Mobile Knowledge: Presents and Presentity—A SIP Story
Posted: 12.08.05 - By Lubna Dajani

My smile quickly morphed into an expression of shock as I read on. You see, the list was made up of three columns: picture of the item, item’s detailed description and finally a “where to find it” column. What got me was not all the Barbies, Bratzes and interactive games. Nor was it the mobile phone—incidentally, at the top of her list. It was the “where to find it” column that got me. I looked up at my daughter and said: Wow Nina, what a long list. I see you have here things from,, oh and! She interrupted me then to say “they have this game on “Buy it Now, Mommy” Ah, I said, do you think Santa shops on-line? She pondered and then said in her signature style, “Well, I don’t know, don’t think so, but Mommy, this is why you’re his helper.”

What do you say to that? I could only hug her and smile, thinking, “My girl!”

This brought me back to my earlier discussion with Paul Golding when we pointed out how it’s becoming increasingly important to manage one’s affairs digitally in the coming years. Perhaps as a matter of survival in Drucker’s age of self management, or, as I prefer to see it, as a matter of convenience in the age of universal connectedness. Where one’s digital self and temporal self will ultimately coalesce, with the mobile device being the obvious ever-present conduit between the real and virtual. Sort of like the remote control of life, at least for a while until the two worlds amalgamate. I went on to share the story with Paul and asked him to elaborate on our last discussion. Without further adieu, I give you Paul…

Clearly, Lubna, the Internet is rapidly entering into its second age with the increased use of Web services technologies to glue information together in ways not previously possible. However, it is difficult to say that we are as reliant on the Internet as we were on telephony prior to its mobilization. Use of Internet-based services, like shopping, banking, opinion checking and so on are still relatively new and not as widespread as we might think, but we are getting there fast. In the meantime, without a really solid mass-consumption of computing services, we can hardly expect a mobile computing revolution to emerge. It might take some time yet.

Despite the lag before a mobile computing era, we can envisage an intermediate step. As noted in the previous discussion, this will probably be based on the emerging SIP-based communications services as formalized in the mobile telephony standard called IP Multimedia System (IMS).

What does SIP do? Put simply, everyone and everything (i.e., any device or software program that can be IP-connected) is given an address. Think of this as being like a phone number. However, instead of dialling to talk, SIP is a generic session—creating technology that leads to an alternative metaphor of “click to connect”. Without doubt, it seems that the interface for such connections will be the already familiar Instant Messaging type of buddy-based interfaces. What makes these distinctive is the integral notion of presence. This is the use of visual cues to indicate the state of the recipient, the obvious ones being “online”, “offline”, “busy” and so on.

The generic term for any entity that can be connected with via its presence is a presentity. A common category of communication is what some refer to as P2P, which usually means person-to-person, despite its usurpation by software hacks to mean peer-to-peer. Obviously, a person can be a presentity. This is what we are already used to in IM sessions. However, an object, like a taxi or a bank account could also be a presentity. We can envisage a more generic category of presentity-to-presentity communications—perhaps the most fitting use of the P2P acronym.

Think of a buddy icon in your IM interface called “Taxi” and its default state is indicated by “for hire” rather than “online”. Clicking on the taxi buddy would initiate a push-to-talk (“walkie-talkie”) session with the nearest available taxi, this being achieved using the enabling technologies of location-finding. Taxi drivers would use presence to indicate if they are for hire or busy. Much like the way they use the light indicator today. This information would be joined with location finding information from both the taxi and the rider. A simple switch would make sure that the rider is connected with the nearest available taxi. All this can be done easily using SIP and built within an IM environment.

What about a bank account? Think of a “bank buddy”, which displays your account number, balance or any element of your choice as its state. Connecting to the bank buddy via IM could initiate an auto-teller set of responses with preset IM messages and menu options rather than the free-form texting we are used to with people. Think of this as a smarter version of the telephone menus we often have to navigate on customer support lines. These could be used to navigate balances, transactions, payments and so on. Clicking on the bank buddy could also be used to initiate a voice connection with the bank itself. It is entirely possible that presentity-driven communications like this would lead more directly to mass mobilization of common services, missing out the Internet-banking step altogether for many who don’t yet rely on Internet banking.

Just as we have seen a growth of services built on Web-based technologies, we will soon see a similar growth based on P2P communications driven by presence. With IMS, there is already a move towards this style of communications. The good news is that some of the modes will be familiar to us, like voice. After all, we shall equally be able to initiate voice calls by clicking on our buddies, as well as PTT, IM and other familiar modes. The exciting prospect is being able to fold new types of service into the presence framework. It is the already familiar buddy metaphor that will allow new services to be introduced to the users, whilst IMS will facilitate service rollout easily within the operator environment without the need for expensive custom development paths that have dogged telecoms services for the past decades.

…Thank you Paul, and in our next posting let’s talk some more about IMS in more depth and explain why it is rapidly becoming the new standard for building telecoms networks and why it is so conducive to the rollout of new services. Until the next issue, be well, enjoy and keep your comments coming to [email protected]

Happy Holiday…


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