Convergence – it’s an attractive idea – all networks using common IP protocols. Instead of having a special network for each form of content we have a single converged network.01-Jul-2006
Updated: 09-Oct-2006

This is a version of my July 2006 column in Von Magazine . The magazine is now posting images of the pages instead of the actual text so I’m posting the original version here. You can view the printed version here .

What exactly does “convergence mean?”

Convergence – it’s an attractive idea – all networks using common IP protocols. Instead of having a special network for each form of content we have a single converged network.

At VON Europe I learned that “convergence” has taken on an entirely different meaning – one device that does everything for you. It’s your cell phone!! Behind it are layers of converged services that form the third generation of cellular technology or 3G. Soon the same capabilities will be available to you on your land line phones and computers. It is called IMS.

The carriers seem to believe that unlike the dumb Internet, their network will guarantee all the services work and interoperate in perfect harmony. They’ll even assure you that the message you get is really from your bank because of Caller-ID and billing relationships. And all this for only a small fee for each transaction and service!

It will be as if the PTTs the Ma Bell never went away. Or maybe it’s like the Terminator reforming itself. It’s either a conspiracy or a delusion or both!

We already do all these things on the Internet because we replaced the guarantees provided by the carriers with the opportunity for all of us to create value and in the process created abundance.

The Internet grew from LANs we already own. Since we create the services ourselves there isn’t anything to bill for beyond the cost of the physical media which is relatively inexpensive and costs little to maintain.

So why bring back what amounts to a failed approach. Obviously billability is a big part of it but that’s not a feature for people who are used to creating and using their own services on their own networks. People have to believe they need the carriers’ services.

VON was held in Stockholm so I took time to walk over to the square that was the site of the 1973 hostage incident that gave rise to the term “Stockholm Syndrome” in which the hostages bonded with their captors. I’m reminded whenever I hear people excited about the features they get on their cell phones.

Not only can you call people as you walk around, you can see pictures, use it as your alarm clock and even buy ring tones. But if you look underneath you’ll see that these “features” are nothing at all new – they are based on warped versions of existing Internet protocols and you pay the same for a few bars of “ring tone” as for an entire song. On my panel Martin Geddes ( commented that he tried using his phone as an alarm clock but because the ringer was silenced for phone calls he didn’t hear the alarm. Of course to be fair eventually the phone company might fix that feature.

Why not just fix it myself. On a computer it’s pretty easy to write such a program and my phone, although crippled by Verizon and Microsoft, still has sufficient capability to make easy to write such a program and I probably will. The only hesitation is that I’m sort of memory since my Samsung i730 can’t take advantage of my 4GB memory card. Eventually that will get resolved but, again, why do I have to wait?

I can just buy an alarm clock or continue to use the Hotel’s loud wakeup ring. Other information such as call notification (IM, not just CLID) should be displayed on my wrist where I already have a separate small computing device (AKA, my watch). Where did we get this whacky idea that one device does everything without regard to form or function?

If you look into the 3G and IMS assumptions you see more delusions such as confusing Caller-ID with identity.

On my flight back I finally was on a plane with wireless access for $27 (cheap compared with the airfare). The speed wasn’t very high but fine for browsing. What surprised me was how well Skype worked – it has nice algorithms for buffering. Instead of guaranteeing a single kind of service it can adapt. Rather than real time garbled speech I’d rather have a small delay and very clear speech. I took a picture of the “hot spot” sign near the existing “air phone” that costs $10/minute over the ocean for a call that doesn’t sound very good anyway. Skype was able to innovate at the edge while the phones are locked into complex standards.

Why settle for moribund billable convergence when we can interconnect the LANs we own and explore a world of possibilities?