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IMS: a reality check

 Yesterday at the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Fort Lauderdale, I was privileged to be on a panel entitled: Quo Vadis? An IMS Industry Round Table.
Written by Russell Shaw, Contributor

Yesterday at the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Fort Lauderdale, I was privileged to be on a panel entitled: Quo Vadis? An IMS Industry Round Table.

OK, basics first. In this meaning, IMS refers to IP Media Subsystem, a type of next-generation architecture for mobile communications providers and carriers that, as best defined by Wikipedia:

Want to provide mobile and fixed multimedia services. It uses a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) implementation based on a 3GPP standardised implementation of SIP, and runs over the standard Internet Protocol (IP). Existing phone systems (both packet-switched and circuit-switched) are supported.

The aim of IMS is not only to provide new services but all the services, current and future, that the internet provides. In this way, IMS will give network operators and service providers the ability to control and charge for individual services. In addition, users will be able to execute all their services when roaming as well as from their home networks. To achieve these goals, IMS uses open standard IP protocols, defined by the IETF. So, a multimedia session between two IMS users, between an IMS user and a user on the Internet, and between two users on the Internet is established using exactly the same protocol. Moreover, the interfaces for service developers are also based on IP protocols. Hence the claim that IMS truly merges the internet with the cellular world; it uses cellular technologies to provide ubiquitous access and internet technologies to provide appealing services.

Whew. That's a lot to ask. Carriers need to be convinced that a single-service billing model will do them well over the long term. Significant infrastructure development to enable these functions? Gotta have that. CEOs and other high level corporate types that might be resistant to approve billions for these enablements have to have an ROI that will withstand Board of Directors and analyst scrutinies. Regulators have to be kept at bay.

Handset manufacturers have to work with chipmakers to overcome any and all form factor usage barriers- from on-device navigation to that ol' pesky power management. Competitors must agree on sets of universal standards. Carriers must be ready to articulate advantages to key buyers who will evangelize IMS' advantage to trend-leader customers.

As we discussed all these barriers, I proposed the notion that we are early in the game. IMS is primarily an engineering articulation, rather than a marketing one. Some of this, I said, is because of that "earlyness." Another reason, not to be ignored, is that engineers and marketers look at the world differently. You know, Venus and Mars In The Network?

Further on into the discussion, fellow panelists described a time-to-market scenario for fully enabled IMS infrastructures. Predictions ranged from two years to two decades. And these are from people in the industry.

Not that IMS functionality can't be achieved. Admittedly it was a greenfield lab setting, but panel participant Manuel Vexler, vp Interoperability and Plugfest for the IMS Forum, described how a fully functional IMS network deployment took just a couple days to build in a lab.

But that's a lab. Unlike what the great singer-songwriter John Mayer attests to, "there is such a thing as the real world.

A world full of the real and potential obstacles to ubiquitous IMS deployment that I have described.

OK then so how long to real IMS? Two years? No. Twenty years? Ah, cammon we can do better'n that.

I'll say 5-7 years.




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