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Friday, March 31, 2006

one number, one bill, one device? or multiple?

I've lost count of the number of presentations I've seen that seem to think that "convergence" means that users will have just one device / bill / number / "identity" / service provider. I've heard a huge number of trite comments which suggest it's completely obvious that this is desirable to everyone, and completely inevitable.

It's the same level of short-sightedness that makes people use the dreaded word "seamless" as a self-evident benefit.

A mention of "one everything", by a conference presenter or vendor, now incurs "minus two credibility points" from my viewpoint. ("seamless" incurs a "minus three" penalty).

Sure, some people want binary telephony. But plenty of others don't:

- plenty of people have 2+ mobile phones and want to keep them. Maybe an email phone for work, and a cool slim phone when they're out with friends
- plenty of people have (or want) 2 numbers. Work and personal. Different operators/different tariffs. Foreign SIM cards. "Public" and "Private" (for close friends and family). Fixed and mobile (so inbound callers don't have to phone a mobile # & incur higher costs)
- some people want multiple bills for various reasons, or are happy with them. I've never known anyone to complain to me about getting separate ones - have you? Or complain about getting separate gas and water bills? Who cares? And certain regulators don't like it anyway
- one "identity" - outright rubbish. Everyone has multiple email or IM addresses - and most younger people add additional multiple "aliases" or "profiles" as well, as well as various social community IDs. One of the greatest things about the Internet age is that it's much easier to "be different things to different people".

Bottom line - ditch the marketingwaffle "one number etc" slides. And make sure your platform offers options to the carrier or user, that correspond with the diverse range of personal preferences.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

VoWLAN? Vo3G? Yesterday's news. Try new VoxMAX! Now with added range!! Er, maybe.

I've written in the past about xG Technology, which claims to have a proprietary approach to RF modulation, which enables it to create wireless broadband networks with hugely better range/power/bandwidth characteristics than all the other more mainstream alternatives (cellular, WiFi, WiMAX, TDD, Flash-OFDM etc).
Like many other observers, I'm still in two minds about xG. It sounds too good to be true, but I still have a sense that there's something very clever there somewhere.

The company has now announced that it is main effort in the near term will be around creating dual-mode WiFi/xMAX VoIP phones and base stations, intended for "grassroots" (ie disruptive) VoIP service providers.

I spoke to the company yesterday, and got some more details. Apparently, the initial devices will be pitched at the US market, using the 900MHz "ISM" unlicenced band. The xMax chips will use FPGAs, available to the company from August. The firm is working with an ODM to design the hardware and software, and the inclusion of WiFi is to enable the transmitter to avoid having to work through walls, using customers' own local connectivity where available. There are no immediate plans to add cellular radios, so to start with, these devices will be aimed at metropolitan/regional operators... or indeed private companies and individual users.

It expects to ship the phones by the end of 2006.

To my mind, the company risks falling into a trap. It appears to have some cool technology - but is not necessarily going about commercialising it in the best way. Unfortunately, in some ways creating the RF and silicon bit of a phone is "the easy bit" - even if its based on ultra-clever radio technology. The tricky stuff is in making the rest of the phone exploit that radio - having a decent voice performance, a good & intuitive user interface, bulletproof security, and having useable & effective applications like contact book and call register & SMS. The other tricky elements are around creating a service - not just rolling out cheap base stations, but the server platform, marketing, billing and customer support. There's no point having a cheap network if every customer has to make 13 phone calls to an agent asking how to configure the phone to use it properly.

Trying to get the "phone" bit of the technology working in less than 6 months is, er, "challenging", in my view.

For wireless VoIP, the devil is in the detail. And details like spelling your own company's URL correctly in the original draft of the press release are the starting point. It's also notable that the company's website lacks a "careers" section for all of you enthusiastic handset UI engineers to browse.

I think it's going to struggle with its self-imposed deadline for these phones, but apparently there's some other enterprise-related products in the wings as well. We'll see....

Incidentally, on the topic of wVoIP... I'm chairing the Osney Media Wireless VoIP conference in Paris over the next two days. Assuming the ongoing French strikes and riots don't extend to the Conference Room Setup Personnel and AV Attendants' Union, that is.

Roaming and the EU.... not far enough

Being an independent wireless analyst brings a different perspective on the industry. Unlike analysts working for larger firms, I pay my own cellular and WiFi charges - they don't just disappear into the maelstrom of a wider corporate IT & personal expenses budget.

Which means that I am acutely conscious of cellular roaming charges, and their complete disconnection from any form of reality. Despite pronouncements from the GSMA about "8% per year price cuts", and isolated tariffs like Vodafone Passport, typical charges bear little relation to the underlying costs of international voice traffic interconnection, as the success of myriad carrier-grade international VoIP services indicate.

Like many others, I now make a point of scheduling long calls when I'm abroad so that I can use WiFi or a hotel's fixed ethernet connection, with Skype or another VoIP client.

It's a real pity that the EU's new & otherwise laudable proposals on roaming do not also include recommendations on data roaming, which is possibly the most egregiously-priced communications service on the planet, often overpriced by between 10x and 1000x sensible rates. In some cases, it's cheaper to use satellite data downlinks than GPRS or WCDMA roaming.

I'd say it's also incumbent on some form of worldwide authority - the ITU or WTO - to follow the EU's lead on this.

It's just a pity that the EU's website is so opaque that I cannot easily find out where to add my comments to their ongoing consultation.....

A pleasing symmetry with WiMAX?

OK, I'll confess.... I've been pretty bored with the whole fixed-WiMAX thing up until now. Yet another wireless technology designed for those people who can't get normal broadband, because they choose to live somewhere in the sticks. Even back in Jan 2005, coverage was above 90% in urban areas across Europe, and 62% in rural areas across the whole of the EU. Taken from a population standpoint, it's probably now above 90% in aggregate.

So, maybe 5-10% is still a decent target market, and certainly worthy of some form of coverage, but to my mind (as a Londoner born & bred in Zone 1), a disproportionate amount of attention gets grabbed by this very vocal minority and their suppliers.

Unsurprisingly therefore, I haven't written much about rural broadband, the availability of DSL, and the possibility of using WiMAX / satellite / legacy fixed wireless to fix the problem. I've glibly assumed that WiMAX has precious little relevance in urban areas, especially given indoor coverage problems at 3.5GHz or 5.8GHz.

So I was fairly skeptical when I went to visit a new London startup called Urban WiMAX yesterday. But I have to say the company may well actually have a point. Not for competing with plain old ADSL, but for offering symmetrical services. Again, I have a confession - I've glossed over the benefits of symmetry in connectivity. I still think I'm right when concerned with residential subscribers - asymmetry is right, because of things like IPTV and content downloads.

But small/medium businesses - the target market here - frequently do need upstream capacity. To send people like me horribly large PowerPoint files, for example, or images to their advertising agency. Or to do network backups. Or possibly for large amounts of outbound VoIP with QoS. And not everyone can get a fibre installed in the building - but unlike residential customers, they can justify the costs of someone to bolt a small antenna to the roof, so existing frequencies like 5.8GHz are OK. Maybe WiMAX does have a point in cities after all?

Furthermore, the company appears to have some pretty clever network planning software, to help it provide a very granular estimate of which buildings can get either direct or indirect line-of-sight to the transmitter.

I still don't think fixed WiMAX is going to change the world, and in my view the jury is still out on the practicalities of mobile WiMAX as well (it's very dependent on spectrum availability), but this is certainly another step forward.

Monday, March 27, 2006

DPI AIM IPO WTF

I've written before that I thought deep packet inspection companies have a short shelf-life. Nice to see that Sandvine's investment bankers (a company I met at NetEvents) know a closing window of opportunity when they see one.

That's not a level of vision extended to its new investors on London's AIM stockmarket, apparently. £114m market capitalisation, on the basis of a C$3m loss on C$16m revenues. Well, I'm not an equity analyst any more (so I don't offer investment advice), but that valuation looks a bit punchy to me.....

Saturday, March 25, 2006

flat-rate mobile tariffs....

OK, I can't resist this one.

It's not often that the central Asian republic of Turkmenistan can claim a lead on matters wireless. However according to this report, the country's government-controlled operator may introduce a flat-rate tariff of $10..... per year. And when I was in Turkmenistan in 2002, the black-market exchange rate was something like 5x the official one, although maybe it's changed since then. So let's say $2-5 per year.

This policy is being advocated by the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov. Otherwise known as Turkmenbashi, "Great Leader of the Turkmens". Who is famously depicted in a large gold-plated statue, which rotates to face the sun. And who is also reknowned for instigating a public holiday called "Melon Day". And whose large portrait adorns the outside of every public building, and the world's largest hand-woven carpet.

That such a visionary individual believes in sub-$1 ARPU future should send shivers down the backs of mere mortals at the helm of larger operators.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

VCC gaining traction

I wrote recently about VCC emerging as the key SIP-based approach to fixed-mobile convergence. I'll reiterate that even more strongly now. I've just spent two days at the FMC Summit which is still ongoing in Amsterdam, and it has come up over and over again - not just from vendors, but from some of the largest operators in Europe.

Not only are they pushing for it to be standardised ASAP, but they're giving the distinct impression that standardisation is the only thing standing in the way of ditching UMA in favour of SIP.

Three of the conversations I had essentially said the same thing "We're doing UMA in 2006 as it's standardised already, but want to go to VCC in 2007 if we can".

This fits with my understanding that low-level UMA deployment is pretty cheap. It has severe limitations, but it works OK as essentially an extended trial technology - enabling the carrier to get some detail and experience about customers' preferences and key operational practices (billing, marketing, bundling, user interface, pricing, coverage etc). It's also got some handsets already shipping.

Conversely, VCC/SIP fits better with operators' medium-term strategies around integrating quad-play services, many of which won't use a mobile core network, unlike UMA's Voice & GPRS. I'm being told that these services will integrate a dual-mode handset (or even a WiFi-only one) with IPTV, Internet services, gaming, and a whole slew of hybrids.

Interestingly, some carriers are leapfrogging UMA and going straight to a pre-standard SIP version with (again) a VCC roadmap.

My only concern is that none of the handset manufacturers have yet nailed their VCC colours to the mast. To be fair, it isn't standardised yet. And there are some handset software suppliers already advocating it (the MobileIgnite alliance members, for example). However - if there's anyone out their in handset-land that's relaxing after getting their UMA platform sorted, I'd suggest knuckling down and getting VCC on the roadmap ASAP. The same goes for chipset suppliers and SIP software client specialists.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mobile phone penetration ceiling

I see lots of predictions about how quickly we'll reach 3 billion mobile phone subscribers. TI's CEO has gone one further and estimated 4 billion within 5 years.

I think he needs to check his maths.

There are 6.6bn people on the planet. About 1.7bn are less than 15 years old. Let's say 5bn adults (yes, some children will have phones, but some adults are too probably old/infirm which should balance this out). But something like 1.6-2.0bn people have no access to electricity - although these are probably disproportionately young, so there is probably a maximum of 4bn adults with the ability to charge up a cellphone. Assuming they can pay for one (maybe 3bn live on <$3 per day), or live within areas with cellular coverage, that is.

100% penetration of the theoretical target market? I don't think so.

Maybe we'll get to 4bn cellular subscriptions, or devices owned (which, let's face it, is what TI is interested in from the point of view of selling chips), perhaps growing to 1.5 per person in the developed world. But cellular users? No way.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I'm a customer. I want a pipe, not services.

James Enck has just posted about another step towards Europe replicating the sort of "Net Neutrality" nonsense being pitched in the US and Canada.

Right, I'm taking off my "analyst hat" here for a minute, and putting on my "customer hat".

I want a pipe to the Internet. I want to do what I like with it, within reason. I want you, Mr Carrier, to offer me a range of options about capped bandwidth per month, or "true unlimited", as if I'd bought an E1 connection straight to Telehouse.

I don't want your VoIP, I want Skype's. I don't want your email, I want Yahoo!'s. And I don't want your useless portal either, I want "the real Internet" via Google, iTunes, Amazon, Disney.com and everyone else. And I certainly don't want your customised client software on my PC. And I probably don't want your "home gateway" either, I can buy my own, thanks.

Your marketing says "broadband Internet". That's what I'm buying, not a high-speed link to your IP services delivery platform. If that's what you want to sell me, then you can pay for the connection fee yourself. I don't pay a monthly subscription to go to the supermarket.

residential picocells... it's going to be a while yet

I've commented before about the sudden emergence of cellular picocells as a possible mass-market technological contender in the fixed-mobile convergence space. The idea is that you hang a small cellular base station off of a cheap IP connection - typically either on a LAN, or the end of a DSL/cable broadband connection. Net result being that as a carrier you get improved - and highly "location-specific" cellular coverage and capacity, with your customer paying your backhaul costs for you. There are various business models, ranging from niche military and on-plane/maritime ones, to others aimed at the residential and small-business marketplace.

Interesting to see that TTPCom (a company I've known well for more than 5 years since I used to cover it as an equity analyst in a past life) has finally got some external investors involved in its picocell subsidiary, ip.access . Even more interesting is that ip.access (which has been a leader in 2G picocells, but behind the curve on 3G) is stating its intention to focus on "3G Access Points" for low-cost use in homes and offices, rather than the more "infrastructure grade" base stations announced by various competitors around 3GSM.

I've heard the home picocell (I've heard the term "femtocell") concept mentioned a lot recently. Often, price points in the range $100-300 are mooted - essentially in the same range as a home gateway. While I can certainly appreciate the attraction of these devices, aiming to compete with WiFi based home VoIP and dual-mode solutions, I am uncertain about the viability of the business model for carriers, as well as some other technological issues.

Firstly, as with UMA, I can only see opportunities where the femtocell is integrated with an operator-provided ADSL/cable gateway (which will also need WiFi in it for commercial acceptability). Otherwise all the same issues with firewalls, integrating with 3rd-party routers etc will emerge, getting the box to "play nicely" with the PC and so on will emerge. Given these devices are unlikely to ship in numbers until late 2007 at the earliest, they will need to work around a huge number of existing "legacy" devices - or else carriers will need to persuade people to bin them and start again. In terms of product design and route to market, my view is that the "kingmakers" here will be companies like Linksys, NetGear and Inventel, that already hold strong positions in the home gateway market.

Secondly, there are various problems with managing the radio planning, especially if the service is so successful that operators end up with 100s of customers - and therefore cells - in a small area. This will be exacerbated by the impossibility of getting people to position the boxes in specific places in the home - some will be on the floor, some near windows, some by metal filing cabinets and so on.

Thirdly, operators will have to deal with the inevitable Daily Mail-style scaremongering "A cellular mast in your kitchen!!!!!!".

Fourthly, these femtocells will be "single operator". I wonder how many households will be prepared to standardise on just one mobile carrier. Not most families - maybe one parent has a company-provided mobile, and one kid has a cartoon-branded MVNO phone, and another gets another prepay phone as an Xmas present from someone. Student/shared households are also unworkable: "great room for rent, suit young professional, all bills included, must be vegetarian and use Vodafone".

Maybe I'm wrong, but even on a cursory glance, this looks to be another of those great FMC concept technologies, where the devil is in the detail. Which would also explain why the greatest amount of noise about femtocells is emanating from small, very tech-savvy but boffin-tastic (and mainly British) companies like ip.access, and its emerging competitors Ubiquisys and 3waynetworks. Discussions I've had with major infrastructure vendors have generally been more skeptical of the home femtocell opportunity, although Motorola was a bit more positive.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Symptoms of terminal decline?

Sometimes semantics are telling.

Most of the time, talking about cellular devices, I use terms like "handset", "mobile phone", "phone", or "cellphone". Maybe "device" when I want generically to include PDAs or data cards as well.

But almost every time I speak to someone involved in cellular networks , either from an infrastructure vendor or operator, they typically use the word "terminal". Almost nobody else does.

I think this is a bit of legacy, and reminds me of this philosophy. It highlights the traditional "centralised" telecoms operator way of thinking, and ignores the implications of Moore's Law on the "smartness" of handsets and their resident applications and growing capabilities.

Another manifestation of this is the backward philosophy is the notion that services should "work seamlessly across different access technologies", with the network trying to create an illusion of a lowest common denominator. Instead, I believe that handsets should pay close attention to "seams" and modify their own behaviour and optimise for the pecularities of different networks. I'll post more on this specific issue later, as I see it as a fundamental flaw in IMS.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Off-topic... introducing my other Disruptive blog

I'm professionally-opinionated about mobile & wireless technologies. Those of you who have met me will be unsurprised that I hold "amateur" opinions about a bunch of other stuff too. I've just started a new blog on my thoughts on various scientific & environmental issues.

It's going to be pretty provocative, disruptive and contrarian about issues such as climate change, mobile mast safety and GM food. Given I don't spend as much time on those issues as I do on the mobile industry (and I don't have to think about getting paying clients), it will be less rigorously analytical, and will probably occasionally stray into "dangerous" areas like politics, and contain some fairly visceral sarcasm.

I'd warn readers of a nervous (ie Daily Mail-reading [for non-UK readers, this is Britain's favourite scaremongering newspaper]) disposition to avoid it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What now for Vodafone?

I have a slightly different take on Vodafone's woes. There's a lot of discussion about its talks about exiting its Japanese operation and how this "signals the end of Voda's global ambitions". Unsurprisingly, the continued telecom M&A in the US has also raised the question its Verizon Wireless stake as well.

I think the underlying problem - and possible solution - runs much deeper than whether Arun Sarin's board and executive appointments have been right or wrong.

Most commentators have pitched this as a management issue. I think they're wrong - it's actually a technology issue. The issue for me is that the company shows every sign of having missed the IP boat, and, importantly, how this is changing the fixed telecom world faster than the mobile world.

The pivot point: the ending of the bubble in 2001 left an overcapacity of fibre, not spectrum.

All of the world's most developed mobile markets have adopted ever more sophisticated fixed networks, as well as mobile. Japan and, especially, Korea epitomise this, with 100Mb home broadband and a myriad of compelling services, as well advanced handsets and 3G. Customers want both. It now appears that the France, Scandinavia, the UK and the US are starting to head the same way, with Germany and Italy not far behind.

In other words, in all of Voda's top geographies, a standalone mobile story is looking increasingly shaky, unless it is addressing a particular niche, such as low-cost voice. For a market leader, it's looking completely untenable. It's the equivalent of a modern-day Ford telling its global customer base that they can have any colour they want..... as long as it's black.

Voda has two options, in my view:

- get serious about FMC, if it intends to be remain a player in its core markets
- expand in emerging markets where fixed networks are of little concern

The best way of doing this would be to sell some of its "marginal" businesses - especially ones where its technology story is weak (Japan) or fundamentally different (CDMA with Verizon Wireless) - and reinvest the funds in one or both of the previous options. (There's also a third option, to invest much more in content and media companies, although I think this would be barking mad for a variety of reasons).

I think the latter one is pretty much a no-brainer - I definitely expect to see more Voda presence in Asia, Africa, and South America over time. If it can somehow get a foothold in China, so much the better. I can't see there being much debate about the merits of this strategy.

But on FMC, I wonder if they company has reached any measure of internal agreement, or whether it's still in ostrich mode.

As an example, I've just noticed something - the group cannot even decide whether it wants a SIM card as its logo any more. In the UK and Germany, the logo is still SIM-shaped. But in Italy, Ireland, Netherlands and at Group level, the cut-off corner has disappeared - even from the downloadable logos section on the Press section of the site.

Personally, I think that it should take some of the $50bn+ it might get from selling its Japan and US businesses and buy some fixed operators. Given the flurry of interest around private equity investors allegedly eyeing it up, I'm surprised few observers have considered how well BT would fit into the Newbury fold.

Of course, Vodafone already has a fixed business, in Germany, where it has a 74% stake in Arcor. Not that you'd know it - there precious little on either company's site to indicate the relationship exists, while Vodafone Germany's new ZuHause "HomeZone" service uses (ironically) BT's fixed network in the background. Contrast this with O2 and new parent Telefonica which, according to discussions I've had, are already cross-selling and bundling mobile and ADSL services in Germany.

Sooner or later Voda is going to have to get serious about copper and fibre. Otherwise, it will be stuck as a "legacy mobile operator" and its growth confined to emerging markets.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cellular-over-cellular?

Here's a random thought.... UMA/GAN is intended to offer GSM services over a "generic" IP connection.

The usual type of IP connection implied is WiFi from a dual-mode phone, (linked back via ADSL or cable broadband), with the occasional comment that "it'll work with WiMAX too when it arrives". I've also had a couple of people suggest using fixed-line VoIP telephones hooked into a cellular core network as well.

But how about another type of IP "pipe"..... a cellular one, ideally another carrier's. How about GSM-over-3rd-party-WCDMA? Or even more entertainingly, GSM-over-3rd-Party-EVDO?

I haven't even begun to think about the business models here, or the practical difficulties in implementing this, but given that there are a growing number of GSM/CDMA dual-mode devices, presumably it's only a matter of time before somebody tries something cute with them....

Friday, March 03, 2006

And THE must-have, cutting-edge, feature on mobile phones is? ......

Amazing, isn't it. Two weeks ago, I had a never-ending stream of meetings with handset manufacturers and software vendors telling me about the latest, greatest technical advances that would make consumers buy more phones and use more services. Thinness, VGA screens, multi-megapixel cameras, UMA, WiFi, HDSPA, dynamic user interfaces, mobile TV and so on.

And yet today, I walked past my local branch of Carphone Warehouse, and I caught sight of what's actually hot. It's something I've also noticed in a few cafes and bars in London, but seeing it as the focus of all the point-of-sale material really brought it home.
The single biggest must-have feature for a mobile phone today?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Firewalls and antivirus on dual-mode phones?

About a year ago, there was a huge fuss made over the first examples of viruses and Trojan horses on mobile phones, typically spread via Bluetooth. Various companies like McAfee and F-Secure have subsequently produced security software for handsets, typically focusing on ant-virus functionality. NTT DoCoMo has been selling Symbian-based phones with built-in A-V for a while now, although few other carriers have bothered.

Now, another, sneakier virus has been detected - this one jumping from a PC to a PDA when using Microsoft ActiveSync, presumably via a USB cable. And another Trojan targets Java-capable phones.

And all these are with phones using "non-standard" types of connection - Bluetooth, WAP initiated via circuit-switching and so on.

Now consider what happens when phones have "native IP" connections. Like WiFi, for example. Couple this with an expanding number of bits of software on the phone that can download and execute new functionality - the OS, Java, maybe XML or JavaScript in the browser. Even MMS has been discussed as a possible "vector". Yes, there are various signing and certification programmes intending to lock down the software added to the phone... but will these programmes be able to catch all the malware? And yes, BREW is a "managed" application environment - but maybe loopholes exist?

Maybe there should be enhanced security in the network, rather than burdening the handset with the task of managing security?

Yes, but while that might protect against certain exploits, it won't impact "local" infections via Bluetooth or WiFi. And what about this idea of viruses going from phone to PC, or vice versa? Will these be detected by the certification process? And what about the other types of attack - denial of service, for example?

My view is that over time, the uncertainties will grow. And these uncertainties will be multiplied by a "wireless IP" connection, especially one hooked into a customer's broadband at home.

I see firewalls and anti-virus becoming mandatory on WiFi-enabled cellphones, in particular. The FMCA already recommends this, and discussions I've had with carriers indicate that they are moving towards the same position - although some seem happy that basic non-smartphone UMA phones are "immune" . I wonder what their thoughts are, now that Java virus has been spotted?

Interestingly, an almost-circular argument about WiFi handsets starts to open up here - do they need to be smartphones with a "proper" OS?

Well, it could be argued that featurephones are more secure, so maybe not. But now it looks like some featurephones may be vulnerable anyway, because of Java, MMS, browser etc, which can also support malware. But if you want to add firewall/AV, it will probably need a smartphone OS, or maybe some other multitasking embedded platform.....

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

IMS: from "walled garden" to "open prison"?

I'm getting more and more skeptical about IMS as an application platform. Sure, as an underlying IP transport mechanism, it seems to be a fair bet - basically an "off the shelf" carrier-grade IP core, for both fixed and mobile operators.

But higher up the stack, for applications? Various parties such as the GSMA are trying to pitch the idea of interconnected, purely operator-controlled IMS domains, with everything QoS-able, billable and predictable.

On the other hand, there's the Internet model - best efforts, completely open to any application provider, and with "lots of good free stuff", plus the promise that users (or advertisers) will pay for "premium, even better, stuff"

While listening to a conference panel on IMS last week, a lot of my thoughts suddenly coalesced into one critical point:

- IMS is only about services
- The Internet is about services or applications

Here, I'm defining a service as something you're billed for. The exact model doesn't matter - per-transaction, flat-rate, monthly bill, post/pre-pay, whatever. You, as a user, don't "own" anything, you're just paying another party (typically an operator) to do something on your behalf - send an SMS, initiate a push-to-talk session, stream TV to you, forward money to someone, and so on.

An application, on the other hand, is a piece of software. It might do exactly the same thing as a service, but it's yours to control. You've bought, licenced or downloaded that software (perhaps for free) - or its resident on a website for you to use (Google, Amazon etc). You're paying someone else to develop it, and distribute it to you - or else they might give it to you for nothing, because they make money from someone else, with whom your bit of software works. It might be developed by a huge software company able to cut deals with service providers easily - or it might be developed by two guys in a garage in Palo Alto or Bangalore, who wouldn't know who to call at Vodafone or Sprint, let alone do the negotiations required.
To me, for example, Yahoo! Mail is an Internet application - it's free, useful and clever. But Yahoo! Mail Plus is a service. It adds value, some measure of QoS, and extra capabilities. I'm happy to pay for it.

I could give various arguments as to why IM, or VoIP, or even SMS, should really be classed as applications rather than a services. Or possibly even just classed as features - some of the core capabilities of an OS.

But these are obviously contentious, raising issues such as cannibalisation, QoS and customer billing relationships.

So, instead, another particular case in point, which really highlights the limitations of the IMS/operator worldview. Can you imagine, in an IMS world, the emergence of something like PDF? That someone would be able to invent an application as useful as Adobe Acrobat, and distribute it free as a browser plug-in?

No. We'd all be paying for some lousy document viewing service. And consequently it would not have become as ubiquitous and as valued as it is today. Same is true for Macromedia (now, of course, Adobe again) Flash.

Bottom line? IMS advocates - you need to add an application story to your services rhetoric. Yes, I know you want everything to be billable and shudder at the word "pipe", but you're going to have to give your customers - and application developers - the opportunity to create and consume a bunch of good free stuff as well.