3GSM: It's an IMS Thing

BARCELONA -- 3GSM World Congress -- IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) has, not surprisingly, been one of the dominant acronyms at this year's 3GSM event, with all the major, and many of the minor, vendors talking up their network and service convergence capabilities. (See 3GSM: Day 1 News Roundup, IMS Takes Over the World, and IMS Guide.)

And with good reason, of course. Carriers are demanding IMS credentials in their next-generation network RFP (request for proposal) and RFI (request for information) documents, say vendors, while the carriers themselves are embracing the IMS framework architecture. A survey of 140 carriers conducted by research house Heavy Reading in the second half of last year found that a quarter of operators expected widespread deployment of IMS-based technology in their networks in 2006, while nearly 40 percent saw that happening in the 2007-2008 timeframe. Only a few of the carriers surveyed thought they'd never implement an IMS-based network strategy. (See 3GSM: Donde Está IMS?.)

Some of the vendors showing off in Barcelona even had some big carrier names to bandy about.

Vodafone doubles up for IMS
Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), the largest mobile operator in the world with nearly 180 million subscribers worldwide, has chosen Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) to supply it with IMS technology. (See Vodafone Selects Ericsson IMS and V'fone Picks Nokia IMS.

The mobile giant is aiming to start SIP service interoperability tests with other carriers as soon as possible, and is initially deploying Ericsson's technology in Japan, one of the most advanced mobile markets in the world.

"IMS is going to play a strategic role in our future service delivery," noted the operator's head of Global Supply Chain Management, Detlef Schultz, in a prepared statement. "We intend to pilot the next generation of services using this technology and will start interoperability testing with other operators as soon as possible," he added.

Schultz stated Ericsson had been chosen because of its "technology leadership in this area," and, along with Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), the Swedish vendor has established itself as a leader of the IMS pack. At the 3GSM show the company's CEO, Carl-Henric Svanberg, claimed 18 IMS carrier deals and 37 trials, while one of those customers, Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), has launched VOIP services using IMS elements supplied by Ericsson and partner BroadSoft Inc. . (See Telefónica Deploys BroadSoft, Ericsson Provides IMS to Telefónica , Ericsson, Telenor Test IMS, and Ericsson Integrates BroadSoft.)

Leadership issues
Vodafone might think Ericsson has "technology leadership" in IMS, but the Swedes aren't the only leaders in the IMS market. Nokia touted its latest IMS technology, available later in the year, with a claim from the vendor's VP of networks, Roberto Loiola, that "Nokia is the undisputed leader in mobile softswitching and IMS for fixed and mobile networks." (See Nokia Launches UMA.)

Undisputed? Say Guten Tag to Siemens Communications Group CEO Thomas Ganswindt, who claims his company is the "only company to have a fully-fledged IMS development suite," including a software development kit (SDK) and services simulator that allows carriers to test out new applications developed for an IMS network.

The vendor also noted that it passed a series of IMS interoperability tests performed by the GSM Association (GSMA) with "flying colors" and "without a hitch," and showed off a number of IMS applications at its stand. (See GSMA Trials Video Sharing and GSMA Trials Video Sharing.)

And it's quietly been making some inroads with its IMS story and applications development and partnership programs. (See Siemens Lands IMS Deal in China, KPN Lays Out IP Migration Plan, O2 Picks Siemens IMS, and Vendors Prep for IMS Fight.)

And then there's Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), with its claims of more than 70 "IMS-ready deployments" and more than 20 IMS trials and deployments. To be fair, the firm's COO of mobile activities, Marc Rouanne, didn't claim IMS market leadership, but for such an immature market, that's a sizeable degree of readiness.

So, what exactly is an "IMS-ready deployment"? Rouanne says that's where technology conforming to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 's IMS standard protocols, such as SIP, is already installed and ready to be part of a broader convergence archiecture. He cites applications servers, softswitches, gateways, and HSSs (home subscriber servers, the master customer database) as typical examples of such elements, and notes deployments with the likes of China Mobile Communications Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. as commercially deployed references. (See T-Mobile Picks Spatial Tech and Alcatel, Sylantro Land Unicom Deal.)

Other 3GSM IMS snippets
Nortel Networks Ltd. is providing IMS technology on a new, ATCA-based, open hardware platform it's calling the "Versatile Service Engine" (VSE), with its Call Session Control Function (CSCF) components the first to be offered in this way, and others, such as its HSS, to follow. (See Nortel Intros ATCA IMS Platform.)

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) strutted its IMS stuff in Barcelona as well. At the heart of Motorola's IMS package is next-generation directory and database technology from Apertio Ltd. , which followed up its recent funding round with a Tier 1 customer announcement. (See T-Mobile Deploys Apertio and IMS Firm Raises $30M.)

The company also plugged the phrase "wickedly cool" and ask the question "Are you a desperate housewife?" in one of its press releases. Ahh, that sparkling Schaumburg wit. (See Moto Demos IMS and Moto Intros Services.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

digits 12/5/2012 | 4:05:44 AM
re: 3GSM: It's an IMS Thing I feel for the service providers that see IMS as a reference architecture they can follow. Clearly there's plenty that's striking a chord with their future plans -- a shift to SIP, the ability to add new services much more quickly, reduced opex etc -- but they have their work cut out sorting the wheat from the marketing chaff.

And that's going to make it tough for the startups that aren't part of a major vendor's "end-to-end IMS solution" -- a phrase I hope I'll never have to see again. By its very nature IMS is a tough concept to grasp, and that will more likely drive carriers into the arms of the large vendors.

The thing that must make everyone nervous is that, by the time any sort of functioning IMS network is in operation, it might already be strategically (not technically) obsolete. But that's a risk everyone's going to have to take.
maxplanc 12/5/2012 | 4:05:37 AM
re: 3GSM: It's an IMS Thing What makes you think that the IMS architecture reduces OPEX?,br>

I think the reduction of OPEX is compared not to legacy telephony-centric architectures but to the otherwise more complex multi-service multi-media network architecture that would be needed to support the converged services that service providers seek to deploy.

There are a large number of functional entities in the extended IMS architecture, but the number of protocols is relatively small, and the character of those interfaces is general similar across the majority of functions. Your description of the 3GPP SIP profile somewhat overstates the relative rigidity of the interfaces and functions SIP supports in that architecture, in my opinion.

It is amusing to me that you find the initial Filter Criteria definition/concept complex - in fact it's major deficiency seems to be that it is overly simplistic and arbitrary. From the tome of your commentary, I would guess that you are more familiar with legacy technologies and perhaps find the concepts behind IMS something of a challenge.

I have some experience with fully operational 3GPP R6 compliant IMS systems, which include application servers and sophisticated brokering functions whic exceed the capability of the S-CSCF as it is defined, I have some difficulty finding any of the assertions you have made credible.

I am most likely not alone.

alchemy 12/5/2012 | 4:05:37 AM
re: 3GSM: It's an IMS Thing Ray Le Maistre writes:
a shift to SIP, the ability to add new services much more quickly, reduced opex etc

What makes you think that the IMS architecture reduces OPEX? Have you ever counted the discrete boxes in the solution? It's significantly more complex than a 2G solution and you're going to pay for that in OPEX. You'll need a staff of PhDs available 24x7 to debug your network if it goes down. You're also going to be forced to buy a vertical solution from a single vendor since IMS has so many interfaces. That locks you into a very non-competitive yearly maintanence contract.

SIP is no panacea and produces all kinds of hard to solve problems. The 3GPP people correctly adopted a very strict profile for SIP but this makes it a fairly rigid and slow to evolve standard that conflicts with the objective of rapid service creation. It remains to be seen whether the S-CSCF initial filter criteria magic to get you to application servers really lets you quickly add new services or if it merely produces "clash of the feature servers". After all the AIN hype that amounted to nothing, I'm reserving judgement. It looks like a jobs program for socially-challenged people with pony tails and birkenstocks to write tricky XML spec filter criteria to make it all work.

IMS is a reasonable way to solve the mobility and roaming problem if you insist on using a walled garden SIP-based control plane. I'm not so convinced about the application server part of the architecture.
dljvjbsl 12/5/2012 | 4:05:36 AM
re: 3GSM: It's an IMS Thing OMS being touted at a 3G conference.

Yesterday's white elephant trying to find customer benefit by embracing today's whte elephant.

IMS has the hype. 3G had the hype. They had/have he press, the vendors, the carriers. What they both lack are customers.
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