VON is over. I got back late last night, and this morning have been sitting down with my coffee to reflect a little. For me, this VON had a very transitional feel to it. The show floor was packed with companies showing technologies that essentially replace today’s circuit switched PSTN with an IP based packet network. There were a lot of good products, but very little that was brand new, generated buzz, or was widely regarded as innovative. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps it indicates that strategies are more certain than they were previously, and we’re now entering an accelerated deployment phase.
Two big themes that went hand in glove at the show were Emergency Services (the aftermath of Katrina), and mesh networks. There was a lot of talk about mesh networks, and a lot of talk about how they might have helped in the emergency space. At VON, it felt like "the year of the mesh".
Another big topic was IMS. The incumbents are all in a mode I will describe as "waiting for IMS". IMS is promised to be the grand unifier, and the platform that will help them attract new applications to deliver to their customers. Yet IMS may not have any large scale deployments until 2010. Five years is a long time to wait, especially in the platform game. Especially when applications are coming to market now which don’t depend on IMS. Especially when alternative platforms are starting to be deployed on a small scale.
Hand in glove with "waiting for IMS" is "yearning for applications". The telecom execs, one after another, got up and talked about a future where applications would become the new revenue stream. Eugene Roman, from Bell Canada, was particularly eloquent, describing a future of relevant communications technologies that impact every persons day to day existance. Yet, if those applications are dependant on the roll-out of IMS, Bell Canada’s revenue stream could be dramatically impacted by the current and accelerating shift from minutes to services as the billing unit. The incumbents need applications, but appear to be bottlenecked on platform. It’s a bit like Microsoft delivering Longhorn five years late. Lots of promise, but a lot of cut features in the end, just to meet the date. The difference is that Microsoft’s revenues were never under attack (even from Linux) to the extent that the incumbent telecom providers revenues are today. And more importantly, everyone knows the applications that are supposed to drive Longhorn adoption, but it’s not clear what the applications are that will drive IMS deployments.
VON is still very much a show where vendors go to talk to vendors. Some attendees are starting to ask the question "Where are the buyers?". For companies like ours, seeking to forge relationships with other vendors, this was a great show. If you were looking to position yourself, or to be seen as a player, it was also a great show. For those hoping to meet VC’s, there were plenty in attendance. However, from what I understand, if your goal was to close business, it was less successful.
And finally, the other big story of the show, as it was six months ago, was Asterisk. It’s still on a roll, it still had the biggest booth at the show, and there were still many many companies showing Asterisk based products in other parts of the show. Some big companies as well. For instance, in the Asterisk booth was an IBM blade server configured with Asterisk.
Congratulations are also due to Jeff and the Pulver team. They managed a venue change, pulled in the largest number of attendees at a VON yet, put on an extremely high quality event, and did it all with professional efficiency and aplomb.