Cisco Warms Up to IMS

The networking giant is slowly moving its gateways and softwitches to IP Multimedia Subsystem interoperability

December 5, 2005

4 Min Read
Cisco Warms Up to IMS

After a healthy amount of skepticism, {dirlink 2|19} (Nasdaq: CSCO) is embracing the idea that carriers want to migrate their networks towards IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).

As such, the company today is making noise about several of its products that have over the last 24 months been engineered for alignment with the IMS way of looking at the world. (See Crunch Time for IMS and IMS Takes Over the World.)

Cisco’s strategic challenge with regard to IMS is that the company serves the cable, wireless, and wireline markets, all three of which have grown their own specialized flavors of the IMS spec. (See IP Multimedia Subsystems: Easy Does It.) So Cisco has selected a core set of IMS functions to bake into its products –- functions that are being adopted by all three customer segments.

The products in question include Cisco’s PGW2200 PSTN Gateway, its BTS 10200 softswitch, and the Cisco Call Session Control Platform. (See IMS Guide.) Cisco also points out that the MGX 8880 media gateway, which it believes to be the first MPLS-enabled media gateway for wireless, wireline, and cable networks, is PacketCable qualified and "optimized for IMS and non-IMS applications." (See Cable Braces for Services Rush.)

The PGW2200 gateway is already widely deployed in VOIP networks, says Cisco, enabling IP interoperation between fixed and mobile legacy telephony networks. But Cisco has now engineered the product to perform as the Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF) element in the IMS schema.

The BTS 10200 softswitch now interoperates with Call Session Control Functionality (CSCF), the IMS network's main traffic cop. It also performs as a standalone MGCF element in the IMS network. (See Cisco Muddles on IMS and The Role of IMS in PSTN-to-VOIP Migration.)

Cisco is also waving the flag for its own version of the CSCF, the Cisco Call Session Control Platform. The device has been deployed at Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) for over two years, Cisco says, enabling such SIP-based services as 3G push-to-talk. (See Insider: Converge That Core!.) The company says release 3.0 of the product contains enhancements in scaleability, provisioning, security, and QOS policy enforcement.

Cisco says it has put session border control (SBC) functionality into its XR 12000 router, a move that could spell trouble for vendors of free-standing SBCs. (See Cisco Integrates Session Control.)

In general, Cisco’s announcements Monday represent a departure from the company’s somewhat conflicted position on IMS over the past two years. As recently as June, a member of Cisco’s Mobile Wireless group, John Waclawsky, published an article in Business Communications Review that was largely hostile to IMS, criticizing the spec as too complex, too costly, and with little benefit for end users.

And Cisco’s skepticism over IMS isn’t gone completely. (See IMS: Simplify First, Add Apps Later.)

Suraj Shetty, marketing director in Cisco’s Routing and Service Provider Technology Group, tells Light Reading that in the real world, most of the applications carriers are trying to roll out today aren't strictly dependent on IMS architecture for their delivery.

Shetty says most IPTV, video on demand (VOD), and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications are as yet not real-time, not SIP-based, and, for the most part, not yet being “blended” in single sessions with other applications. Cisco considers them “non-IMS” and makes a big point of saying so. (See Vendors Prep for IMS Fight.)

So while Cisco has over the past months been aligning some of its products for an IMS future, it emphasizes that its gear is still fully conversant with operators' non-SIP or H.323-speaking network assets, which may be far from end-of-life. “The company sees IMS as initially aimed at wireless, but says it sees increasing opportunity on the wireline side for 'IMS-like architectures,' specifically in broadband wireline and enterprise environments,” writes Heavy Reading IMS specialist Graham Finnie in his report, "IMS and the Future of Network Convergence."

“Either way, it believes IMS should initially be a basis for new applications, rather than a basis for migration of legacy applications,” Finnie says.

Cisco's Shetty points out that many carriers aren’t ready to make a full transition to IMS, and some of Cisco's carrier customers aren't planning to do IMS at all. “We are only doing what we are hearing from carriers," he says.

Cisco is not the first to offer to lead operators slowly toward conversion to IMS. {dirlink 2|94} (NYSE: LU) has taken a similar conservative approach and has found the message to be very resonant with U.S. RBOCs over the last year. (See Lucent Lands BellSouth IMS Deal and SBC Jumps on Lucent IMS Bandwagon.)

At present, Cisco is most vocal about helping operators deliver such SIP-based services as dualmode telephony, push-to-talk services, and presence-based services.

The IMS architecture was originally designed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to allow carriers to deliver fixed and wireless applications over a common, horizontal platform, employing common network elements.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

For a comprehensive look at how IMS is driving network convergence, check out IMS: Blueprint for an Applications Revolution, to be held at the Langham Hotel in London on December 8, 2005.

Hosted by Graham Finnie, Heavy Reading Senior Analyst, IMS: Blueprint for an Applications Revolution will ensure that attendees understand both the opportunities and threats the IMS revolution presents.

For more information, click here.

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