Some carriers have slowed their rollouts of IMS,
looking to integrate services instead of focusing on infrastructure.
Most experts think the ultimate goal for wireless, and wireline, networks will revolve around IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS). But the push toward IMS adoption has slowed somewhat, with operators inching their way toward the technology through other means that focus on applications and services.
IMS envisions a convergent future that will bring cellular networks together with other networks running WiMAX, Wi-Fi, cable, DSL and landline. It has been much-hyped because of its tremendous promise, even as work continues to turn that promise into a reality at the technology level.
Oracle SDP is a J2EE realization of OMA Service Environment. (Click on image to enlarge)
Since IMS requires new network infrastructure, some carriers recently have been slowing down their rollout plans because of the costs and complexity. Among the recent ones was France Telecom (FT), an IMS advocate that decided last fall to do a phased-in deployment of the technology. FT’s mobile arm, Orange, has said it will pursue a fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) strategy built around Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA).
No U.S. wireless carrier has yet to detail its plans to move to IMS, although some have started to roll out services that can be used in an eventual IMS deployment. Among those is AT&T Mobility, whose Video Share application has IMS qualities. Verizon Wireless also has said it plans to introduce VoIP and mobile video telephony using an IMS technology called Advances in IMS (A-IMS). Verizon partnered with Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Motorola, Nortel and Qualcomm on the A-IMS initiative in 2006 but hasn’t discussed its plans since then.
Infonetics Research says fixed mobile convergence (FMC) is the main goal for carriers in the coming months, with nearly 80% expected to have these services by April 2008. More than half of the operators Infonetics surveyed say they plan to have an IMS implementation in at least part of their network by 2010, although the research firm says a “significant” number have no plans for IMS.
Meanwhile, the IMS Forum is pushing the technology along, including the coordination of interoperability testing to get past concerns over proprietary implementations. The forum held three IMS Plugfests in 2007 at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL) to give vendors an opportunity to work on interoperability.
* Shared Enablers. Used as appropriate.
The plugfests have tested applications or services like instant messaging, SMS, MMS, voice mail, advertising-supported free voice, FMC, security, video sharing, IP Video, wireless functionality, security, SIM card integration and IPSec. In addition, the UNH-IOL also is building a core IMS testbed that will be used during the Plugfests and that also will be available for week-long blocks of testing between events.
Besides promising network convergence, IMS also is creating a converged vendor community that includes the traditional wireless infrastructure vendors and those from the traditional computing world. The latter are talking a lot about Service Delivery Platform (SDP) technology as a stepping stone to IMS for carriers that want to try out applications and services before going to a full IMS network.
carriers value IMS, they
want to test money-
making services first.
Indu Kodukula, vice president of product management for Oracle, says the company is seeing three trends among carriers now. First, they don’t see a return-on-investment (ROI) benefit to switch to an IMS network. Second, they’re more interested in offering services to their customers than spending the money on infrastructure. And, third, even though most operators see IMS in their future, they want to test services that will make them money first.
SDP is a middleware based on Web technology that is used to deliver services to subscribers. It uses a horizontal approach to service delivery, though, instead of the traditional telecom world’s vertical architecture that puts each service into its own silo. SDP can be used in a legacy SS7 network, although it uses IP for transport as well as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) for signaling.
SDP can be viewed as a delivery platform running on top of whatever core network infrastructure is available, including IMS, says Kodukula, and runs on any standards-based server hardware.
Kodukula says Oracle has talked with Tier 1 wireless operators that see their networks operating in a different manner in five years from what they are today. Where today’s networks are mostly for voice, in five years carriers expect to be offering tens of thousands of services, many of which may not be mass-market but still provide incremental income. That trend will follow the “long tail” scenario from the Internet, where small niche markets are served with specific applications.
An example Kodukula gives is the RSS (real simple syndication) service run by the Irish technology company FeedHenry, which can send an RSS feed that appears in a Web application to a mobile phone using SMS. It also will support SIP-enabled handsets but does not need them.
Oracle’s SDP will work with IMS services like voice call continuity (VCC), an FMC technology that allows voice calls to switch seamlessly between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Nortel and Qualcomm recently announced a successful test of VCC using Nortel’s VCC network infrastructure and Qualcomm’s device chipset. VCC is a 3GPP standard.
Bodin: Voice call
Unlike UMA, VCC uses SIP to establish presence, says Richard Bodin, Nortel’s marketing manager for carrier core networks. Also unlike UMA, VCC allows more than dual-mode voice calls, creating the ability to have video calls, messaging and establishing priorities for routing calls.
Nortel’s VCC solution is being tested by some operators without IMS, using a Nortel application server and a standalone SIP server. Bodin says IMS allows more flexibility, say setting up messaging or screening rules for calls. But he says many operators that have IMS on their roadmaps are starting first with point solutions such as VCC. Nortel expects to deploy VCC as point solutions this year but also has had IMS trials with more than 20 operators.
The test with Qualcomm was important, Bodin says, to ensure that both the network and handset VCC solutions work together.
CATALYST FOR GROWTH
Whether using SDP or IMS, a key element for carriers is the ability to integrate their operations and billing systems software platforms (OSS and BSS). ZTE recently demonstrated that ability with its IMS infrastructure, specifically using the Telemanagement Forum’s (TMF) New Generation Operations Systems and Software (NGOSS) framework under the TMF’s Catalyst Project.
The objective of the Catalyst Project is to provide an industry reference model for service providers using the NGOSS framework to manage IMS service provision and enable IMS-based services with flexible charging policies. Weijun Lee, vice president of ZTE USA, says the demonstration of the company’s IMS integration included the deployment, activation, charging and management of a full-duplex, video-telephony service for a number of devices including SIP video phones and laptops. The demo used Amdoc’s IMS charging solution and Microsoft’s Connected Service Framework for service activation.
Lee says both China Unicom and China Mobile are using ZTE’s IMS solution, although China Mobile is using it internally for about 200,000 employees. Once China Mobile feels comfortable with IMS internally, and what applications are the most compelling, the operator plans to roll it out commercially.
“It’s hard to identify a killer application for IMS,” Lee says.
Hewlett-Packard also is advocating SDP as a way to find compelling applications before fully deploying IMS. HP recently announced its SDP 2.0 platform to enable multimedia and “Web 2.0” services on mobile phones.
Dragunas: Carriers can
use SDP 2.0 as a phased
approach to IMS.
HP has 24 carriers globally, mostly wireless operators, using its SDP solution, says Peter Dragunas, director of network and service provider solutions. The new release allows operators to deploy hundreds or thousands of services, or even allow their subscribers to develop their own services, he says, as with MySpace or Facebook.
SDP 2.0 can be used on legacy network infrastructure or in an IMS environment, Dragunas says, allowing a phased implementation while testing new services.
“You can stay with stove-pipe applications,” he says. “But carriers want more flexibility. Just deploying IMS doesn’t give you the flexibility you need.”
SDP enables carriers to expose parts of their network to third-party applications, especially the innovative applications being developed for the Internet, Dragunas says. “All of the innovation is taking place on the Web,” he says. “This is allowing the operator to make best use of all the Web technology and allow Web applications to run on their network.”
The IMS Forum, in a recent “report card” on the technology, says IMS likely will be deployed in an evolutionary manner as carriers add features they want. It also says it is an error to think that IMS will be driven by a killer application because IMS will enable so many different applications driven by different needs.
The forum says IMS will be deployed from the inside out, being driven by the need to reduce long-term costs while laying a foundation to quickly deploy new services.
“What’s certain,” the forum says, “is that it costs too much money for providers to continue to deliver new services using outmoded infrastructure or ‘one off’ proprietary solutions that aren’t interoperable. It is an open question whether we will ever see a proliferation of all-IMS networks.”