At the heart of vendor developments and operator strategies is the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) -- standards-based technology that will enable service providers to offer SIP-based services, such as VOIP and video messaging, to their customers across multiple mobile and fixed access networks. In essence, IMS technology provides a SIP-based control layer with open interfaces to the transport layer and the services layer above
"IMS is definitely one of the main themes here in Cannes -- there's a lot of it about," says Graham Finnie, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, who is soaking up the sun and some cheap vin blanc on the French Riviera this week. Finnie recently produced a report, "Fixed-Mobile Convergence Reality Check," on the subject (see HR Says Wireless, Wireline Converging and Urgence and Convergence).
"It has suddenly become a real hot topic. Everyone sees it as the way to go with the core network, but it's going to be a slow process. Some vendors are predicting it will be a 10-year cycle," says Finnie.
IMS developments, and the whole FMC concept of managing and delivering services to fixed and mobile users across a single core network, have gained major momentum in the past few months, with standards bodies making progress and vendors and operators announcing IMS-based strategies. (See Asian Heavyweights Tackle FMC, Fixed/Mobile Convergence Ramps Up, Vendors Prep for IMS Fight, IP Multimedia Subsystems: Easy Does It, Unstrung Insider Analyzes IMS, and ETSI Drives Convergence Standard.)
And it's not just the vendors that are talking up the convergence technologies. Finnie noted that at least two mobile operators had highlighted the importance of IMS during the 3GSM event's opening day plenary presentations.
Dave Williams, CTO at mobile operator mmO2 plc, told the conference that IMS and HSDPA are the two key technologies for mmO2 for the future (see O2 Breaks Cover on IMS). Then Rogers Wireless Communications Inc. (NYSE: RCN; Toronto: RCM) CTO Bob Berner identified IMS as the key technology that will help service providers build applications and bridge different types of access networks, such as 3G, WiMax, and DSL.
But Finnie says there is also a sense of caution about the implementation of IMS systems: "There's a lot of enthusiasm for IMS, but there's also a lot of uncertainty about when it's going to happen, and in what order it will happen in the network."
There have been few signs of caution in the equipment vendors' IMS-related announcements of the past few days, however. Here are some of the key FMC news bites from 3GSM:
Mobile operators with IP core networks will be the IMS pioneers, according to the vendor's strategic marketing manager for IMS, Oscar Gestblom. "It will help them cut operational costs and prepare for fixed-mobile convergence, but most importantly it will help them deploy new, revenue-generating services such as push-to-talk," he says. He adds that about 25 carriers have deployed Ericsson's IMS technology for trials and tests to date.
And it has done what most large carriers do when implementing cutting-edge technology -- it hedges its bets. Because, although it will deploy Ericsson's IMS system, it already has IMS technology installed and working from the Swedish vendor's chief rival Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). TIM plans to launch a video sharing service in the second quarter of this year (see TIM, Nokia Make IMS Progress and Nokia Unveils Convergence Kit).
Lucent is also working on IMS-based service developments with Japanese ISP eAccess Ltd. (see eAccess Trials Lucent).
Other IMS-related news from 3GSM includes:
- MS Pushes Deeper Into Carriers
- Motorola Demos IMS
- Ubiquity, Terraplay Team on IMS
- NEC Showcases FMC
- IPWireless Selects Trillium
- Ulticom Offers IMS Signaling
- NetCentrex Demos Video Products
- Og Vodafone Picks Cirpack
- Outsmart & AudioCodes Partner on FMC
- Ubiquity, Terraplay Team on IMS
For more on this topic, check out:
- The Unstrung Insider report:
— IMS: The Heart of Wireless & Wireline Convergence
- The Heavy Reading report:
— Fixed-Mobile Convergence Reality Check