Last’s week’s Fall VON show offered some surprises that are not characteristic of a cutting-edge technology showcase and went beyond the usual assortment of vendors showing IMS converged services, video delivery over cell phones, video delivery over telephones and everything else they think their customers are going to want. At VON, those customers indicated they’re not quite sure what they want—but they know what they don’t want—and that’s what has them worried.

The telecommunications industry—and that includes cable anymore for anyone who might still think the term is for telcos—is a bit befuddled and more than a little frightened at the rapid growth of end devices that may give consumers an appetite for services that the network providers have yet to either develop, or, more tellingly, secure behind walled gardens.

As end devices like iPods and cell phones and even some personal digital assistants (PDAs) become multi-purpose gadgets for receiving broadband content of all types, service providers can easily become relegated to transport pipes for applications developed by outsiders and delivered over broadband networks. On the other hand, if they get their backs up and play nasty, the service providers can stifle the industry and block consumer electronic and user paths with access restrictions, incompatibility between devices and the age old pay-to-play walled gardens that so delighted everyone back in the days when a cable-ready TV was neither cable nor ready, thanks to MSOs.

Industrial crossroad

It is, at least through the eyes of someone who attended multiple panels at the show, an industrial crossroad. Based on past performance, it doesn’t look all that promising for the end user when someone like Alan Young, CEO of satellite delivery monster SES admits, “We’re not really sure what consumers want,” before adding, “they’re not just going to want to see regular television.”

So how do content providers like cable TV operators, accustomed to making a fat and easy living off “regular television” shift gears and start delivering interactive TV that can be moved around to different portable and mobile devices? And how do they do it with the consent of content providers who are used to charging for every single use of their content?

That, more than any technology concerns about how the equipment will work, is what seems to be provoking nightmares for those responsible for delivering new age applications while appeasing old age shareholders.

AOL’s approach

One way might be to adopt the still-unproven approach that AOL has taken. Renowned as one of the highest of the walled gardens, AOL has torn down the wall and invited the hordes to lunch, starting by emphasizing IP video.

This new focus, said Ted Leonis, AOL vice chairman and president of AOL Audience during a keynote address, is “totally about consumers and their choice and their control.” The service provider, he added, must “understand how powerful this people IP movement is” and show “openness and generosity and benevolence to your consumers.”

That’s the kind of attitude that causes the levels of confusion that ran rampant at the show. Openness? Generosity? Benevolence?

Also Noted What Will They Think of Next?

Our friends in Horsham, PA—aka Motorola’s General Instrument group—are saying that they’ve expanded their family of voice-enabled cable modems with new models based (drum roll, please) on SIP. Geez, what do you think ever possessed them to do that?

… Also from Moto, the acquisition of Symbol Technologies for $3.9 billion will “enhance the company’s vision of seamless mobility.” Symbol designs and manufactures materiel used in end-to-end enterprise mobility, advanced data capture, radio frequency identification (RFID), wireless infrastructure and mobility management. (Think bar code scanner guns and the like.)

Cedar Point, out to prove it’s no dummy, has completed interoperability testing with Interactive Intelligence’s enterprise messaging software

… And here’s something you’re obviously going to need somewhere along the line: CTI Group has released a Web-based call recording “solution” that answers the problem of service providers delivering a superior contact center solution while facilitating legal and regulatory recording scenarios. Those feds just hate it when their taps are garbled.

… And finally, leaving no stone unturned, Arris was pleased to say it had been named a preferred vendor of embedded multimedia terminal adapters (EMTAs) by the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC).

Beach Reading

Before the summer winds down, you might want to get your hands on some beach reading from Sigma Systems, which is touting a whitepaper, “Making IMS Keep its Promise Through OSS Service Management” for eager eyes tired of reading all that James Patterson tripe.

Jim Barthold

The Daily

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