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Why no one wants to Joyn GSMA's Skype-killing expedition

Global agreement for each tiny step turns deadly hunt into slow-mo joke

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Operators are bleeding revenue to over-the-top players, and pinning their hopes on the GSMA-based Joyn standard, but a year after launch platform developer OpenCloud thinks the GSMA might be the problem rather than the solution.

Not that the GMSA is deliberately frustrating innovation, but OpenCloud's Mark Windle reckons the culture of internationally agreed standards and glacial accreditation is fatally slowing development of operator solutions, putting them at the mercy of internet companies who will inevitably out-innovate and reduce operators to the status of bit pipes.

OpenCloud should know. It provides application servers to network operators from China to the USA, via Japan, and says that while the company's JSLEE-compatible servers allow for the rapid development of new applications, operators are proving surprisingly slow to innovate in the most important area of their business: voice.

Joyn, also known as Rich Communication Services (RCS) is the network operators' answer to Skype, Viber and all the other OTT players that are denying them the voice revenue upon which they still depend, but getting (or keeping) customers on board will take more than replication of existing services.

"They've launched services no better than [those of] OTT players," Windle pointed out, referring to the Joyn product in Spain which now works across Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone. "RCS is bringing virtually nothing, and it has taken them five years to do it."

The need for rich communication was indeed spotted five years ago, with RCS falling into the hands of the GSMA in 2008. The standard took years to thrash out, and even at its best only offers text messaging, voice calls, video, file transfer and presence. Group calling is the only significant innovation and one which existing deployments aren't really exploiting.

Windle is unimpressed: "It's absurd how little innovation has occurred in the core business." But when it comes to why he reckons it’s the desire for standardisation which is at fault, that the necessity for interoperability not only slows down development but also prevents differentiation by ensuring everyone launches the same thing at the same time.

"When we look at innovation on the internet we see that Apple... Google... Skype... they all own their own platforms and can innovate as they wish, driving their own development ... perhaps [operators] shouldn't be so quick to jump into bed with the competition."

But that's what operators have always done: worked together to ensure interoperability, as interoperability has always been so essential to their business. But no one expects to be able to Facetime a Skype ID, or Yahoo a Google+ account, so interoperability obviously isn't as important as it once was.

That's only because we can all fall back on the phone number when it matters, and most VoIP systems will gateway into the phone system for a price, so a system (such as Joyn) that is based on that number should be inherently superior to one based on any other ID, at least until that number falls completely into disuse.

But without aggressive marketing that superiority is unlikely to be realised, and such marketing isn't going to happen when every other operator has an identical service - the best way to promote oneself is on differences, not similarities. So as long as operators all play nicely together in the GSMA, any initiative to combat the OTT players is inherently doomed, which is bad news for the network operators, and really bad news for the GSMA whose reason for existing seems to be killing the very industry it represents. ®

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