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DoCoMo Gives IMS a Shot in the Arm

Can DoCoMo's new approach give IMS services new momentum?

September 7, 2009

3 Min Read
DoCoMo Gives IMS a Shot in the Arm

Japan's leading mobile operator, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), has teamed up with five vendors to develop specifications that, the partners hope, will give IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) a boost and make it more relevant to telecom service providers.

The group, which comprises Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701), and Nokia Networks , as well as DoCoMo, has developed specifications for a mechanism that delivers network-based value added services for IMS. And the collaborators say they have tested it using several specific services.

The two service examples cited by the companies are: Converting a photographic image into a water painting; and translating text messages from Japanese to English.

The development is signifcant, says a DoCoMo spokesman, because, "At this time, on the IMS network, we can only send and receive data. For example, you can only receive the same image that a sender sent. The technical specifications recently demonstrated support value-added network functions, such as image conversion and text translation from one language to another, on the IMS network."

These services could be seen as idiosyncratic to the Japanese market, but the underlying mechanisms are as relevant to other operators as they are to DoCoMo, according to Christoph Aktas, senior director of solutions management, next generation networks, at Nokia Networks .

Aktas explains that the mechanism includes a service composition component that coordinates amongst the various application elements, with IMS looking after the session management. He says it has been developed alongside the GSM Association (GSMA) 's Rich Communication Suite (RCS) and enables operators, such as DoCoMo, to develop additional IMS network-based services that sit outside the core RCS service portfolio, but that will work with them and are developed in a coordinated and common way, and not on an ad hoc operator-by-operator basis.

RCS was designed to speed up and facilitate the introduction of IMS-based services by defining a core set of advanced IMS features that include media sharing in calls, conversational messaging across messaging platforms, and a phonebook enhanced with presence and other features.

Mark Hogan, project director for RCS at the GSM Association, confirms that the specifications have been submitted to the GSMA as a candidate feature for RCS, but that the decision on whether the feature will be taken up will not be made until a meeting at the end of the month.

Hogan would not speculate on the content or outcome of that meeting, but there is little doubt that a decision will be based on how capable the mechanism is of enabling services beyond the two announced, and how much demand there is for such a development outside of Japan.

This is the most recent mobile operator-led initiative to try to overcome the issues associated with IMS, most notably the complexity of deployment. According to Gabriel Brown, senior analyst at Heavy Reading, it "looks like an attempt to make IMS more deployable and practical for operators, a little like Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s A-IMS initiative a few years ago."

Brown goes on to say that, "IMS needs the Tier 1 global operators that have enough weight and influence to consolidate IMS."

RCS can lay claim to such support with the bulk of Asia/Pacific's most influential 3G operators supporting it, including China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), KT Corp. , SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), Smart Communications Inc. , and Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS), as well as DoCoMo. Indeed, in June, all three Korean operators became the first in the world to launch an interoperable commercial RCS service. (See South Koreans Get Rich).

The global operator support for IMS has been mixed, to say the least, but ultimately most people see its implementation as inevitable. Brown says: "For all the criticism of IMS, it still appears that most major operators are committed to some form of IMS-like control plane."

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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