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Monday, July 4, 2011

The bumpy road of IMS (part 1): History repeats itself

The bumpy road of IMS (part 1): History repeats it self
Ali Kafel – May 20th, 2011

The use of fear to motivate people to do (or not to do) certain things is not new. Humans have been using fear tactics for generations—in  religion, politics, and business—and FUD is well established in the technology industry.  I was recently talking to a service provider about IP Multimedia Services (IMS) because they were pondering whether to make big investments in IMS. We had a very open and honest conversation and I would like to share the major points.

To learn from history and understand why the road to IMS has been bumpy, let’s look back at the mid 1980s after the divestiture of AT&T (and the start of deregulation in the US). After divestiture, the resulting seven Regional Bell Companies, and other organizations around the globe started the Intelligent Network (IN) initiative.  The goal was to become independent of the switch vendors by pulling the service logic  away from the local switches and deploying it on general-purpose computers located in the SS7 “cloud.”’  This was called the Intelligent Network with servers known as  Service Control Points (SCP). It allowed new services to be easily developed on general-purpose computers and deployed on a central database, which made them easily accessible on all network switches through a client-server model.  Unfortunately, this initiative, which went on for many years did not have much success because the architecture still needed a good amount of cooperation from the switch vendors, which often needed to change/provision the ‘client side’ of the switches (known as Service Switching Points, SSPs) in order to interact with the SCP. This resulted in fewer new services being developed than originally expected because many of these IN services were provided by the switch vendors, which controlled the SSP and therefore also provided their own SCPs.

The drive to open up the network and move away from the control of the PSTN switches did not end with IN, however.  The next movement --namely, softswitches and the creation of the Next Generation Network (NGN)—started in the 1990s.  Unlike IN, which was led by the ’Bell’ companies, the Softswitching/NGN initiative was led by the Internet and VoIP companies like Sonus. The goal of NGN has been to offer IP-based services that can significantly reduce the costs for the Telcos and allow them to create and offer new revenue generating services easily.  3GPP embraced the NGN/Softswitching architecture and standardized it in R4. While NGN/Softswitching was focused on voice services over IP-based networks interconnecting with the PSTN, 3GPP decided to address the need of multi-media services s in R5 and this gave birth to the IP-Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standard.

IMS is a framework delivering multimedia (Voice, Data , Video and Messaging) services defined in 2003 by the 3GPP organization in Release 5 (R5). To date, there are relatively few IMS subscribers. According to iLocus,  an industry research group focused on carrier-grade telecom networks, a total of 208 million IMS subscriber lines had been deployed across both wireline and wireless networks as of end 1H10. More than half the deployments took place in wireline networks. The number of IMS subscribers is unimpressive, however, compared to the roughly 6B phone subscribers (about 5B mobile and 1B Fixed),. The question in most peoples’ minds is why? Why has IMS not taken off as originally planned?

Tune in for part 2 of this Blog to answer this question.

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