Telcos at VON Europe Want You to Want Them

Opinion: The whole point of IMS-IP Multimedia Subsystem-is to prolong the life of traditional telcos, and that's a message being stressed at Jeff Pulver's VON Europe conference.

By the time you read this, will have become something new—Pulvermedia—and Jeff Pulver himself will be hoping to avoid a lawsuit against The Dark Side.

Pulver arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, last week to run VON Europe, and it was truly an attempt by the forces of repression to reclaim the night. By which I mean, the mobile operators are trying to sell the idea of IMS to the rest of us.

"It really is The Return of the Sith, only I cant say that on our materials," confessed Pulver, apparently getting mixed up in his mind about whether its "The Revenge of the Jedi" or "The Sith Strikes Back." But either way, hes very intensely unimpressed by IMS. And rightly so.

The whole point of IMS—IP Multimedia Subsystem—is to prolong the life of conventional telcos. "We can do anything you can do with ordinary Internet packets carrying digitized voice and data," they say.

And Pulver gave them plenty of platform to say it on. His exhibition area in Stockholm was sold out three times; there really was no more space for exhibits, as the normal voice carriers, finally realizing that their days are numbered, piled in to reserve their places on the biggest ice floes as the little ones melt.

So, we had to endure session after session in which solemn-faced telcos assured us that doing voice is Really Hard, and only they can Do It Properly, and if you dont know how to do it, your customers all will leave you.

Its all a bit rich. I would say that getting a crappy line on cellular is still, after all these years, something that forces me to hang up and try again three times a day. By contrast, the voice quality on Skype is high-resolution, full-frequency audio. Even at its worst, its still a quality Id regard as better than acceptable on a cellular or landline phone.

And as for the rest of the multimedia stuff—whos preaching to whom here? It is absolutely the case that multimedia over cellular is beyond the average phone user. Statistics show that if mobile users try MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), it fails. Some of them will try once more, and if it doesnt work, theyll never try again.

Even when it "works," the message fails to reach the other end far more frequently than is acceptable. And when it does, there are still not enough MMS-equipped phones to receive it acceptably. They have nothing to teach the Internet about voice quality or advanced services.

Pulvers success in preaching the good news about voice over network is obviously due to the pressure of technology; its a trick whose time has come. But hes also been very good at spreading the word beyond its normal boundaries, and now that VOIP is becoming mainstream, his organization is changing to match.

Back at the end of March, Pulver announced that hed hired Jason Chudnofsky as part of the team. That has turned into the appointment of a CEO to lead a "proper company" in the form of Pulvermedia Inc., which has included hiring staff, investing in infrastructure ... all of the things you might be surprised to hear Pulver taking seriously.

But from the way he was talking in Stockholm, Jeff Pulver wont be changing that much. "Ill be keeping for myself," he said cheerily. "Ill be finding things I enjoy doing and am passionate about, and doing more of them. Photography ... even music, I think. But I wont change—if I do, call me on it."

Probably the thing that has made Jeff Pulver realize that theres more to VON than speeches at seminars—profitable though they have become!—is the growth of the shows European side. The one last year was OK—a nice group of the right people in London.

This year, its big: The conference had to open up an overspill auditorium with television images because even on the day, new people were signing up and standing room had run out. Pulver says this year, VON Europe has acquired a new flavor.

"Last year, the European meeting was negative; this year, it is much more positive, with people doing things and with the established industry taking note," he said, adding that "suddenly, theres a buzz" is the message. And the same looks to be true about the Asia Pacific segment, with it heating up rather than just warming up.

Next Page: VON moves from disruptive to mainstream.