|Issue:||North America 2006|
|Topic:||Making the public network personal|
|Title:||President and CEO|
|Organisation:||Ubiquity Software Corporation|
Ian McLaren is the President and CEO of Ubiquity Software Corporation. He has spent his career in sales and marketing within the computer and networking industries. Prior to joining Ubiquity, Mr Mclaren served as VP Marketing at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), President — International Operations at MCI Systemhouse, and, most recently, as President and CEO of CrossKeys Systems Corporation. Ian McLaren is a director of several boards including March Networks, NewHeights Software Corporation and Solace Systems. He also serves on six advisory boards.
The telecommunications sector has changed greatly in the last few years. The network convergence based upon the Internet Protocol (IP) and standards such as SIP and IMS make it economically possible to develop and offer a wide range of complex, multifunction services. Given the flexibility of the new technologies, service providers can now offer personalised services and specialised applications for just about any need. The services can, and often do, merge voice, data, video and mobile in the same application.
Anyone standing amidst the commercial wreckage of the telecom crash four or five years ago might have been forgiven for being sceptical about some of the wilder visions of ‘convergence’ that had been hawked around over the previous decade. The 1990s certainly brought unparalleled technological innovation in areas such as fibre optics and digital wireless that we now take for granted. As these combined with industry deregulation and massive inward investment in the communications sector, it had seemed for a while that a major revolution was truly imminent. While we now know that the reality turned out to be different than expected, some of those early visions are actually turning out to be accurate – even if the technologies and business models that underpin them have changed along with the times. Looking back, it’s evident that the past few years have provided a valuable breathing space for the industry to catch up with itself. Only by letting the technological froth boil off, and concentrating on defining and developing those services, applications and organisational structures that create real excitement and traffic from users, will the industry successfully move forward to the next stage in the game. Out of all the advances that influence the shape of our industry, the prime driving force of recent years has been the consolidation of IP as the protocol equivalent of the Model T-Ford. IP gained support more recently by the emergence first of SIP as a key applications building block, and then of IMS as the surrounding network environment. Although many envisaged the imminent arrival of an ‘IP singularity’ in the late 1990s, with everything connected to everything else, the focus then was very much upon basic connectivity. By contrast, we are now starting to see an emerging singularity that enables the interlinking of content, applications and services across multiple devices and access technologies – and that’s a vision that will really change the world. Both SIP and IMS are products of new kinds of thinking, driven by a need to break away from the old top down, hierarchical and arguably over-engineered approaches of the traditional telecoms regimes. SIP, for example, initially created as a low overhead and flexible alternative to the historic ITU H.323 standard, is now a vital technology – as a component in a vast range of new services from PTT (push to talk) to gaming. IMS complements SIP. Originally developed by the 3G community as a way to migrate towards an all-IP infrastructure, IMS is now, ironically, also being enthusiastically adopted by the fixed service provider community. Open standards and interconnection are among the defining characteristics of the next generation network world. IMS will help bridge the current divide between the worlds of fixed and mobile communications and, as well, open up the business models to include easier partnering with third parties for specific content and applications services. The keyword for service providers here is agility. While the opening up of the network and services environment – that both technology and regulatory changes have created – is a good thing in terms of competition and choice for customers, it is threatening to more traditional telecommunications service providers. With new left-field entrants like Google and Skype appearing, it is imperative that service providers are able to reduce the time and costs involved in bringing new services to market while simultaneously increasing the richness and personalisation of their service portfolios. For much of its history, telecommunications has been based on the ‘one size fits all’ model of basic service availability in a highly regulated and protected marketplace. The immediate future could not be more different. It is essential that service providers be able to make the move towards becoming more of a department store, effectively opening their doors to new products and new ways of doing business, while protecting their brand assets and the integrity of their relationship with their customers. Indeed, with many of the new applications that are currently emerging – especially those increasingly known under the generic term of Web 2.0 – the role of the service provider will lie in enabling and supporting user communities in both business and personal situations. In this setting, as is already happening in the (MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) area, the customers will themselves become the content providers, with revenues simultaneously flowing in many different directions. Both IMS and SIP are already demonstrating their powerful potential to augment the closed and proprietary approaches that have historically slowed the rate of innovation in our industry. To achieve this however, there are two essential requirements: • High capacity servers capable of running the complex and high-value services and applications that will be at the heart of revenue growth over coming years; • The appropriate tools and service creation environments that can make the job of designing services much easier and faster than is currently the case. It is important to remember that these new services will be written in ways that are much more like those currently used to produce rich web pages than the vertically integrated, monolithic methods of the recent past. These software architecture issues are particularly relevant, given the requirements for openness and interactivity that define the next generation network services world. Commercially, there are additional issues to consider in bringing these new services to market. Specifically, to support relationships with major network equipment vendors – each of which have their own sets of IMS components – requires expertise only available from specialists in the SIP and applications areas. The developer community is also important, for this is where much of the creativity and innovation needed to create sticky and attractive services will come from. We recently co-hosted a ‘Developer’s Hothouse’, a two-week exercise, with Microsoft for British Telecom to help developers from around the world conceptualise, design, develop and demonstrate several applications created on a SIP Application Server. One additional result of this cooperation with Microsoft was the successful integration of the Ubiquity SIP Application Server with their web-enabled Connected Services Framework (CSF) to create an application called ‘I’m Lost’. Demonstrated at 3GSM in Barcelona earlier this year, this application allows a mobile subscriber to access an address in their remote Outlook calendar, map the location of the address and get driving directions spoken to them via natural speech technology over their mobile phone. The market for other SIP-based technologies, especially VoIP, has a huge potential. Currently, there are over three billion telephone users but only around 20 million VoIP users, representing an enormous business opportunity for both new and existing service providers. In this environment, there is a clear need for pre-packaged VoIP solutions. These solutions should range from basic connectivity to such value added applications as fully featured audio and web conferencing. Only a few years ago, today’s applications, which can deliver multiple functions at low cost, would have been impossible. It is important, however, that the industry retains the pragmatism that has become a characteristic in the post-recession era. Each new generation in our industry needs to learn and remember that just because you can do something technologically, does not mean that you should go and do it; consider the corporate PBX of the 1990s, loaded with features and functions that were either totally ignored or used once and then forgotten. While it is true that much of the new wave of telecommunications services will involve focusing on smaller and smaller market niches, and marketing will employ more complex demographic analysis than ever before, usability and simplicity remain critically important. Already some clear directions are appearing in the marketplace, based on real consumer demand and not the latest marketing or business development fad or fashion. For a start, it is important that our industry not lose its focus on voice services as central to the service provider business model for the foreseeable future. Together with the need to remain true to the roots of our industry, is the need to appreciate the importance of providing ever-richer services and support to a wide variety of customer communities. In some cases, these might be long-established groups based on location or special interest; in others, users, content producers, radio and TV programme makers or, indeed, any kind of commercial or non-commercial entity may create ad hoc groups. Here, SIP’s ability to support ‘blended’ services, composed of mixed voice, data and multimedia, will enable the kind of richness and service stickiness that has for so long been the Holy Grail of our sector. Much of the future of the industry is going to depend on fostering collaboration in many forms. Whether it is growing a community of application and content developers to take advantage of SIP and IMS technologies, or helping both service providers and end users reach out to new social groups and communities, we must keep human needs at the heart of the business model. To focus too much on the technology alone will merely condemn us to repeat the expensive mistakes of a few years ago. Technology has given us the building blocks – it is now up to us how to use them.