IMS gets boost from tech specs

A mobile industry group hopes to address issues with IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS) applications on cell phones with a new set of technical specifications.

The industry has moved one step closer to addressing some of the issues that dog IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS).

The Open Mobile Terminal Platform (OMTP) has drawn up a set of specifications that lay the foundation for deploying IMS applications on handsets.

While many in the mobile industry believe that IMS will play a significant role in the future of data services, there are issues over the practicalities of deployment, which need to be addressed before IMS can deliver on its potential, the OMTP said in a recent statement.

IMS is a generic architectural framework for delivering IP multimedia services to mobile users. It is designed to deliver rich multimedia and voice applications across multiple wireless access technologies including 3G and wireless LAN.

However, the lack of common handset standards that support IMS services has been a stumbling block to the technology's deployment. With the new specifications, OMTP hopes to achieve interoperability of IMS-based applications across multiple handsets and mobile services, a consistent and coherent user experience, as well as the consolidation of specifications that can be tiered for widespread uptake.

Tim Raby, CEO of OMTP, said: "Despite the issues around its deployment, IMS delivers a host of potential benefits for operators, not least the ability to improve quality of service for end users.

"For this to become a reality, however, there is a certain amount of 'knitting' needed to join up various elements. Our requirements give clear guidance to ensure IMS has the opportunity to deliver on its promises," he added.

Dean Bubley, an analyst at U.K.-based technology consultancy company Disruptive Analysis, noted in a recent blog posting that the new specifications "seem as though they've tackled some of the main deficiencies, although I suspect that there will need to be a couple of subsequent iterations before the IMS on-handset experience is truly integrated with all the other non-IMS functions of the phone".

Bubley, however, noted that because OMTP is an organization that is "specifically about phones", it does not address the issue of IMS application development and distribution.

"One of the worst things about IMS is that it doesn't support the type of broad innovation and ultra-rapid, viral, cross-network uptake that drives the Internet/Web 2.0 world," he said.

"A small startup in Santa Clara or Bangalore cannot develop a cool IMS app, put it out there in beta form, and have 10 million people around the world download it and forward a link to their friends--irrespective of their operator."

Still, Bubley welcomed the IMS standardization effort as a way to spearhead IMS adoption.

The analyst said that IMS standards so far have been driven largely by network infrastructure companies, which assumed that phones would "naturally follow" and would have a user interfaces "defined by the market".

"That might have been true in the early days of GSM, when handset software was confined to a dialer and phonebooks, but is woefully inadequate today, where phones OS, application and UI (user interface) software runs to millions of lines of code, with a high percentage of the pain of any handset development project related to software integration and testing.

"It was clearly a poor situation for most operators, handset OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and application/service developers, and has contributed to the dearth of serious IMS rollout in the mobile industry," Bubley said.