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Telcos Face Enormous Challenges Building New IP Apps

The world's telephone companies and their suppliers gathered in Monte Carlo this spring for some high-stakes activity that had nothing to do with baccarat tables or roulette wheels. The focus of their high-level powwow was IP Multimedia Subsystem, or IMS, the technology that most big telcos had once identified as the industry-saving platform for creating more IP applications more quickly, enabling them to finally escape their dependence on a handful of commodity services.

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Fifth in a series of articles assessing the future of the Internet. For more, check out, with its ThinkerNet blog of more than 85 contributors, including Citi senior VP Jeff Fleischman, broadband media expert Ian Blaine, cyberlawyer Parry Aftab, and OrganizedWisdom Health CEO Steven H. Krein, as well as videos, Webinars, news, and "The Wisdom of Clouds," the site's new Web 3.0 interface.

Despite the tony location, the vibe at that Riviera meeting was distinctly downbeat. In half-empty rooms, few seemed eager any longer to present IMS as the cure-all for telco ills. Instead, speakers focused on the many barriers to IMS deployment. The telcos as well as equipment makers, handset vendors, and standards-setters argued openly about who was responsible for the sluggish adoption of IMS. Some suggested that IMS would play a much smaller role than telcos previously had hoped.

Just four weeks after the Monaco affair, in a conference room 6,000 miles away in San Francisco, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was unveiling Facebook Platform, a new version of the company's applications environment that lets people with the most rudimentary software skills create new services for the Facebook site. Those new services include the kinds of mobile and video applications that telcos themselves would dearly like to supply on the go.

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These two very different events reveal plenty about the crisis facing telcos as they frantically try to adapt themselves to an emerging all-IP service environment. Telcos are well aware that their current services, especially telephony and Internet access, face a long, slow decline, and that they must launch other services if they are to retain customers and maintain revenue streams. The underlying problem, though, remains unresolved: How will they build those new applications as cost-effectively as those who are already building to platforms such as Facebook?

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