IMS: A Poisoned Chalice?

It's the hottest three-letter acronym in telecom town, but is IMS a villain as well as a hero for today's telecom players?

December 8, 2005

3 Min Read
IMS: A Poisoned Chalice?

LONDON -- The current world order in the telecom world is under threat, with the carriers under pressure from the online upstarts and vendors in danger of being usurped by more traditional IT firms, attendees at the IMS: Blueprint for an Applications Revolution conference in London heard today.

Telecom operators are being bypassed by the new breed of service providers, such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Skype Technologies SA, Vonage Holdings Corp., and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) -- the "Four Horsemen of the IP Apocalypse," noted conference moderator and Heavy Reading senior analyst Graham Finnie.

Deploying an IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) core network gives carriers a chance to fight back. In theory, it will allow them to develop and deliver new IP services quicker and more efficiently than at present. It also gives them a way of retaining control of network services, and making money from the services consumed by users, noted Finnie. (See IMS Guide and IMS Crunch Time.)

That's something they need to do to counter the impact of services, such as the IP telephony offerings of the Four Horsemen, that run across their networks but deliver no revenues, he added.

And carriers are joining the IMS club en masse, Finnie said. Earlier this year, Heavy Reading conducted a survey about carrier deployment plans -- which received answers from 140 operator decision-makers -- and found that roughly 25 percent of carriers expect to see mass deployment of IMS technology in their networks before the end of 2006, while a further 38 percent expect this to happen in 2007 or 2008. Only a few percent said it would never be deployed in their networks. (See SBC Jumps on Lucent IMS Bandwagon, Ericsson Provides IMS to Telefónica , Lucent Lands BellSouth IMS Deal, Ericsson Grabs Sprint IMS Win, Telecom Italia Picks Ericsson for IMS, and KPN Picks Siemens for Convergence.)

With that level of anticipated uptake, it's no surprise that there are plenty of telecom vendors marketing IMS technology, noted Finnie. He identified 65 vendors with IMS propositions earlier this year, when compiling a major industry report, and at least another dozen have emerged since then. (See IMS Takes Over the World.)

While it's primarily been the familiar names in the frame to land carrier IMS system deals, that could easily change over the coming five years or so, stated keynote speaker Malcolm Wardlaw, vice president of Mobility, Intelligence & Applications at BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA).

Wardlaw is one of the U.K. carrier's key executives in the development of its next generation network, the 21CN, and a big IMS fan. "IMS is a fantastic architecture that will allow us to make some major steps and create new services and experiences for our customers," he told the 150 conference delegates. (See BT Calls for IMS Support.)

He thinks IMS technical capabilities will initially arise from telecom vendors. However, over time more new ideas and capabilities are likely to come from the major IT vendors, startups, and new wave vendors. "I wonder if the market will move more towards the Sony Corp.s of this world, rather than the dominant telecom players of today," which, he claimed, "have been a bit slow in bringing [IMS technologies] to market."

Despite that warning shot, Wardlaw expects that the first wave of IMS-based services -- most likely developed for the corporate rather than consumer market -- would likely be developed by the incumbent telecom system suppliers, while new, independent applications developers to come into play in the development of consumer-focused services.

Now, though, "We need to move on from the wide-eyedness and figure out how we are going to implement IMS. That's a major challenge for us and for the traditional telecom supply chain," said the BT man.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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