There was a small twist today in the battle over whether carriers will become dumb pipes. AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega and Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao called for a unified video chat standard — and the standard they are pushing for just happens to be designed by and for mobile networks. Specifically, de la Vega is suggesting everybody standardize on a video chat solution that works via the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), which has been around for many years and is actually the protocol Verizon is using for Voice over LTE (VoLTE). IMS is a data protocol for moving information on a mobile network, you can think of it as the "wrapper" for actual applications like video chat, voice, and other data.
IMS makes sense for mobile networks, as this Ericsson white paper (PDF) argues, because it's well-integrated into the standard circuit switching networks that keep phones connected. That's opposed to standard "over-the-top" data standards that just use the internet directly, like Skype and FaceTime. For the IMS standard, de la Vega is suggesting a video protocol called IR.94, which is analogous to the IR.92 standard Verizon uses for VoLTE — but theoretically any video chat solution could happen over IMS. IMS, by the way, has been a talking point at MWC for six years now.
If de la Vega's call gets taken up by manufacturers, it's possible that it could help carriers enmesh themselves in the video standard, further staving off a dumb pipe future. An IMS-based solution could still be interoperable with desktop and tablet solutions, but as we've learned with the mobile payment fight, adding carriers to the mix will surely mean more complications. How likely is it that we'll see a unified and simplified solution? We're not holding our breath. The UMTS standard has had a video chat solution that never saw widespread adoption. Moreover, Skype, Apple, and many others have dogs in this hunt and more players are entering the market every day. In fact, LG has just announced that it's showing a Voice-to-Video on LTE switchover here at MWC — a solution that uses IMS but also "proprietary technology" that LG isn't likely to share.
In short, while de la Vega's call for a unified video standard is a nice thought, the competing interests of the companies that could make it happen are likely to keep us waiting a long time for a universal solution.