October 2007 | Volume 2 / Number 5
IMS State of the Union
• Service providers are still adjusting to the business case - in a Frost & Sullivan survey* conducted earlier this year, roughly 33% of operators raised questions about the value proposition and sales pitch of IMS.
• Operators are still coping with how they should migrate their network and service to IMS.
• IMS standardization efforts are ongoing, therefore it is better to wait until things become a little bit more settled.
• Other high rider caveats mentioned included the lack of openness of IMS (i.e., the proprietary nature of some of the solutions available in today's marketplace) and the need for more IOT (interoperability testing).
Service providers are realizing that the move to IMS will be a gradual transition over time, entailing the interplay of different network applications, technologies and protocols as the networks evolve. In order to achieve success in the prevalent complex and highly competitive environment, they need to comprehend how the evolution of their networks will affect their business, and more importantly, what is the best transitional path to follow. Not surprisingly, we have witnessed efforts such as A-IMS, which was spearheaded by Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless, and involved a strong partnership between that operator and its innovative suppliers. The more successful vendors have been proactive in helping their carrier customer transition to the NGN, by making these operators aware of what is coming and how to best tackle some issues even before they arise.
Recent Contract Announcements and Pending Tenders
In terms of announcements, there have been a few noticeable contracts awarded over the past year.
One noteworthy deal that was publicized back in late March was Verizon Wireless. The U.S. operator awarded a three-year $6 billion contract to Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert), including wireless and networking equipment and services. While the press release suggested elements of an IMS win, it did not explicitly mention core IMS infrastructure. Our channel checks indicate that Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens, along with Nortel (News - Alert), have a chance to win the Verizon Wireless IMS sweepstakes. That said we believe that the final decision by Verizon is very likely to be still several months away.
Other deals that could come to fruition soon include T-Mobile (News - Alert). In this particular case, the consensus within the players we talked to is that Alcatel-Lucent is the leading candidate to with this IMS contract, although this is not expected to be a deal as sizeable as AT&T (an earlier IMS win clinched by Alcatel-Lucent).
Another decision expected soon is Verizon. The Verizon IMS opportunity for NEVs has been estimated at around $50-$100 million by some Wall Street observers, assuming initial deployments of several hundred million lines. The consensus estimate is that the carrier's IMS decision is imminent, and a first office application to be introduced in the fourth quarter of 2007. Some Wall Street pundits believe that players such as Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia (News - Alert) Siemens, and Nortel have been selected from a wide array of vendors in the first stage. For this wireline portion of the carrier's overall IMS deployment, these experts believe that Nokia Siemens (News - Alert) currently has a slight edge over Alcatel-Lucent and Nortel in meeting the early stage technical qualifications. Alcatel-Lucent, being the largest vendor (in terms of market share of legacy Class-5 switches at Verizon) cannot be discarded as one of the favorites, and neither can Nortel, which was the recipient of the VoIP equipment contract at Verizon back in 2004.
Other Related Market Activity
But going above and beyond these specific announcements and pending contract awards, it is important to note that there have been quite a few related developments that are positive for IMS. One of them is the migration on the signaling front (from SS7 to SIGTRAN, or SS7 over IP) that was discussed in an earlier column (please refer to 3GSM IMS Steeplechase article, which appeared on the April 2007 edition of IMS Magazine). Vendors such as Tekelec (News - Alert) are the beneficiaries of this migration on the signaling front (from SS7 to SIGTRAN, or SS7 over IP). That particular step could be an important initial one as carriers gradually transition to IMS.
The transition to an NGN IMS-like architecture will have a profound impact on the signaling layer, as the signaling protocol will migrate from signaling system 7 (SS7) to session initial protocol (SIP) and the signal transfer point (STP) of the SS7 network will migrate to the call session control function (CSCF) of the IMS architecture. Some early engineering simulations reveal that there will be a significant increase in traffic, expressed both in terms of number of messages per service (which can grow five times) and overall size in bytes (which can grow by over 25 times).
The issue of message size is particularly important for the air interface. The standards bodies have addressed this issue by defining RFC 3320 Signaling Compression (SigComp) as well as an Internet Draft RFC titled Applying Signaling Compression (SigComp) to the Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert) (SIP) Standard. Carriers that intend to send SIP over the radio access interface should consider SigComp (or signaling compression).
Most industry experts agree on one thing: the evolution to IMS will span many years. During this time, there will be a mix of signaling technologies deployed; the market will gradually evolve towards SIP-based signaling, however SS7 will still remain a key signaling technology for many years to come. The importance of SS7 will be premised by several factors, including its role in enabling roaming in a mobile environment, in addition to the large installed base of SS7 based technology. This will lead to the coexistence of SIP and SS7 in carrier's networks.
In addition, operators will start capping their investments in current technologies and gradually begin to shift them to new equipment purchases. As they embark on their IMS migrations, there will be several paths open to them, including undergoing an incremental buildout starting from the SCIM component. The idea is to create a framework that centralizes service interaction and mediation at the core of the network. By electing this option, operators will be able to get the benefits of IMS in a pre-IMS environment without incurring the cost of deploying a full-blown IMS network.
Finally, as carriers embark on the NGN upgrade journeys, one important consideration is how to interwork their existing networks with future IMS networks in order to deliver a seamless service experience to subscribers regardless of their access technology. Only when they reach this point that they will be able to realize the full promise of IMS.
Note: In the next column, we will take a more in-depth look at how IMS is being looked at by service providers in Latin America, after gathering their opinions at Futurecom, which is the largest telecom show in the region. Futurecom will be held in Florianópolis (Brazil) from October 1-4, 2007.
*Please refer to IMS - Ready for Prime Time? by Ronald Gruia, released by Frost & Sullivan in February 2007.