OK, that title is designed to grab your attention, but it's also the reasonable takeaway of people in the audience at the last session yesterday, i.e. day one at Connect 2007 in Boston.
The session was entitled "Increasing Service Velocity" and the session description focused on IMS and service delivery platforms. I wasn't involved in setting up the session or signing up the speakers, but a few weeks ago I was recruited to moderate the session. The panelists from left to right were:
- Kjell M. Johansson, Director of Solutions Management, Multimedia, Market Unit North America, Ericsson
- Susan Norris, Communications Industry Advisor, Norport Technology Management Consulting (but note that Susan spent many years at operators, most recently at Sprint, and was the most articulate about the operator point of view).
- Douglas Tucker, CTO NA, Ubiquity Software Corporation
- Jouni Welander, Head of New Solutions US, Nokia Siemens Networks
So there's a slight problem. Everyone here is smart and knowledgeable, but everyone (with the possible exception of Susan) is involved in creating or selling IMS or IMS products. Panel discussions are always better if you have divergent points of view, i.e. controversy on stage! Since I was moderating, I obviously couldn't blog it live or even take notes. Luckily, George Kontopidis did take notes (and the picture above), so that helps me reconstruct events. George's complete notes are here: Brough1.jpg, Brough2.jpg and Brough3.jpg.
Some of the specific comments on service deployment platforms (SDPs), their relationship to the rest of IMS and to deployment of actual applications included:
Kjell - SDPs are essential to the development of actual services, but the problem here is too many standards in what's exposed to the developer. Kjell alluded to pressures from operators that may result in the major equipment vendors converging their service creation environments, but he couldn't give specifics or a date (beyond soon, within the next year).
Susan said operators think of IMS as the solution for new services. They are generally very conservative (particularly on the operations side) and wouldn't dream of opening up their networks for something like web services.
Doug offered that IMS and higher level development environments, including web services, are not conflicting. IMS is the platform, but it's standardization stopped below the application layer. IMS needs web services and/or other development layers to actually realize new services.
And it was Jouni who offered "IMS is not about killer apps, it's about a killer environment" i.e. IMS is the platform but it needs (the non-standard) SDP layer above to support service creation.
On the subject of what is actually real, there was some consistency. Kjell and Jouni both said there were a few commercial deployments for specific applications like video sharing. Susan said she couldn't identify any IMS deployments with full service, but knew of several with partial services, i.e. IMS lite. And Doug commented that he knew of pieces of IMS deployed in many operators, but nothing that's pretty or matches the IMS vision as yet. On the other hand, everyone on the panel was confident that things would continue to improve. There were joking remarks that 2008 would be the year of IMS. In response to the question of when I would be able to hand off a video sharing session across operators, there was some agreement that the GSMA was working on this, so it might be solved in the next 1-2 years (although it could take longer to propagate to AT&T !).
There's a lot more in George's notes...
Dean Bubley did the best job shaking up the panelists (via questions from the audience).
And the sense I was left with (as were several members of the audience with whom I talked later) is roughly as summarized in my title above. IMS is plumbing that helps operators manage their networks and is a great platform to support a variety of new services, but it will take higher layers (not part of the standards) to actually facilitate new applications, In addition, there are many, many other issues to resolve, both technical (like integration with billing systems and other operator IT infrastructure, simplification of handset diversity issues, and so on) and business model related, i.e the extent to which will operators open up to new applications.
In any event, an interesting session!