IMS: What Are the Hot Apps?
In fact, what is becoming clear here in Chicago is that in order to justify the cost of rolling out IP multimedia subsystems (IMS) carriers will likely want to see several applications that can improve their average revenue per user (ARPU).
IMS, you may recall, is envisaged as a unified architecture that can support a range of IP-based services for both packet- and circuit-switched networks and employ a range of different wireless and fixed access mechanisms. The big question is: which services and why? "It's very hard to find a single application that you can roll out using IMS that you couldn't implement without it," says Alan Stoddard, general manager of converged networks at Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). "It only makes... [financial] sense when you get to the third or fourth application; it doesn't make any sense for just one."
So, what are the applications that will encourage carriers to adopt IMS?
"All the carriers want to hear about is how they are going to save money on voice," says Steven Shaw, director of marketing at Kineto Wireless Inc.
Lowering the cost of providing voice is one of the main attractions of IMS for a whole host of mobile, wireline, and upstart carriers. Startups like Kineto, Kodiak Networks, and Persona Software Inc. (formerly Longboard) are working to "add value" to the basic voice packages with advanced messaging services that will enable carriers to offer things like the ability to know the online status of a phone user (often called presence), easy-to-setup conference calling, and sophisticated, push-to-talk, walkie-talkie style services (see The Convergence Contenders).
If advanced VOIP services are a big part of what might drive enterprise takeup of IMS-type services, many see mobile gaming as a consumer driver for convergence.
Real-time, multi-player gaming by its very nature brings together many of the concepts that are floating around about IMS and triple play, because it will involve supporting live video, audio, and data between both fixed and mobile broadband platforms.
Gaming is one of the applications that BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS) is trying to support with its WebLogic SIP server, which is aimed at hooking Java developers used to working with J2E into a mobile environment, in an effort to kickstart the SIP developer community.
Providing consumers with the ability to roam between cellular and WiFi networks in their homes and businesses (and hopefully pay less for the calls while roaming on the wireless) looks to be another early driver for IMS and IMS-like services.
Persona software was demonstrating its 802.11-to-cellular roaming capabilities on the show floor here. Unstrung tried the firm's setup out and generally found the voice quality pretty good. The system didn't drop its connection when moving between the two networks, although there was a noticable silence during the switchover.
David Schwartz, director of marketing at Persona, predicts that eventually this kind of roaming capability will simply become a commodity for carriers looking at converged services. But for now, his firm is pushing its ability to offer this functionality without the "forklift upgrade" that true IMS will require.
"Until you've upgraded your entire infrastructure -- and even your partner's [network] -- you're not going to get the full feature set of IMS," says Schwartz.
Like many startups in the industry, Persona is pushing the fact that it can still offer services when users roam onto 2.5G networks. Its one of the many baby steps -- and pratfalls -- towards IMS that the industry is going to take as the technology evolves and matures.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung