Ericsson, Others Top FT's IMS Shortlist

Orange (NYSE: FTE) is about to take a significant step in its plan to deploy an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) by naming a supplier shortlist of four major vendors, according to industry sources.

The carrier has publicly stated its commitment to using the IMS blueprint as the basis for its next-generation services architecture for its fixed and mobile businesses, and has been making organizational changes ahead of what will be a significant operational and cultural shift. (See FT, Telefónica Talk Up IMS, FT: IMS Is the Future, and IMS Guide.)

Now the carrier looks set to inform the seven groups that responded to its second IMS request for proposal (RFP) that four have made the shortlist.

Those four are, according to sources close to the process, the groups led by Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , and Nokia Networks , each of which will come with a number of niche systems partners.

Ericsson is regarded as a near certainty to be one of two key IMS vendors that will be handed deals by the French incumbent. The Swedish giant has been working with the carrier for some time on developing IMS-based VOIP services after it was chosen following FT's first IMS RFP. (See FT Picks Ericsson for IMS.)

Some in the industry say the resulting systems, developed with partners including IP Centrex vendor BroadSoft Inc. and policy management specialist Operax AB , have not yet made it into FT's live network, as was originally planned.

Instead, the carrier has continued to add fixed VOIP connections using technology from the NetCentrex part of Comverse Inc. (Nasdaq: CNSI) and now has around 3 million IP telephony users. Comverse is believed to be a partner of at least two of the companies on course to be shortlisted, and has already worked with Huawei on at least one other IMS deployment in Hungary. (See Sources: Operax Scores With Tier 1 Carriers, Comverse Nabs NetCentrex for $164M, NetCentrex Hits 1M With FT, and Magyar Picks Huawei, Comverse.)

Despite this, Ericsson is still seen as the odds-on favorite to be one of the two chosen vendors, with AlcaLu and Nokia Siemens battling for the other slot.

Huawei is regarded as a much less likely choice, though France Telecom is believed to be under some political pressure to involve at least one Chinese vendor in its plans. While ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763)'s name has not cropped up in talk about FT's plans, the carrier has long been engaged with ZTE on R&D work and access technology deployments. (See FT, ZTE Team on R&D and ZTE Lands FT DSL Deal.)

Such a shortlist would mean disappointment for a number of other firms, including Nortel Networks Ltd. , which has been working on pre-IMS developments with Orange Business Services (formerly known as Equant).

The creation of a shortlist will be an important step forward for France Telecom, which is believed to have delayed such a decision a number of times already this year as it went back to the pitching vendors to suggest new partnerships that would better suit its needs.

It will, though, be just the start of another round of pitching that will ultimately result in the choice of two main suppliers. vendors are not expected to see any significant IMS-related revenues for quite some time yet.

Talk of FT's impending decision comes as the IMS community faces something of a backlash: Carriers and analysts are increasingly stating that IMS can deliver only some of the features and capabilities service providers will need in the future, and that service delivery platform (SDP) and Web 2.0 application development capabilities are equally as important. (See AT&T Defines Service Creation Platform, Carriers Surf the Web 2.0 Wave, and IMS's Web 2.0 Problem.)

France Telecom had not responded as this article was published.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

digits 12/5/2012 | 3:05:50 PM
re: Ericsson, Others Top FT's IMS Shortlist What will be interesting to see is how much these major vendors begin talking about their ability to help carriers exploit Web 2.0 applications developments, and/or partner with outfits that specialize in enabling secure links between carrier infrastructure/IT systems and external third party developers.

That, as much as how well a company has revamped its VOIP equipment portfolio to be 'IMS compliant,' looks to be key to ladning these long-term partnership/development/supply deals with the major carriers.

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