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IMS and the Future of Telecommunications

By Mike McHugh

IMS Magazine

While service providers consider these challenging questions, they are seeing the convergence of network infrastructures whereby the line between fixed and mobile broadband service providers is blurring. In conjunction with this phenomenon, there is a convergence of telecommunications and IP-based technologies, which facilitates the creation and delivery of new services on top of these converging networks. Because of the increasing need for flexibility, the traditional approach to “network architecture,” in which functional decomposition of the network is facilitated by the standardization of protocols, is giving way to a new “software architecture” for service delivery.

Service providers continue to face increasing market pressures in the global telecom market, forcing them to contemplate new ways to conduct business. How should they manage their evolving network infrastructure? How can they increase average revenue per user (ARPU)? How can they receive continued loyalty from their existing subscriber base by adding new, value-added services? How can they continue to reduce their ongoing expenditures in the face of smaller margins while achieving a faster service deployment model? Arguably the telecommunications industry is going through another transformation that bridges telecom and IT technologies. The IT model is slowly making its way into the telecom market through the use of well known programming models as well as the integration of telecom and IT services onto the desktop and mobile devices. This transformation poses a challenge to traditional equipment providers who have to combat margin erosion by delivering new applications and services. IMS represents just another instance of the “IT-ification” of the telecom industry. This means that in the future, applications and services will represent growing opportunities.

The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is an attempt to address these points. The IMS architecture provides for real-time service delivery over a packet network, thus allowing for the creation and deployment of IP-based voice and multimedia services, while integrating with legacy networks for integration with existing services. The advent of IMS brings many intriguing possibilities to all service providers. While IMS technology is still in the early stages of market development, it is enabling a new wave of carrier spend geared towards offering new voice, video, and data services.

However, the acceptance of the IMS architecture creates new challenges for application and service infrastructure. The convergence of networks offering data, voice, and multimedia services requires a flexible and robust, standards-based software solution. Cost-effective, value-added network services require applications to provide a high degree of availability, seamless interoperability and high performance. The IMS promise of lowering costs for service providers while providing an expanded range of value added services cannot be realized unless the service and application infrastructure accurately reflect the requirements of a real, operational network. The role of the IMS application server in this architecture is more central and critical to service provider success than ever before.

The IMS application server must also significantly reduce the time-to-market for the launch of new services. Developers must be able to write applications much quicker by relying on open protocols such as Java, SIP, and XML, instead of being faced with having to master older, proprietary languages. One can imagine the millions of capable Java programmers in the world today. A new service delivery platform and a wealth of programmers will lead to a shorter time-to-market as a new service can be introduced in just a few months instead of years. Now service providers can easily experiment with new services as well as combinations of new services, quickly making them available in new combinations or removing them altogether from the applications portfolio if the uptake is not there. The end result is this reduces the service providers’ “cost of being wrong” and service providers will have more time to discover the illusive “killer app” or to launch a suite of applications that provide value in combination, which ultimately increases their ARPU without increasing their costs.

In conclusion, an IP-based network architecture based on IMS will be the core element of future, next-generation networks. A key factor for service providers with IMS networks to realize maximum revenue potential from their investments is the strategic decision on which IMS application services platform to deploy, with an IMS-compliant SIP application server at its core. This critical decision will determine how rapidly service providers can begin to monetize their IMS network investments through the delivery of a new generation of multimedia services. Over the next few issues we’ll take a deeper look at the

IMS application services platform, including the support systems (provisioning, policy definition and distribution, customer self-care, digital rights management, and so forth) that allow service providers to rapidly monetize their IMS networks.

Mike McHugh is vice president and general manager, BEA WebLogic Communications Platform, at BEA Systems. For more information, please visit the company online at www.bea.com. (news - alerts)

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