Aug/Sept 2008 | Volume 3/Number 4
Web 2.0 and the IMS World Come Together
By Ronald Gruia
Interestingly enough, many proponents of Web 2.0 style "mashups" have suggested that their approach (via mashups) represents a better option to quickly develop new next-gen services than IMS. But what has been always missing was a way to bridge the gap between these two methodologies and to take the benefits of each and combine them in order to generate new value added services. Not surprisingly, Telefonica, widely regarded as one of the most forward thinking operators in the world, is spearheading a new initiative called WIMS 2.01 (Web 2.0 and IMS) , which does exactly that.
Before we delve into WIMS, let us take a closer look at the definition of a "mashup". The term mashup has its origins in the music world, where it refers to the practice of mixing two or more songs to create a new one. When used in the context of Internet software technology domain, however, a mashup is an integration of two or more information sources or Web tools in a single, new application. A quick Internet search can quickly uncover several well known examples of mashups that combine web-based APIs to create new lightweight Web services. Examples include life2life (which blends in Second Life and Amazon services) or Zillow (which combines real estate listings with Virtual Earth). In these instances, a third party developer can download the APIs or "plug-ins" that are provided by a Web 2.0 player (e.g. Google Maps API provided by Google and blend it in with some other plug-in that could give traffic updates and create a new service that could provide delivery drivers with the best routes to take at any given time on the road.
Given the recent success of Web 2.0 giants (including such as Google or Yahoo!, merchants such as Amazon.com, clearinghouses such as e-Bay or PayPal, and social network providers such as Facebook or MySpace , service providers have increasingly become concerned with how to address the potential competitive threats from some of these players and how to monetize some of the opportunities that could arise from the advent of Telco 2.0 — the combination of the Web 2.0 and the telecom world.
The transformation to become a nimbler, more agile player in this new and highly competitive environment is not an easy one. Operators have to change their mindset from older business models (based on subscription-based pricing, strict user segmentation schemes, usage-based constructs and service level agreements that attempt to crystallize the highest possible revenue from their targeted subscribers) to newer ones, in which some services could be provided in an added-value fashion, sometimes free, on other occasions blended with some sort of targeted advertising or as a part of a "sticky bundle" whose chief goal is to increase customer retention. This exercise entails the makeover of these operators, moving away from fitting the old "Ma Bell" profile to a newer, slicker Web 2.0, mediacentric company.
In the past, given the potential erosion in profitability and associated risks with opening up their core networks for third-party service and applications development, this idea would be a non-starter. However, given the Schumpeterian wave2 that has been sweeping across the telco industry, the telcos have no choice but to change. In embarking in this transformation exercise, carriers will have to balance pricing discipline and the Schumpeterian "creative destruction", but eventually, if they do not end up cannibalizing their own revenues other competitors will do so.
The previously mentioned X-factor players (Google, Yahoo!, etc.) and other non-traditional entrants have been leveraging Web 2.0 technologies to offer innovative communications and collaboration services. Therefore, it is not surprising that service providers have moved away from their reluctance in opening up their core networks and have started investigating how they could leverage the Web 2.0 to quickly combine and introduce new services, even willing to tweak their business models in that process. One approach taken by operators was to begin exposing a set of libraries that abstract some basic web services into a simple interface accessible via a set of distinct programming languages. The key idea is to liberate the developer from having to code all of these more primitive constructs and instead to focus on creating a novel value added service. BT has been one of carriers that have taken this path, offering its Web21C SDK via its portal (available at: http://web21c.bt.com/services ).
Telefonica’s WIMS Push
Just like BT (News - Alert), Telefonica also has a site dedicated to third party developers where they can use open APIs to quickly create a new mashup that can leverage several mobile features (SMS, MMS, GSM location, etc.). This is available at the Open Movil Forum (available at: http://open.movilforum.com/en/ .)
But the WIMS 2.0 initiative goes above and beyond the simple exposure of open APIs to the developer’s community. The WIMS concept is predicated upon the convergence of the telco and the Web 2.0 worlds, in a complete bi-directional fashion as follows:
1. Empowering operators to offer telco capabilities to the Web 2.0 environment; in other words, to open up the core and enable IMS services access from Web 2.0 applications and the Internet in general. This is achieved via embedding telco features in Web 2.0 services via mashups. These mashups can be based on either APIs or PSEs (Portable Service Elements). Another option is to offer new ways to publish content in Web 2.0 via some IMSenabled UGC (User Generated Content) publication and distribution mechanism. The key concept here is to leverage telecom services potential to produce UGC in real-time.
2. Enabling service providers to augment their application portfolio by utilizing Web 2.0 services and technologies. The idea in this case is to incorporate Web 2.0 content and events into operator services. This objective can also be achieved by IMS service delivery via web page interface (through a "virtual terminal" IMS online environment). Such online IMS/telco terminals (or thin clients) are ubiquitously accessible from any point of the Internet since they represent web-based applications.
The WIMS endeavor, a joint effort between Telefonica and its R&D subsidiary (Telefonica I+D or Investigación y Desarollo), epitomizes the desire a of a more avant-garde operator such as Telefonica to start converging telecom and Web 2.0 technologies in order to generate a new breed of innovative, appealing and user-centric applications. These next-gen services will blend the most appealing features from the Web and the telco worlds. Elements such as content generation, interactivity, social orientation, ubiquity and user participation will be implemented from Web 2.0 services. Conversely, IMS enablers and apps such as presence, multimedia telephony, media sharing, push-to-X (talk, video, etc.), and online buddy lists can enrich Web 2.0 applications, marking them suitable for wireline, wireless or converged networks. Furthermore, WIMS 2.0 also delivers pre-IMS telecom functionality including SMS, MMS, messaging, circuit switched voice / video calls and networked address books.
The WIMS effort is also indicative of a change in the traditional telco business models, and the increased shift from a relatively closed, "walled garden" type approach to a more user-centric and open philosophy, which follows the tenets of IMS (access independence, flexibility, openness and a wider choice in the way services are provided). IMS and its host of enablers are being regarded as one of the big catalysts driving this change in business model. And herein lies the biggest difference between the Telefonica driven WIMS initiative and other similar endeavors, since not all larger service providers are giving IMS this level of endorsement at its current stage of market development, despite of the fact that the majority of them have embraced IP/SIP in a more open standards environment.
Telefonica is working in partnership with vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert), Solaiemes and others to implement the entities of the WIMS 2.0 reference model. Moreover, WIMS 2.0 members are diligently collaborating in several industry events within the scope of the current and future Web 2.0 penetration in the society at large, presenting its work in both technical forums and publications. One recent example was an event recently held in Madrid, which counted with WIMS members and various participants in the Spanish Web 2.0 marketplace ("Socioeconomics of the Web 2.0" — slides in Spanish are available at www.wims20.org/index.php/lang-en/news).
WIMS gives us a glimpse of how mashup creators can collaborate, classify and store their Web 2.0 and IMS mashups using service provider platforms. It also demonstrates how mashup assembly can be provisioned and enhanced with telecom widgets for building mashups. Certainly, the access to enablers such as location and presence can significantly enrich Web 2.0 mashup assemblies. In the future, mashup creators will be offered different SLAs by the service providers, with content providers being able to parlay billing, metering and monitoring capabilities from service providers in order to reduce costs in monetization of their mashups.
Initiatives such as WIMS will empower telecom operators to become nimbler and more effective at targeting the "micro markets" (i.e. the "long tail", as described by Chris Anderson in his famous book3). In addition, carriers will be able to develop new customer relationships and to obtain a closer understating of some customer behaviors. As an example, consider the WIMS applications currently showcased in their portal4, which include social networking applications ("Find us for Facebook (News - Alert) ", which allows a Facebook telco user to locate his buddies in a Google Map relying upon mobile location-based data, or "Movistar Contacta", which enables a Facebook user to send SMSs and use a click-to-call button to initiate a call with his/her buddies), an RSS MMS feed reader, an IMS thin client (AJAX version of an IMS Communicator for an iPhone (News - Alert)) and other value added applications.
Besides addressing these "long tail" opportunities and creating social communities, an effort such as WIMS will also be instrumental in acting as a catalyst for a change in the modus operandi of a typical carrier, making it
move away from the old traditional business models and practices to a newer "perpetual beta" concept. Collaboration between the service providers, network equipment vendors, third party developers, and the customers (at both the enterprise and consumer level) will be a sine-qua-non ingredient for success. Therefore, in order to increase the chances for a successful uptake of these new services, it is also fundamental for the service providers to build and maintain an open communication channel with their subscribers.
1 Please refer to the WIMS 2.0 portal (available in both English and Spanish) at: http://www.wims20.org.
2 Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) was an Austrian economist who greatly influenced the economic development theory and coined the famous concept of "creative destruction". The idea behind this notion is that innovation cycles are disruptive in nature: new firms and existing ones that can adopt the new technologies can thrive under this environment, whereas others eventually vanish because they cannot make the necessary adjustments.
3 More info available at his blog at www.thelongtail.com/about.html.
4 Please refer to www.wims20.org/index.php/lang-en/showroom