IMS: Simplify First, Add Apps Later
As carriers begin to spend considerable budgets on IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) infrastructure, the hype has been building. What's this IMS stuff all about?
IMS technology may not be about pushing “new services” yet, but rather, it will initially be used to simplify the services and applications carriers have for their consumers. (See Readers Pick IMS Killer Apps, Alcatel Wins Enterprise IMS Deal, SBC Jumps on Lucent IMS Bandwagon, Readers Pick IMS Killer Apps, Cingular Picks Lucent for IMS, and FT Picks Ericsson for IMS.)
Consumer research is showing that people mostly just want phone companies to simplify things by reducing the redundancy and clutter in the telecom services and gadgets they use. (See IMS Takes Over the World.)
Example: You might have a work phone number or two, a cell phone or Blackberry number, and a home number, but wouldn't it be nice to have just one universal number -- or email?
"Telecom networks are separate from Internet networks; voice networks are separate from data applications; and you have the inability of end users to access applications regardless of what kind of network or device they are on,” says Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) VP of corporate strategic marketing John Marinho. (See BellSouth: The IMS SuperBowl? .)
“People are increasingly frustrated with that,” Marinho says, “and they don’t understand why this stuff doesn’t work seamlessly, regardless of where the stuff is stored on the network.”
So the first order of business for IMS will likely be converging disparate wireless and wireline networks, and then converging the services that run over them. Enter IMS’s two core concepts: the Call Session Control Function (CSCF) and the Home Subscriber Server (HSS).
In simple terms, the CSCF acts as a centralized routing engine, policy manager, and policy enforcement point for delivering applications to various kinds of endpoints in the network, according to Heavy Reading analyst Graham Finnie’s report, “IMS and the Future of Network Convergence.”
Meanwhile, the HSS creates a master repository for subscriber data, which includes a full identity profile as well as billing and permissions data for all the services and devices used in the account. The HSS can also interface with the Home Location Register (HLR) databases in mobile networks to coordinate user data and keep it consistent among the networks, Finnie says.
The CSCF and the HSS work in concert and are access-agnostic, that is, able to deliver services to both wireline and wireless devices. So it then becomes possible to unify users’ various phone numbers and address books -- and much, much more.
If recent IMS spends at Cingular Wireless LLC, SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and soon BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) are any indication, carriers believe that consumers are ready to pay for new products that clear up some of the telecommunications clutter.
Nortel Networks Ltd.'s (NYSE/Toronto: NT) messaging on IMS is a little different from Lucent’s, but not by much. “For us, IMS is not about new applications per se, but the ability to combine certain applications,” says Nortel’s senior manager of wireline marketing, Mike Doerk.
Doerk says IMS should create new blended services like multi-user gaming with a VOIP channel thrown in to accommodate the all-important trash talking.
Nortel’s other main IMS theme describes a widening of “communities of interest.” “The value of the application increases as the community of interest expands across carrier networks,” Doerk says.
His example: “Today, if I am a Vodafone UMTS subscriber, I can buy video calling, but I can only use it with other Vodaphone subscribers who also bought that service.” Through the magic of IMS, Doerk says, wireline broadband users will be able to enter videophone conversations with Vodafone users.
Observers say that carriers will take different starting points when rolling out new IMS-enabled applications. Some may choose to start with voice-oriented applications like dualmode voice service, in which the user’s wireless service automatically switches to a wireline network when in range of the home or office LAN.
Others might start with more data-oriented solutions. A popular example of this is the ability to send a text message from a cell phone directly to the display of a television in the home. Like dualmode phone service, it’s a single application that traverses two networks that were once completely separate.
IMS opens the way for many kinds of new services. The “reductionist” IMS products mentioned at the top of this article are simply educated guesses at what consumers might actually buy first -- informed by a perceived demand among consumers now.
But until carriers begin rolling out the new services in 2006 and 2007, the identity of IMS’s “killer apps” remains an open question. Heavy Reading’s Finnie: “I don’t think that’s really very obvious at the moment, in the sense that nothing has emerged where everybody is saying, ‘Wow! This is going to make IMS take off like a rocket!' ”
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading