.
- enterprise network security is light years ahead of anything that carriers tend to think about, especially with regard to WLAN-equipped cellphones, but also any devices linking in via cellular to the corporate network. Forget about operators/SIMs as the most important authentication tools - this stuff is going to be tightly controlled by the IT department, with centralised security management covering PCs, servers, laptops, phones & anything else that hooks into the network. Not got the latest virus updates? Your device isn't getting on to the network. Put your SIM in a WLAN-phone that's not registered with a central directory as a "friendly" device? Forget it. Think your picocell is going to sit on the LAN & be remotely managed by a carrier through the firewall? As if.

I also got a chance to test out my rather trenchant views on deep packet inspection on a vendor, SandVine. I'm now even more convinced that the chance of ISPs or carriers blocking or degrading apps they don't like is very low indeed. The risk of "false positives" is huge. Wait till Microsoft starts using P2P to distribute Service Pack Whatever, and half the networks stop users from getting it. And if you open a VPN tunnel to Google Central, you can forget about peering into it to separate search from VoIP. And the hesitation I got when I brought up the subject of applications using XML, .NET and Web Services was very telling. How do you know if an XML object is for VoIP, SAP or both? Maybe SAP uses a VoIP Web Service component? Are you going to block that, Mr Carrier?

Right. A panel session is just about to start about IMS. Let's see if it changes my emerging view, which is that IMS, and especially interoperable IMS networks like the GSMA's IPX, only changes the cellular application environment from a Walled Garden, to an Open Prison.

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