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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IMS role in mobile will remain minor. RCS is dead.

So, a day spent yesterday with the IMS part of the operator and vendor industry at the IMS World Vision event in Barcelona. The event is going on for a couple of additional days, but I'm back in London at the Telco 2.0 Brainstorm event instead now.

Wow. It's been quite a while since I heard the level of introspective, defensive groupthink I got bombarded by. Unreconstructed, old-world telco network views, perhaps occasionally spiced with a light flavour of Web 2.0. I lost count of the time I found myself shaking my head about how little some in the industry "get" what's happened. A highlight was Telefonica claiming that IMS was needed to "compete against Internet service providers" in basic communications services like voice, and will enable them to "really fight".

Which contrasted rather a lot with some of the vendors' more sanguine views that competing with Facebook, Skype et al wasn't the point of IMS today - that train has left the station, and instead IMS should be about assisting the Internet players and providing some form of glue to interface that world with the phonebook. (And of course, supporting VoIP on LTE or fixed broadband).

To me, the legacy thinking is summed up by the continuous usage of the word "terminal" throughout the day. It's like the network folk are stuck in a 1980s timewarp, back in the days of mainframes and green-screens. Let's forget that there are 1GHz Snapdragon-enabled devices out there, which are more than capable of gaming the access and core networks of the operators. Even more astonishing was the assertion that "the Cloud" is the same thing as the [operator] network.

Right, time to stop equivocating on one of IMS's main problem children. I've been writing about the lack of IMS-capable mobile phones for over 4 years now, criticising RCS for more than two years, and it's now appropriate to nail the coffin lid shut. RCS is dead. RIP. There's no business model, no justification for the battery drain, no clear plan to get clients onto the bulk of phones sold through non-operator channels, no prepay story, no MVNO story, no reason it should generate revenue uplift, as it just gives users access to a few websites that were free anyway. It might well cannibalise the sale of data plans by reducing the use of the browser and widget frameworks. It is also near-useless until it becomes cross-network capable - which means it just needs one or two operators in a given market to say "no" to completely destroy its theoretical value.

That said, although it's dead it's still twitching a bit. We'll probably see some half-hearted attempts to pretend it can be rescuscitated, in France and maybe Spain or Sweden during late 2010 or 2011. Japan and Korea might try some almost-RCS offerings. And then it will disappear. It reminds me of UMA in 2007.

Mind you, my views on RCS were positively benign compared to those of Paulo Simoes of Portuguese operator TMN at the conference. He launched the most comprehensive, coruscating annihilation of the hapless technology I've ever heard. He pointed out a large herd of elephants in the room - the paucity of use cases, the excessive power consumption, useablity, lack of "sexiness", the pointlessness and clumsiness of filesharing, the downsides of presence and availability, the lack of enterprise focus, the reliance on MSISDN and more besides. Mixing metaphors horribly, the elephants collectively make it a "lame duck". He challenged vendors to give him RCS for free upfront, as he was willing to pay a volume-based usage fee if it was actually used. Several delegates apparently compained to the organisers that his witty and surgical evisceration of RCS was "too negative" for an event they clearly hoped would be a happy-clappy evangelical conference of consensus.

The other big theme was voice on LTE, especially in VoLTE (GSMA / IMS) guise. I'm somewhat less negative about that, for two reasons. First, the ideas of a barebones version of voice-on-IMS for mobile makes sense, in the same way that using IMS for NGN VoIP on ADSL does - it's a straightforward PSTN / PLMN replacement. VoLTE doesn't depend on presence, doesn't mandate messing about with video or filesharing or pretence of being a social network - and, crucially, might be deployable in a fairly silo'd "in a box" version.

Unlike RCS, there is not a "prisoner's dilemma" situation that everyone needs to do it either - one operator in a country could deploy VoLTE with IMS, another could use VoLGA, a third could use Skype and a fourth could stick with circuit-switched voice via HSPA+. Interworking via gateways would be messy, but the voice industry is used to that already.

That said, I still think that VoLTE's immaturity is one of many factors that will delay LTE as a mainstream technology to 2015 and beyond.


Anonymous said...

And of course IMS is not needed to provide the phone book glue either. Vendors are seeing the reality because no one is buying or if "buying" it is very small scale. The nature of the vendor is that they do need to hang on to every piece of "good news", craete hype and buzz to make others think that all is going well. If they have a organsiation like the GSMA doing this for them then even better. But less obvious to me is why some Operators talk this up whilst on the other hand they themselves are clearly not "buying" where it counts. I guess it could come down to this when you don't have answers you could jump out of the window or take opium. RCS, IMS is the opium of the traditional operators?

As you say SIP and even aspects of IMS are useful and will continue to be so. Opium comes from poppy seeds. And poopy seeds can be used for cooking, making morphine. Is SIP poppy seeds? And some aspects of IMS akin to morphine?

It is time the bosses in the Operator Community woke up and realised that the "children that IMS" has spawned need culling. Or going back to my metaphor: time for "cold turkey". Cut costs, anyone? Then save the money and time that go into RCS and related activities. Instead work out how to positively contribute to the lives of your customers.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to eat at your house given you that you say that poopy seeds are acceptable for cooking

Daisey Ann Stanley said...

Is there no happy medium between the 1980s and Web 2.0? Is there no perspective that is both grounded and optimistic w/r/t wireless technologies? Why is skepticism and consideration of technical limitations seen as "negative"? Isn't this ultimately an industry driven by engineers, who are in turn driven by science, which is in turn based on a lot of unpleasant realities? When did it become acceptable to base business plans on what you could dream of?

I only ask because if it came down to choosing between crusty old relics and Web 2.0, I would reach for a shotgun.

(Nice to see some good words from you about VoLTE, which seems very reasonable. But despite the availability of VoLGA, do you really think it'll be deployed anywhere?)

Franz Edler said...

Isn't there still a kind of "prisoners dilemma" for VoIP (without RCS) if you think about handsets and roaming requirmenets?
It seems to be a nightmare to support all VoIP flavors everywhere.

Dean Bubley said...

Actually, maybe there's an argument for the otherwise-awful CS Fallback for roaming.

It's not used that much, and roaming voice users are accustomed to longer call set-up times anyway.

Plus everyone will have switched off the LTE radio while roaming to avoid data charges anyway.....

Anonymous said...

hey Daisey - don't understand your point; this is not about web 2.0 vs something else. There are lots of perspectives that are grounded and optimistic wrt to wireless technologies. Sure engineers are involved. So? Sometimes these people get lost in their own world. There are many facets to this story and many point to the fact that whether sip is good or not IMS was (is) massively hyped and a new reality is taking place before our eyes. Oh by the way, arguments about good/bad technology don't always cut muster: it is not always that the "best technology" that wins.

Anonymous said...

"Unlike RCS, there is not a "prisoner's dilemma" situation that everyone needs to do it either - one operator in a country could deploy VoLTE with IMS, another could use VoLGA, a third could use Skype and a fourth could stick with circuit-switched voice via HSPA+. Interworking via gateways would be messy, but the voice industry is used to that already."

This is not so easy if you consider roaming. The user takes her VoLTE phone to another network that only supports VoLGA: not good. Fortunately fallback to Circuit Switched cellular will be available almost forever. Skype users are happier until they get the first bill for LTE data roaming charges.

Dean Bubley said...

Last anonymous - I think we can live without roaming for voice on LTE. It's not essential, there are other workarounds that can be improved over time.

Yes, roaming might be the use case for CS Fallback in some cases, especially as roaming calls generally have longer call setup anyway, and customers tend to be more sanguine about it.

To be honest, roaming with LTE will have much scarier things than Skype for data consumption. 100Mbit/s at $10 per MB = $120 per second at full rate download....

There's an argument for the first bunch of LTE phones to have roaming completely disabled, and just fall back to HSPA+GSM. Apart from anything else, there's going to be so many LTE frequency bands that half the time your handset won't support roaming anyway.

Unknown said...

Hi Dean, I don't get what you said about excessive battery drain when running RCS.