Optical/IP Networks

IMS Tops 3GSM Agenda

CANNES, France -- Vendors and operators have turned their attention to fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) issues at this year's 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, which kicked off Monday.

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:

  • Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY) spelled out its technology vision and announced that it is to provide IMS technology, integration, and support services to Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (Milan: TIM). (See Telecom Italia Picks Ericsson, Ericsson Unveils Vision at 3GSM, and Ericsson Talks Up Softswitch.)

    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.

  • Telecom Italia Mobile is widely regarded as one of Europe's most progressive mobile operators and will certainly be in the throes of preparing for FMC as it becomes fully reintegrated with parent Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI). (See TI to Merge With TIM.)

    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).

  • Nokia also announced cooperation with its local incumbent carrier TeliaSonera AB (Nasdaq: TLSN) to develop IMS-based services and network solutions (see Nokia, Telia Trial NGN Techs).

  • France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE) is another operator making FMC tracks. It is using IMS stuff from R&D partner Siemens Communications Group and has tested the technology at its British subsidiaries Orange UK (London: OGE) and Wanadoo UK (see Siemens, FT Test IMS Systems and FT and Siemens Form Partnership). Now the carrier plans to test out IMS-based services with about 200 trial customers.

  • Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) announced that T-Mobile USA will deploy more of its Spatial softswitches as the operator continues its core network upgrade. Alcatel acquired Spatial Wireless last year to bolster its wireless portfolio and IMS capabilities (see Alcatel Lands Spatial for $250M).

  • Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) has integrated a slew of different technologies to bolster its IMS proposition, including a 3G video gateway from Radvision Ltd. (Nasdaq: RVSN). (See Lucent Integrates IMS Tech, Radvision Announces Video Customers, and Lucent Integrates Bell Labs IMS.)

    Lucent is also working on IMS-based service developments with Japanese ISP eAccess Ltd. (see eAccess Trials Lucent).

  • Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) outlined its partner-based IMS offering (see Nortel Unveils IMS Strategy). It has teamed up with Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), MetaSolv Software Inc. (Nasdaq: MSLV), Sonim Technologies Inc., and Ubiquity Software Corp. to deliver a complete IMS hardware and software product set.

    Other IMS-related news from 3GSM includes:

    — Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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