What's So Great About IMS?

Updated: February 26, 2007

Most telecom carriers and hardware and software vendors view the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) architecture as the industry's great unifying technology, bringing wireline, cable, Internet and wireless systems together into a seamless communications environment. In a perfect world, the path to universal IMS adoption would be both smooth and problem-free. But, as with any emerging technology the road to IMS convergence is full of bumps and potholes. Any organization investigating IMS convergence will want to do its best to avoid these obstacles.

The Challenge

While virtually all major telecom industry players now have IMS on their radar screen, and news of planned new IMS-compatible products, services and other initiatives are arriving almost daily, there's still a nagging feeling that many carriers and vendors are simply paying lip service to the technology. It's much easier to find grand schemes than actual, useful products and services. That's probably because many industry players are biding their time and waiting to see how things shake out. Few vendors want to risk a massive investment in a technology that doesn't gain market traction.

Still, despite the current vendor hesitation, IMS's future appears bright. In a telecom world that's increasingly driven by Internet technologies and standards, IMS presents a pathway to reaching a variety of ambitious industry goals, including new services, speedier service delivery, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and a consistent user experience across various communication modes. Add to all of this the ability to exploit legacy infrastructures for the support of composite services, and one has a very attractive base for moving ahead with an array of potential lucrative telecom projects.

As envisioned by its supporters, IMS will work with any fixed or wireless network with packet-switching functions, including GPRS, UMTS, CDMA2000, WiMAX , DSL and cable. Legacy phone systems, meanwhile, will be supported via gateways. Open interfaces between control and service layers will enable elements and sessions from different access networks to be mixed.

While all of this sounds great, it doesn't mean that the road to IMS will be either smooth or fast. In fact, the bumps and potholes we mentioned earlier promise a rough ride for early adopters. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing widespread IMS adoption is the development of a universally accepted standard. A fundamental framework is in place, yet vendors are already tampering with its foundation. Last summer for example, a group of telecom service providers and suppliers, including Verizon , Cisco Systems and Motorola, unveiled a plan for the advancement of next-generation network architecture for wireless mobile telecommunications networks by developing "enhancements" to IMS. Uh-oh.

VoIP to the Rescue?

Standards aside, IMS may get its biggest boost from VoIP providers that are looking forward to fixed-mobile convergence. Gartner, the Stamford, Conn.-based tech market research firm, predicts that by 2010, 77 percent of all investment in call control layers will be based on an IMS architecture, with VoIP providers leading the way. Although softswitch technology is less expensive and more widely available, IMS offers VoIP services core networking efficiencies and a standardized pathway to value-added services, such as push-to-talk (PTT) over cellular.

While talk of grand unification is wonderful, it seems that VoIP upstarts are once again leading the way to a major technological change. Perhaps a successful business case, if the VoIP guys can pull it off, will get everybody else in line.

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