Can Alcatel & Lucent Avoid an IMS Mess?
Each company has invested deeply in product development and partnership arrangements to fill in as many parts of a complete IMS portfolio as possible. A significant amount of marketing money has been spent by both companies to push the products as well. (See Alcatel, Lucent Seal Deal and Alcatel/Lucent: First Reactions.)
Once a merger is approved, analysts say, the two companies will have to go through a process of “rationalizing” the two portfolios to form one unified solution. (See Crunch Time for IMS.)
“They will definitely need one product portfolio for IMS. I think it would be very confusing for the market if they did anything else,” says Heavy Reading analyst Graham Finnie. “IMS is not a situation where you have lots of different flavors geographically.”
Both companies have been developing a version of the Home Subscriber Server (HSS), the central subscriber database in IMS. Lucent's is called the Unified Subscriber Data Server while Alcatel’s is called the 1430 HSS. Here, Lucent may have the edge. “Lucent has put a lot of effort in the HSS bit of IMS, and it may well be that Alcatel feels that’s worth adopting into the family,” Finnie says.
Lucent manages the call session control function (CSCF) and the media gateway control function (MGCF) with its Lucent Network Controller. Alcatel manages CSCF and MGCF with its 5020 softswitch.
Lucent uses its MiLife Enhance Media Resource Server for the media resource function processor (MRFP) in IMS. Alcatel uses the 8788 MRP media server, which is sourced from Convedia Corp.
Beyond those core functions, the product parallels are not so direct. The point is that the two portfolios address the same IMS functions, but they employ different network elements to do it.
Eventually, Alcatel and Lucent will have to agree on an IMS topology, and make product choices accordingly. Lots of white boards will be worn out, and there may be some arguments heard with French and New Jersey accents.
Alcatel and Lucent also have different views of the world when it comes to fixed and wireless convergence. “Lucent actually doesn’t have a fixed and wireless business. Everything has been merged and is reporting into [Network Solutions Group president] Cindy Christie,” says Infonetics Research Inc. analyst Stéphane Téral. “Alcatel has separate fixed and mobile groups, so I wonder, from an organizational standpoint, what is going to happen?”
All of this matters because Lucent and Alcatel are two of the most active vendors of carrier IMS solutions in the world. And IMS is indeed becoming more important to carriers. In fact, carriers say IMS is central to their fixed/mobile convergence strategies. It allows them to deliver identical IP services to fixed and mobile customers, whether the final connection is a switched or circuit network.
Alcatel says it’s involved in more than 20 IMS trials and commercial developments, including at BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and at Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) for mobile IMS. (See Telstra Unveils Switch to IP and Alcatel Expands BT 21CN Role .)
Lucent says it has IMS contracts with seven large carriers -- five in the U.S. and two in Europe. The company last year trumpeted new IMS contracts with (then) SBC, BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), and Cingular Wireless , and is said to be testing the solution within AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) now. (See Cingular Picks Lucent for IMS, SBC Picks Lucent's IMS , and BellSouth Picks Lucent for IMS.)
Any hiccups in the Alcatel/Lucent IMS story could be exploited by competitors to get a foot in the door at those large accounts.
But besides that uncertainty, the merger will have its benefits for both companies.
A vendor partner of Alcatel's says Alcatel IMS products could help Lucent deliver on the broad IMS commitments to big telcos like AT&T. The addition of the Alcatel engineering people alone could help Lucent considerably in those deployments.
Heavy Reading’s Finnie believes Alcatel may benefit from Lucent’s IMS momentum in the U.S. “Alcatel, I think, has been a little bit slow to get into IMS but has put a huge amount of effort into it from both a technology and a marketing point of view. So this might put them in a prime position to begin picking up business in this area."
Spokespeople from both Lucent and Alcatel say the companies aren’t nearly ready to talk about how a unified Alcatel/Lucent IMS solution might look.
For now, the leadership of the two companies see “synergies" everywhere -- even in IMS. The subject came up repeatedly during a post-announcement conference call Sunday. “In the converged core, and the converged edge area, we would be both number one in... [IMS] and in the integration and services area,” says Pat Russo, who will be CEO of the combined Alcatel and Lucent (Lucitel? Alcacent? Lucifer? Alka-Seltzer?).
“We have the capabilities... across many sets of skills that really come together to create for us the number one position in network transformation services,” Russo says.
Whatever happens, neither company is apt to make any permanent changes to IMS solutions until the merger has been finalized. Even then, the analysts believe, the rationalization of the two IMS portfolios may be a slow process.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading