Optical/IP Networks

IMS: Cable's Difference Maker

While the idea of IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) was the brainchild of a wireless industry consortium, the most eager adopters are turning out to be cable operators and wireline carriers, according to several of the big companies that make IMS equipment.

"The mere fact that the wireline and cable companies are in such fierce competition has forced them to look at new alternatives," says Mikael Stromquist, executive vice president of strategy and strategic sales at Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), who adds that cable companies started approaching Ericsson about IMS last year. "From a commercial perspective, it's much more driven by wireline and cable guys."

Ericsson even has been talking to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) about how to deliver converged services that involve IMS, Stromquist says.

Conceived by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) , IMS provides a unified architecture that supports a wide range of IP-based services over both packet- and circuit-switched networks. The industry has been exploring myriad ways to take advantage of IMS in the future, including its use as a means to converge fixed and mobile networks. This could provide the ability to support automatic roaming between networks. (See IMS Guide.)

"You're seeing the rate of adoption depend on the need for seamless mobility," says Raghu Rau, senior vice president of global marketing and strategy for networks at Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). "The cable industry wants to do that. The wireless carriers, however, have no burning need. They will probably be the last to adopt it. Seamless mobility services enabled by IMS would be [deployed] toward the end of 2007."

Siemens Communications Group sees the same trend.

"We entered the cable market with classic voice over IP, but their business model said they needed to have a differentiator with mobility," says Susan Schramm, vice president of marketing for Siemens Communications. "They're faster to deploy because they're more urgent about their business models."

That said, wireless carriers do plan to support IMS. Cingular Wireless is forgoing the unlicensed mobile access (UMA) specification for WiFi/cellular roaming in favor of IMS. (See UMA Services Near Reality.) And Ericsson is the prime IMS integrator for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), Ericsson's Stromquist says. But unlike the various services that cable operators may support, the IMS services that the wireless companies roll out will almost necessarily require handsets that support IMS. And while core network equipment for IMS is available and in trials today, IMS handsets are not available. "You won't have handsets available for IMS until the end of 2007," Rau says.

"It's similar to wireless [network deployments], in that the thing that's really slowing us down are the terminals," says Sita Lowman, a product line manager for converged multimedia networks at Nortel Networks Ltd. . "We're working with the handset guys on a common framework."

— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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