Vendors Unite for IMS Pitch

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and Siemens Communications Group are working together to bid for a monster IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) engagement at Orange (NYSE: FTE), according to industry sources.

The vendors have formed a consortium to respond to a wide-ranging RFQ (request for quotation) from France Telecom that covers next-generation IMS systems for the carrier's fixed and mobile operations, according to executives close to the bidding process. The other known members of the consortium are Italian softswitch firm Italtel SpA , a long-time Cisco partner, and French IT firm Bull SA . (See Italtel, Cisco Strengthen Ties.)

Initially, none of the vendors would comment on such a consortium or on the carrier's IMS RFQ. However, Nokia subsequently contacted Light Reading once this article was first published to say that it is not working with Siemens on this RFQ, but still wouldn't comment on any of the other claimed relationships.

France Telecom was unable to comment as this article was published.

According to our sources, who wish to remain anonymous, Siemens was originally pitching by itself, but teamed up with Nokia once the two companies announced their engagement in June, though Nokia says this is not the case. Siemens has long been working with France Telecom on IMS. (See Nokia, Siemens Create Networks Giant and Siemens, FT Test IMS Systems.)

It's not known whether Nokia was already working with Cisco and Italtel, or when Bull became involved, though it's understood that while Nokia and Siemens are strong on mobile IMS developments, Italtel provides additional capabilities in fixed-line IMS developments based on standards created by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) 's TISPAN (Telecoms & Internet Converged Services & Protocols for Advanced Networks) group. (See ETSI Issues NGN and Tispan: IMS Plus.)

Italtel and Cisco work very closely as a team and have already deployed next generation IP-based systems that, the companies say, are IMS-ready. (See Italtel Shows Off.)

Bull provides essential IT and integration capabilities, as well as adding a French team member.

The consortium has strong competition, though, most notably from Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), which already has an IMS foot in the door at the carrier, having been chosen for early IMS developments following France Telecom's initial, less wide-ranging IMS bidding process. (See FT Picks Ericsson for IMS.)

Other companies pitching to be part of FT's IMS plans, according to the sources, are Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) -– together, of course -- and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , while both IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Accenture are also believed to be pitching their services as integrators. (See Investors Say Oui to Alcatel/Lucent.)

The one vendor that has talked openly about pitching for France Telecom's IMS business is Nortel Networks Ltd. . At a recent London briefing, Nortel executives claimed to have had some success in the IMS sector, and when pressed on its success, the vendor's European president of carrier networks, Peter Newcombe, said Nortel has been "developing business services with France Telecom for years, and we're currently in pre-IMS deployment." (See Nortel, Equant Partner Up.)

That gives Nortel a good position for the latest developments, added Newcombe, saying that "we are right in the middle of the latest RFQ process that covers the whole of France Telecom, including Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE)." He also said that Nortel has been busy "developing its own TISPAN capabilities."

It's still very early days for IMS, though, added the Nortel man. "Not a lot of people are buying true IMS products today," he stated, saying that all 40 of Nortel's existing VOIP equipment customers in Europe are "pre-IMS, but they all want to know what our IMS roadmap is."

Meanwhile, France Telecom continues to roll out new pre-IMS convergence services. The carrier is today announcing a fixed/mobile service called Unik that allows its Orange mobile customers to roam onto a domestic WiFi router for cheap VOIP calls when they're using their mobile phone at home.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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