And Now with Billability
The new big thing for the telephone companies is IMS. It is supposed to be a way to delivery all sorts of new service but in reality it's real purpose is to assure that they can bill for services and prevent their users from competing with them. It's an attempt to prevent the Internet from growing. It's doomed and their investors are going to learn that you can't find an idea. But for the carriers it's their last desperate attempt to have a reason to exist and we are paying the price for their intransigence.
22-Jan-2006Version 2: 2023-05-28 17:09:26

Note that I used to point directly to the online version of the column but VON magazine seems to now be posting only a picture of the article so I am posting the original text version. This may not correspond exactly to the print version because of any editing done after I submit my version.

I was dumpster diving after Fall VON and found a secret IMS (IP Multimedia Services) sales document. Their booths helped fund VON so I am a little worried about annoying them by pointing out they are the anti-VON people. I'll simply republish their document without further comment:

Welcome to the new Billable Internet. It's just like your old phone network but refurbished with some shiny new IP wrapped in all of the complexity you've grown to love. There's the central control which you know is absolutely necessary even if those VoIP people seem to do quite well without it. It's got services defined in the network so there are none of those new unbilled services. Too much choice is confusing so people want us to make the choices for them.

They are just clients and we're working to make it illegal for them to communicate without paying us. It would be a disaster if free speech were really free.

Sure you've been disappointed in the past. After all, ISDN was a great opportunity to reintroduce billing into local phone calls but it was hard to convince users to pay for digital service when their analog service was free. Even worse, back in those days we were common carriers and had to allow people use modems to send data of our phone lines! And look what happened, they started sending valuable information past us without paying a tax on their innovations! No longer will we allow that.

Copper bits are regulated but fiber bits are special. We look forward to having the freedom to set the rules for how our fibers are used. Sure we'll give the users a dollop of Internet but we don't have to share video bits nor do we have to allow users to create their own services. The Internet seemed so frightening but it had to be wrestled into the regulatory system we crafted it was reduced to the status of a minor service. Even better, we're heroes for allowing people get a connection to the Interne at all. Since the regulators and legislatures only know what they see – they think that the Internet is just another television station and requires services providers to make it work.

And with IMS we can provide all of the services imaginable. And if users want one we can't imagine then it doesn't exist until we can figure out a revenue model.

We have to give credit to the cellular phone people for all this wonderful complexity. Just look at those 3G protocol charts. No one can understand them so they accept that all of it is necessary. IMS charts are just as confusing! Even better, because IMS is built on proven IP technology it seems so modern. Don't be afraid, this is a dead version of the Internet that can't really infect you with all sorts of innovation. IP saves money because we don't need special wires but above that layer is not just an intelligent network but a brilliant network.

And it's all billable. Just say it yourself, billable, billable, billable. Isn't that comforting?

But this all comes at a price. All of the convolutions necessary to assure billability are expensive. Isn't that wonderful?

The Internet is so inexpensive that it seems like it's free. Nobody will believe their story – we just point to all complexity and expenses and say that if those “freeloaders” are tolerated then we couldn't afford to bill. And we can maintain control.

Even better, we're heroes when we solve problems we create. If we keep DSL down to 1980's speeds we're heroes when we solve the problem with a few billion dollars of fiber. And investors are thrilled because they have a place to park their billions. Even better, we can build the same infrastructure again and again under different names and park more money.

No one will discover they are redundant as long as they are hidden within the walls around IMS.

But danger lurks. Sure EV-DO looks like a billable version of 802.11 but applications that use EV-DO aren't locked own and work even better outside the walls. Look at what happened with the “Wireless Internet” – WAP. You can't capture “value” that has already escaped!

WAP may have failed but any industry than can charge 10¢ for a text message and $1 for 6 seconds of a song