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May/June 2009 | Volume 1/Number 3
Converged Views

Context is King

By Marc Leclerc

A growing number of people believe that the Internet, most particularly the Web 2.0 world, fits hand-in-glove with IMS and significantly expands commercial opportunities for network operators. Web 2.0 services such as social networking interact with traditional telecom offerings in many ways. So, how does IMS integrate with the Web 2.0 concept in ways that can generate revenue for carriers?

First, let’s look at how money is made through Web 2.0 services. The most obvious avenue is through advertising, when getting "eyes" to your site results in getting paid for placing ads where visitors see them. There are some subscription-based services, but the bad perception of security issues, such as identity theft on the Internet, creates an attitude where customers are reluctant to disclose credit information to unknown companies.

How can IMS improve the revenue picture? The answer isn’t just communications services such as voice, messaging, and video, but the full utilization of the contextual information that IMS provides in a standardized way. Contextual information use includes identity, presence, group lists, location, session and client capabilities, and file transfer.

Starting with a basic example, context can turn into cash. YouTube has been criticized as having no clear way to monetize its large subscriber base. However, Apple and Amazon have recently announced they will offer YouTube users a way to purchase wares related to the videos they are watching. For instance, watch a video reenactment of the Battle of Hastings and Amazon.com offers a book on the battle while iTunes recommends downloads of medieval chamber music.

Sounds easy, right? That’s why it works. Contextual information initiated services seem intuitive and obvious the instant after one hears about them. Results are achieved by using context to anticipate what a person might want to do next, and making it as easy as possible to follow that impulse.

With IMS, strong identity management is linked to user profiles and their history which makes targeted advertising possible. These actions generate more revenue for each ad placed — for both the advertiser and the "broadcaster." Examples where IMS integration adds user value include services such as searching on a mobile device for "washing machine parts" on a Saturday, where the mobile’s location is used to present a map with nearby repair shops open during the weekend. Or a child’s request to purchase a PG-rated film from a home Video-on-Demand service sends a "parental authorization" request to Mom and Dad’s mobile phone no matter their location.

Ultimately, three principles of context-based services are required for success:

1. Allow people to act on ideas and impulses that come naturally by replicating a familiar "real world" way of doing things.

2. Place yourself in the mind of your user and imagine what else they might be thinking while engaging in the activity.

3. Make it possible for your customers to immediately act upon "likely impulses."

Let’s look at a more extensive example, this time using the communications and experience sharing capabilities of IMS to extend Web 2.0 apps.

One day, a man browsing a social network is reminded that it is his friend’s birthday. He sees that his friend is on a trip to a neighboring city, but is available now on his mobile phone. By looking at his buddy list to see which of his other friends are also available at the moment, he invites them into a conference call to surprise the "birthday boy" with a roaring rendition of "Happy Birthday to You!" Several of the friends send him electronic birthday cards and congratulatory videos while they chat on the call. To top it all of, a generous friend sends him an electronic gift certificate for dinner at a steak house located nearby.

The story above shows contextual information of typical behavior of people celebrating a birthday combined with mobile services of people spread across a distance in order to generate value. An enterprising carrier could easily package a menu of related services such as graphics, musical services, gift purchases and birthday advisories. These contextual activities can generate advertising revenues and sales commissions, and naturally lead to increased usage of revenue-generating network services.

We are now seeing the beginning of services that merge the benefits of telecoms capabilities with the Web 2.0 model. Web services such as social networking compliment perfectly the presence, availability, location, call handling, group list management, and file transfer capabilities of IMS. As consumers and innovators, we eagerly look forward to the new services that will come from the evolving and merging telecom and Web 2.0 ecosystem where context is king.

Marc Leclerc is Manager, Global IMS Expert Center, Ericsson (www.ericsson.com).

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