Where is IMS headed and what should engineers be doing?
[When Chad Hart told me he had a post about IMS, I just couldnt say no. I was more than happy to publish it here. It isn’t his first post here, and hopefully not the last.]
I was sitting next to Tsahi at the WebRTC Conference and Expo in Santa Clara last week during the IMS & WebRTC sessions moderated by Victor Pascual. The discussions of Over-the-Top (aka Internet) services based on WebRTC vs. the 3GPP’s IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) reminded me of a blog post I wrote in September 2012. It was considered way too harsh by my colleagues at the time so unfortunately it was never published. Given the resurgence of the WebRTC plus/vs. IMS topic, and the fact the bloggeek.me audience can handle it, I think now is a good time.
IMS, I’m breaking up with you
IMS, I was instantly enthralled with you when we first met. Remember when I wrote this in my IMS report at VDC back in 2005?
IMS is a unique catalyst and potentially disruptive technology to the telecom community. Never before have so many diverse stakeholders, including competing vendor and carrier groups, agreed upon such a large set of overarching network standards. Because of its technical robustness and overwhelming support from all parties involved, IMS is destined to be a success.
Innovative new services and applications with the reliability and quality of the telecom network – it sounded so good. Everyone across the whole telecom ecosystem was talking about how great you were – everyone!
We all thought you would usher in a new era of telecom. We all believed in you. We really wanted you to succeed.
That all seems so long ago now.
Things did not turn out the way you said they would. Where are the new services and applications? Where is the disruption? I thought you said would be a big part of mobile services? I still see the same old fixed voice services we have had forever.
Things have really changed while I waited on you. Traditional voice telephony isn’t as cool as it used to be. Voice ARPU and MOU is declining in mature markets – people are finding other ways to communicate. A lot of those innovate services and applications you got me so excited about – enhanced phonebooks, click-to-dial, instant picture & video sharing, video telephony, intelligent contact centers, location based services, etc. – are available today, but not from you! OTT figured it out, went off and did it while you were doing who knows what. You could have made such a difference, yet you did nothing…
I know you’ll say at least we have Joyn? But are you really proud of that? Remember your first RCS attempt with all the cool features back in 2008? Here we are 4 years later and you are just starting to get around to rolling out a subset of those features! Sadly I think you only launched that because you were jealous of OTT.
I know what you’re going to say next – “just wait for VoLTE and then everything will be fine again”. VoLTE always seems like it’s just around the corner, but it never shows up. I’m sorry, but I can’t wait for you anymore. I’ve given you so many chances. I’m not even sure if you are even capable of changing – sometimes it seems like you are stuck in the wrong decade, maybe century!
Oh, and one more thing. I’ve found someone else – its OTT. I know you’ll snicker and ridicule OTT because it doesn’t live up to your standards like you always have, but OTT has come a long way. OTT has replicated pretty much everything you do and more, and OTT’s getting better every day. You’re right, OTT doesn’t care about your revenue-per-subscriber models or universal interoperability, but it doesn’t need to – OTT is not trying to be like you. OTT is doing all the things you said you would do without your baggage. If you would wake up you would see that even most of your telco buddies are now hanging out with OTT behind your back.
Well, I know a lot of my friends will keep hanging out with you so I’m sure I’ll still see you around. Stop by and pick up your acronyms some time. Hopefully you can bring yourself to be friends with OTT one day.
What do I think now?
I wrote that 14 months ago after several months of focused work on figuring out the OTT (a term I always hated) and Telco-OTT market. I had been intrigued by how the traditional telco community underestimated the OTT model for years. Many who leveraged VoIP’s disruptive potential more than a decade ago forgot that they too could be disrupted.
Ironically, several months later my responsibilities were expanded to include IMS! More recently I have been more focused on just WebRTC, which I see as a natural evolution and maturation of OTT services.
So what do I think now? Well, first I should say I am a pragmatist. I do not expect the 10’s of thousands of engineers who have built their careers around IMS to just up and quit their jobs. Infonetics reports there are over 200 million subscribers on an IMS core and that number has been growing steadily in single digit percentages. Those services keep getting investment because they are profitable. Those users certainly would not be happy if they were just shut off one day.
There is a place for IMS. If success is measured in billions of subscribers across every regulated telco then IMS has no hope. If success if measured in 10’s of millions of subs per operator then the prospects for IMS are not so bad, particularly if IMS can learn to accommodate OTT technologies like WebRTC.
That being said, the future is undeniably the web, which I define as anything that leverages the HTTP protocol. The web has figured out how to give anyone access to the world’s information in a fraction of a second. The web handles 100’s of millions of daily users seamlessly via a highly distributed, but extremely reliable, virtualized infrastructure. The web supports hundreds of millions of unique services – 625 million websites + several million mobile apps. Now the web is applying this vast amount of awesomeness to the communications industry that spawned it decades ago. The web will be undoubtedly be successful in real time communications – the problems of real time telephony are miniscule compared to what the web has accomplished already.