IMS at the crossroads

12 Feb 2007

After years of uncertainty over standards and compatibilities, IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS) technology has come to a crossroads, its acceptance spurred by carriers that want to cut costs and embrace the promise of next-generation networks, but full-scale deployments hampered by a lack of applications. Many IMS proponents, however, insist IMS is set to boom this year, with initial deployments by fixed and mobile carriers in Asia, Europe and the Americas already rolling out.

'IMS is the big thing out there. It's being acknowledged by everyone,' says Harald Braun, CEO of Siemens Networks. 'The IMS concept and architecture have been sanctioned by all the major standards bodies, and its implementation will bridge both mobile and fixed networks, enabling the convergence of both applications and services.'

'All the vendors claim to have an IMS story,' says Vikram Saksena, CTO of Sonus Networks. 'This is the year you will be ferreting out what is real and what is not.'

In a recent report, Keith Nissan, an In-State analyst, predicts that IMS subscribers will grow from 10 million this year to more than 500 million by 2011. He says spending on IMS control layer equipment will hit $12 billion during the next four years. 'There is no debate over whether IMS will be deployed,' Nissan explains. 'The question is how rapidly operators will move beyond the fixed-point solutions being deployed currently.'

Virtually every major vendor in the telecom industry is making a big bet on IMS, which was originally developed for 3G carriers and now is viewed more broadly as a technology that allows users to seamlessly communicate across multiple networks.

Ronald Gruia, senior telecom analyst for Frost & Sullivan, expects the global IMS market to jump from an estimated $200 million to $300 million in 2006 to $10.4 billion in 2010. 'A lot of carriers are looking at IMS as a way to cut their costs, but where are the applications‾' asks Gruia. The answer will become apparent as operators move away from their legacy systems to NGNs. By embracing IMS solutions carriers will be able to reduce their capex spending by at least 5%-10% initially, and will realize huge savings in their opex as they move more applications to converged networks, says Gruia.

Gruia notes that many operators, especially in the wireless field, frequently gamble large amounts of money on introducing new applications to their users. The beauty of IMS, he contends, is that it will greatly lower the cost of these service introductions. 'IMS is going to reduce the cost of carriers being wrong,' he notes. 'It is going to allow carriers to fail a lot more often and a lot more cheaply.' The upside is that it will allow carriers to experiment by introducing new services to their markets. Still, he and many others expect the effect of IMS to be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Different approaches

The main reason is that carriers around the world still take a cautious approach to IMS deployment. In-Stat's Nissan noted that fixed-line carriers are taking a fundamentally different approach than wireless carriers, which is creating confusion in the marketplace.

'The fixed-line carriers take a more transitional approach, a more pragmatic approach,' he explains. 'They are trying to offer new services that compete with companies like Vonage or Skype without completely abandoning their existing infrastructure.

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