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IMS

FT: IMS Is the Future

PARIS -- Broadband World Forum Europe -- The deployment of a next-generation network strategy based on the IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) blueprint will "deeply impact Orange (NYSE: FTE) and its way of working," a senior executive from the carrier told fellow telecom executives here in Paris today.

Alain Maloberti, VP of network architecture and design for France Telecom, said IMS -- with its separation of the control plane from the service creation and delivery platforms -- is the most suitable technological approach that supports the carrier's convergence ambitions. (See IMS Guide.)

Those ambitions are part of its NExT (New Experience in Telecom services) strategy outlined in 2005. (See France Telecom Launches NExT and Eurobites: Big Guns Fire Salvos.)

Part of that plan is to generate between 5 and 10 percent of group revenues from "new convergent products" by the end of 2008, noted the executive. In 2005, the carrier, which operates in 220 countries worldwide, reported total revenues of €49 billion ($61.7 billion). (See France Telecom Reports 2005.)

Maloberti said IMS is "the best standardized approach" towards a single network control platform that will enable network interoperability, QOS and security management, and multimedia services based on presence, location, and availability, as well as the interfaces to hook into applications developed by third parties.

That's good news for IMS's supporters, but will probably be passed off as marketing hype from an entrenched incumbent looking for a new way to dominate the market by IMS cynics. (See IMS: Dead?.)

But there are a number of aspects to overcome with IMS, stated Maloberti. First, carriers need true IMS infrastructure, but "that's coming." In addition, a "wide range of terminals that combine mobile and WiFi in an IMS implementation," and which can interoperate, is absolutely essential, he noted. Such devices should become available in 2007, he believes.

IMS systems will also need to be able to control circuit-switched voice, he added, as VOIP in mobile networks is still some way off. The introduction of IP telephony in mobile access networks will require the widespread adoption of high speed packet access (HSPA) infrastructure combined with strong QOS, something that will come, but just not yet, he added.

The French incumbent has been checking out the potential of IMS as a next-generation networking approach with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and other vendors, and is in the closing stages of a wide-ranging IMS request for quotations (RFQ) that covers its fixed and mobile network and service plans. (See Vendors Unite for IMS Pitch and FT Picks Ericsson for IMS.)

Maloberti said the operator is "in the process of selecting vendors for IMS infrastructure," and noted that FT expects the chosen firms to be "convergence suppliers," and not providers of niche solutions.

While it mulls its vendor options, FT is dreaming up new services in its new, marketing-driven "technocentre," and is currently reorganizing to create a single group-wide technical team that will address the needs of its fixed retail, wholesale, enterprise, and mobile businesses.

The carrier's ongoing convergence plans have already resulted in the launch of convergence services, most notably its recently-launched "unik" fixed/mobile convergence service that enables a handset to connect to a home gateway to route VOIP calls over broadband and then switch onto a mobile network when out of range of the home hub. (See Orange Launches Unik.)

Maloberti said other convergence services will be developed and launched as FT makes its transition towards becoming an IMS-centric carrier.

And as part of the process of becoming a "converged organization," FT is creating "integrated network entities" in individual markets, something it has already done in the U.K. and Spain, said Maloberti. (See Orange UK Touts New Look and FT Turns Orange.)

The carrier is not about to follow the lead of near neighbor and competitor BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), though, by setting a date by which to close down its legacy networks altogether, something the British operator is planning for 2010/2011. (See BT Says 21CN Deadline Hasn't Moved.)

Maloberti said FT will "replace the PSTN where and when needed," and that IMS would be an enabler in that process. Switching off all of the carrier's PSTN platforms, though, is not something for which FT has any specific plans as yet, he said.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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