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Monday, August 22, 2011

Disruptive Web 2.0: Did Web 2.0 Disrupt the IMS and Telecom Evolution

After the ‘dot-com crash’ in 2001, the forecasts predicted a pessimistic future for the evolution of the web and its services. However, during the last few years, many new services (such as SalesForce, Twitter, etc.) and social network tools (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) have appeared, obtaining a great acceptance and success among final users: it is the Web 2.0 revolution.
The key point behind the Web 2.0 revolution is the change in the philosophy for designing and developing services. Although currently there are a great variety of services, the main guidelines of this new philosophy can be summarized in two core concepts:

• The user is the centre; the main objective is to give users what they want. The user is now regarded as the main active driver of the service. The users create the service content, they can customize service features, they effectively affect the service evolution and they can even participate in service development, directly constructing modules and applications in order to fulfil their own needs.

• Combination and flexibility. The worldwide adoption of Internet and IP connection capabilities, along with the appropriate use of remote procedure execution schemes (i.e. open web APIs), enables the mixture of service functionalities (mash-ups) and content (syndication). Thus, the Internet becomes the platform for developing and delivering new cost-effective services, virtually to any part of the world.

Due to the power of these two concepts, it can be assumed that the Web 2.0 philosophy is not just a trend, but the way for creating innovative and successful services, and it may also be applied to a variety of industries. For instance, in the enterprise arena, there is an increasing need for a change in the way to organize, innovate and create value within companies. Sharing and collaboration aspects of Web 2.0 are regarded as an opportunity to increase companies’ revenue and reduce costs.

In contrast with the 2.0 revolution in the IT field, during the last few years telecom operators are having problems evolving and growing in mature markets. The main revenues still come from voice and the provision of broadband IP access, thus differentiating the offer is difficult and the only solution is to compete in price. In order to tackle these problems and provide new approaches, a new trend called Telco 2.0 was born.

This initiative assumes the existence of all-IP networks, where the service and the connectivity are separated. In this world, traditional basic services are offered without cost and users pay for innovative services satisfying their necessities. Telco 2.0 is not a technology; it is rather a new way of thinking and reformulating the telecom business models. After this ‘exercise’, operators should move from a network-centric to a user-centric approach, in which users ‘take what they want’ instead of ‘what they are given’ (open garden versus walled garden). It can be seen that these concepts are very similar to the Web 2.0 philosophy. In order to adapt to the new situation, operators first need to identify their strengths and weaknesses and select the role they can better perform. Telco 2.0 tends to think operators are not the best players for final service provisioning and proposes them to adopt the role of ‘enabling platform providers for third party services’. The WIMS 2.0 initiative focuses on this role (which perfectly fits with the convergence with the Web 2.0 world) and champions IMS as the suitable platform upon which Telco 2.0 ideas can be realized. The sum of IMS plus the set of standardized service enablers, along with the use of appropriate SDP/SOA schemes for service composition, constitutes a platform that can be satisfactorily used to construct services horizontally according to the new philosophy, also by third parties. In fact, one of the most attractive usages of IMS is the possibility to integrate Telco capabilities within the back-end processes running in a corporation.

In the last few years there have been gradual changes, both happening at the technology side as well as the business side, that prompts a foreseen evolution in the mid-term of the telecoms market. In this scenario, a need to scout new ways of evolution for traditional operators arises. On the one side, the path towards all-IP networks and fixed mobile convergence allows services to be decoupled from the network and to adopt bearer-independent horizontal architectures. Together with the value loss of traditional telecom services like voice, this indicates the need to adopt a new business model rather balanced towards user-centricness, with users able to elect, configure and personalize services, and with a stronger position of services provided by specialized third parties. On the other side, the world of services offered in the web ecosystem has experienced a very relevant development with Web 2.0. Thus, a myriad of new services, appealing to the user since they (the users) are the catalyst factor of service offering and service evolution. In the 2.0 era, the user is the guest star. Additionally, the flexibility to develop and mash up new services in Web 2.0 and user participation in the content creation and population for those services are consolidating the idea that Web 2.0 represents the successful manner to develop and exploit services in the near future. Beyond that, considering that Web 2.0 holds an increasing penetration in mobile and telecom devices, it turns out that it might pose a menace for traditional telecom operators. Web 2.0 philosophy is in fact a new strategy that the Telecom 2.0 initiatives are adopting as a service creation guideline. In fact, the 2.0 trend clearly indicates to an operator that if aspirations are beyond being a mere connectivity provider, operators will enter the new ecosystem of service generation to look for convergence between the web and the telecom services. Thus, the operator can adequately hold a position in the new arena by leveraging its existing and unique assets: telecommunication services and infrastructures. Only by following these strategy might operators be able to retain a relevant role in the service delivery value chain as a service provider and/or a service capability provider. If not providing end-user services, at least the operator can be well positioned by evolving into the desired platform for service co-creation by integrating interesting telecom service features into final user applications. Within the scope of telecommunication networks, IMS is the suitable architecture to link the connectivity plane with the generation of new services and as a consequence to evolve towards convergence with the web.

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