IMS success hinges on various factors

Industry watchers say issues such as handset compatibility, copyright infringement, interoperability and pricing, need to be resolved first.

SINGAPORE--The future looks bright, but there is quite some way to go before the impact of the Internet Protocol (IP) Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) platform will be felt, say industry observers.

Issues such as handset compatibility, potential copyright infringement, product interoperability and pricing need to be resolved first, according to delegates at the IMS Asia conference, held this week in the island-state.

Described as a next-generation carrier network, IMS has been touted as a platform to deliver rich multimedia experiences, such as the ability to share videos while the user is in the midst of a phone conversation. It is also tipped to provide complete support for fixed-mobile convergence, including instant messaging and video on demand, and allows operators to focus on applications instead of access technologies.

According to Informa Telecoms and Media's lead analyst Dimitris Mavrakis, 2006 and 2007 are "make or break" years for IMS. He added that fixed-mobile converged services are expected to take off around 2011, after players in the fixed and mobile markets have separately deployed IMS successfully.

Tony Seeto, director of business development at Hong Kong CSL, noted that the usability and availability of 3G handsets is a very important element in IMS. The mobile operator introduced IMS-based video sharing last November, which provides subscribers with the ability to share a real-time or pre-recorded video during a voice conversation.

Seeto pointed out that while users can control the media used during a voice conversation, the user interface could present some challenges in exercising that control. "There's a lot of future [potential], but we need to think of how to improve the user interface," he said.

Peer-to-peer content-sharing could also throw up challenges in the area of digital rights management (DRM) or copyright protection. Handset manufacturers could help address this by implementing a lock feature that prevents content from being forwarded to another user, said Seeto.

He noted that operators also need to work more closely to deal with pricing issues. When a customer goes overseas, signals are sent from the handset to the IMS networks to establish connection. These services are then treated as overseas roaming traffic and charged accordingly, even though the customer may not have used any IMS service.

According to Seeto, interest in integrated multimedia services will improve when more handsets become available. Nonetheless, he added that operators need to "start somewhere", such as investing in applications to arouse the interest of consumers. As part of its 3G mobile TV offering, Hong Kong's CSL paid for the development of a mobile drama series, which later moved the local movie industry to contribute a second drama series for the platform.

Companies such as Ericsson, are bullish about the growth of IMS. Ann Emilson, Ericsson's president and country manager for Singapore, reported that the company has performed 38 IMS trials worldwide, and is involved in 18 IMS contracts that will lead to commercial launches.

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