Is the IMS Honeymoon Over?

Microsoft says carriers are giving up on IMS hype and turning their attention back to service delivery platforms

December 8, 2006

4 Min Read
Is the IMS Honeymoon Over?

Telecom operators are moving on from the hype surrounding IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and refocusing on ways they can build and deliver new services now, according to a senior executive at Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).

Michael O’Hara, general manager for the software giant's Communications Sector division, says, "We went through the whole 'IMS is everything' turn, but now the attention has been turned back to service delivery platforms, and how they can help telcos make money."

Service delivery platforms (SDPs) are designed to help carriers more efficiently deploy and integrate diverse services and back-office systems. They do this by providing a reusable set of application creation and provisioning tools that can work across multiple services and networks. (See SDPs: The Next Grand Design?, IMS & SDPs Must Work Together, Carriers Buy Into SDPs, FT Commits to MS SDP, and AT&T Adopts Microsoft's SDP.)

O'Hara, speaking from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 's Telecom World event in Hong Kong this week, says SDPs are already doing this, and cited the example of how China Mobile Communications Corp. operator Beijing Mobile has launched push-email services to Windows mobile devices using Microsoft's Connected Services Framework (CSF) SDP. (See 3GSM: Day 1 News Roundup.)

The CSF platform is also being used by 100 operators to provide hosted email services and is the technology managing about 22 million email boxes hosted by mobile carriers, says O'Hara. The latest carrier to announce it is building its service delivery capabilities using CSF is Norway's forward-thinking incumbent, Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN). (See Microsoft Shows Off at ITU.)

The Microsoft man may have a point about IMS, since the excitement about the next-generation net framework's potential has been dampened as carriers, and even vendors, become more pragmatic about the immediate impact of new network elements, many of which are still confined to marketing PowerPoint presentations.

A Light Reading poll conducted earlier this year showed a great deal of cynicism about IMS, with 60 percent of the 200 readers who voted agreeing with the statement: "IMS is an attempt by telecom operators to continue milking their customers." (See IMS: Dead?)

And just this week, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) CTO Matt Bross told a press briefing in London that "IMS is a very fledgling space. When we talk to vendors about IMS, many of them have swept up different technologies that they already had and call it IMS, rather than having something developed on the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 's Release 5.0 or Release 6.0." (See BT Flogs Its NGN Smarts.)

That, in turn, is creating opportunities for vendors that can help carriers deliver on IMS's promises -- quicker, easier, and more efficient creation and delivery of services across any type of network -- while the operators put IMS technology through its paces. (See Look, Aint Bea! They Convergin!, Mavenir Converges on $13M, and BridgePort Gets $13M.)

There are, though, signs that IMS is encroaching on commercial carrier networks. (See Ericsson Claims IMS First.)

In the meantime, Microsoft and other SDP vendors, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), and Telcordia Technologies Inc. , are battling for the major carriers' attention and budgets with the promise of some affordable and executable service creation capabilities.

Does Microsoft see much of Oracle, following the acquisition spree that has made Oracle a telecom software contender? (See Oracle Unveils SDP Plans, Oracle Buying Into Service Delivery , Oracle Buys More OSS With MetaSolv, Oracle Offers Hosted PBX, Oracle Acquires Telephony@Work, and Oracle Acquires Portal.)

"Oracle has collected a suite of things, and it has a good story that resonates with what we're saying, but we haven't come across them in any customer engagements," says O'Hara.

It surely won't be long, though, before Oracle starts butting in on the more established players, which might yet face more big-name challengers from the IT world. (See Telcordia Up for Grabs Again?)

So Microsoft is forging ahead with a new strategy to make itself indispensable to a key set of telecom players. Its latest ploy is to create a community of partners, application developers, equipment vendors, systems integrators, and carriers, and offer them test-bed and integration resources to try out new services and combinations of services, or services mash-ups, a concept that Microsoft is promoting heavily. (See LRTV Interview: Michel Burger, CTO Communications Sector, Microsoft.)

Microsoft is calling this initiative the Connected Services Sandbox, which, for those of us not completely steeped in the North American version of the English language, takes a little explaining. A sandbox is what the Yanks call a sandpit, "you know, a safe place where kids can play and be creative," says O'Hara. "You're soooo European -- would you rather we called it the Connected Services Sandpit?" (See Microsoft Unveils Sandbox.)

Companies already playing in the Catbox include BT, BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) (NYSE/Toronto: BCE), Nortel Networks Ltd. , Tech Mahindra Ltd. , and Ubiquity Software Corp. (London: UBQ) (See Ubiquity Teams With Microsoft.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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