In the next decade, there are several key market dynamics that will continue to reshape the telecommunications industry. Intense competition is driving voice prices down. Consumer spending on broadband is expected to rise significantly. Music and gaming content is exploding as consumer spend in these areas is anticipated to continue to rise exponentially. Meanwhile, device and Internet protocol (IP) network proliferation continues, and new points of high-speed Internet access are rapidly emerging. Together these factors are driving the convergence of telecommunications with other industries and creating unprecedented change and growth potential for telecom providers as “traditional product” markets decline and new service opportunities arise. This growth in supply and demand for new technologies and services will be facilitated by the continued industry move to IP technology platforms.
The move to IP platformswill allow service providers to achieve continued cost reduction and new revenue protection and growth. Aggressive competition and increasing consumer choice make time-to-revenue a critical competitive differentiator and Telecoms are quickly turning to IP-based or next-generation networks (NGN) in order to deliver an improved user experience with services like Voice over IP and IPTV. Service delivery platforms to support new multimedia/ convergent service delivery are being driven by the 3GPP’s Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystems (IMS). The industry at large is encouraged by the potential of IMS-based platforms to deliver new applications that combine voice and data and facilitate continued fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), while also reducing telecom service provider opex and capex.
The industry seems to be in general agreement that the promise of IMS will not be fully achieved until 2010, but they already see real movement towards adoption and acceptance as well as achievement of desired business results.
The full development of IMS will occur in three phases. Phase one, or the emerging phase, spans from 2005–2007 and is comprised of service providers seeking first mover advantage. During this time we will continue to see some proofs of concept and initial mobile deployments, but services will be limited in subscriber reach. The initial technology supplier directions and partnerships will be enterprise-focused because the simplest IMS services are of more value to businesses.
Phase two spans from 2006–2009 and it is in this phase that we expect to see IMS become “real.” While still considered early in the IMS lifecycle, there will be evidence of key benefits demonstrated. This timeframe will be marked by service providers collaborating with significant IMS-capable service deployments, and a broader range of agreements spanning fixed and mobile network operators. Billing, customer care, and user information will be dealt with consistently during this phase.
The third and final phase covers 2010 and beyond. This phase is characterized by the full realization of IMS benefits. We expect to see the broad interconnection and availability of IMS services across all fixed and mobile networks for voice and data, and mobile VoIP will bring all services into the IP domain. This will be possible because the mobile VoIP QoS issues will have been resolved by this point. There will also be two distinct “horizontal” propositions in both fixed and mobile: one based on services, the other on access.
SUCCESS WITH IMS
Composite Services and Service Creation Environments are key to achieving success in implementing IMS. Undoubtedly, the transition to Next Generation Networks is happening in a cost constrained environment, so it is imperative for service providers to be able to reuse existing applications and infrastructures in creative ways for new service creation. Services enablers are deployed as common elements across multiple services ensuring commonality between services and cost reduction through reuse.
Composite Services are built from one or more “foundation” services which will include different media types. A “foundation” service is a simple basic service that can be sold in its own right (e.g., Push2 X, instant conferencing, or streaming video). Composite Services are composed by combining two or more foundation services into an integrated service package as needed to meet specific customer segment requirements. Service providers can create Composite Services to continuously refresh and expand their suite of offered services while continuing to use a mix of existing and new applications. Composite Services therefore allow for a few services to be configured in a multitude of ways.
When moving to IP-based networks it is also necessary to establish a comprehensive, scalable service creation environment (SCE) that is built on, and supports, open standards-based interfaces. A complete, carrier-grade SCE should provide a formalized, well-documented, and commercially-available process model with an integrated set of life cycle tools.
A common platform for executing both HTTP- and SIP-based applications is necessary to deliver composite services in an economically viable way. What happens if one application component in the service goes down? How is failover managed for the entire service?
For most telecommunications companies today, it would not be possible to respond in an automated way because of the lack of integration between the HTTP and SIP environments. The result? An inconsistent quality of service to the end user.
To deliver a high-performance execution environment for converged services, a truly converged HTTP/SIP application platform must be in place to enable the delivery of a high quality of service by leveraging features such as handling failover seamlessly, session management, edge routing, and load balancing for converged services to, ultimately, drive high-quality customer experiences and substantial revenues.
Take the example of an interactive gaming offering, in which users use one device both for gaming and for “trash talking” with voice communications. This offering could rely on a gaming application created by one party, a conferencing application created by another party, and existing presence or location information in the network environment. Exchanging information about these components and synchronizing development efforts among the various parties can be laborious. If an organization does not manage these processes effectively, it may lack flexibility. For example, recombining the conferencing application and the presence or location information with a different gaming application is likely to take as much time and resources as it would be starting from scratch. Managing updates to any component application would also create major headaches.
In order to avoid such issues and maximize flexibility and speed when bringing new services to market, it will be important to manage the entire life cycle of the service — from requirements definition to development to testing to deployment to later updates — in a common, standards-based environment, with tools tailored to various users’ skill levels.
Integrating various applications and service components can be time consuming and complex — becoming more and more so as the sources and number of components making up a composite service grow. Telecom service providers must work to assemble service application components into rich composite services and efficiently connect them with business and operating support systems — and thereby facilitate quick and easy deployment.
In summary, telecoms are trying to proactively understand customers’ desires and quickly create and deliver the new services that will stave off competitors, while also protecting and growing their businesses.
Faced with continually mounting competitive pressures and customer demands, telecom service providers will have to be fast and creative. The challenge is trying to rapidly design new services that span legacy mobile, fixed-line, and data networks and then manage the interactions between these telecommunications networks and the complex IT systems that support them. If these challenges are addressed properly, the proliferation of IP technology and the corresponding movement towards IT-style telecommunications infrastructures will create the opportunity to deliver enhanced services to customers rapidly and cut the costs of developing and managing services. The combination of service creation, delivery, and management of IP and composite IP services will enable the telecom industry to achieve the maximum return on investment and to realize the promise of IMS.
Joseph Ziskin is vice president of strategy, IBM Telecommunications Industry. For more information, please visit the company online at http://www.ibm.com. (news - alerts)