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July 27, 2006

Industry-leading Vendors Combine to Develop Advances to IMS Framework

By Robert Liu, TMCnet Executive Editor

A group of leading communications companies is working to develop advances to the IP Multimedia Subsystem (News - Alert) (IMS) architecture as deployments become a reality for carriers and telecom equipment manufacturers (TEMs) trying to help consumers and businesses bridge their legacy networks with the feature-rich Internet Protocol (IP) realm.
The multi-vendor team – led by Verizon Wireless and includes engineers and strategists from Cisco Systems (News - Alert), Lucent Technologies (News - Alert), Motorola, Nortel and Qualcomm – has initially adopted the generic term of “A-IMS,” which stands for “Advances to IMS,” for its vision for the advancement of next-generation network (NGN) technologies. The ultimate goal is to provide practical, real-world solutions to implement NGN services not only on IMS-based networks but also current legacy systems. A-IMS hopes to create a foundation for the efficient roll-out of both Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and non-SIP-based services.
“What I would tell you is it is really an attempt to find a way to provide a logical evolution from where we are today to where we all know where we’re going to be tomorrow,” Dick Lynch, Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at Verizon Wireless, told media and analysts.
But during a conference call, Lynch and his team were quick to emphasize that the goal A-IMS isn’t to splinter the IMS architecture, which has already been accepted by the 3GPP wireless governing body in its Release 5 and 6 specifications. Verizon, itself, has committed to rolling out IMS components over the next 12-18 months.
“There is nothing here that is intended to in any way [degrade] or dismiss any of the work that has been done to this point in IMS,” Lynch said. The teleconference also included Ed Salas, VP, Network Planning, Verizon Wireless; Larry Lang, Vice President and General Manager, Mobile Wireless Group and the Broadband Subscriber Applications Business Unit, Cisco; Paul Mankiewich, Chief Technology Officer, Network Systems Group, Lucent Technologies; Fred Wright, SVP, Networks and Enterprise, Motorola; Doug Wolff, VP and General Manager, CDMA, Nortel; and Roberto Padovani, Chief Technology Officer, QUALCOMM
Instead, A-IMS is designed to fill gaps that were left out when the standards were first developed. Among the key contributions of the A-IMS proposal, officials said, is its outline for a comprehensive security platform that includes a Security Manager mechanism to monitor the entire network at all times, rather than a single application or feature set. In addition, A-IMS also addresses Uniform Treatment of SIP and non-SIP Applications, Dual IP Address Anchoring; Three-Layer Peering; and Multi-Tiered Service Interaction Management.
“Two areas in particular to highlight: one in the area of supporting the applications that are aware of and use this architecture of IMS but also acknowledging that there are other applications either pre-existing or perhaps developed in the future that are not aware of or using this architecture. And yet we have to be able to work with those as well,” said Cisco’s Lang.
“The other area that deserves special highlighting is security and understanding that what had gone before had been silent on this topic and yet clearly that's not an acceptable way of deploying in the real world.” Lang added.
To be sure, for A-IMS to become an actual standard, the work will likely need the support of market leading TEMs such as Ericsson (News - Alert) and Nokia, which is in the midst of merging with Siemens. For those dominant players to take advantage of the joint development, a vendor like Ericsson may have to reveal trade secrets like its proprietary security schema – a move that it might be reluctant to make. To this degree, Lynch and his team admitted that they will have to proceed with some level of “humility” in developing their documentation.
In addition, the work is likely to overlap with other standards groups. However, Motorola’s Wright explained A-IMS would largely be complementary to the interoperability specs being developed by the Communications Platform Trade Association (CP-TA), which is spearheaded by Motorola and its longstanding partner, Intel (News - Alert).
Still, for vendors like Motorola, the solutions outlined by A-IMS couldn’t come fast enough as the company is currently in the midst of its first IMS deployment.
“We are commercializing our first IMS solution in the fall of 2006,” Wright said. “We're frankly dealing with all of the issues that we are talking about on the call today and we're having to deal with it in an ad hoc fashion instead of an orderly fashion because frankly they haven't been addressed by standards.”
“As we've gone through the practical implement of our first IMS commercial solution that we will commercialize this fall, one of the things that we've seen is that the standards as they exist today simply don't address a seamless transition for a user from one type of an access network to another and particularly between let's say CDMA-1x and DO-Rev A.
“Users expect to have exactly the same type of experience to be able to use features exactly the same way as they've always used them as they move from one technology to another because frankly the customer often times have no clue whether they are operating on a 1x network or one of our next-generation networks that we might be implementing. So I think what this team is addressing are the white spaces as I would call it that frankly were not as adequately addressed as they should have been when the standards was first developed,” Wright said.
Motorola officials declined to elaborate on the details of the IMS deployment such as a customer name.
Despite the group’s heavy influence in CDMA, Lynch also emphasized that A-IMS has the stated goal of being access-agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter if the users was accessing network services via a cellular or WiMAX network. “We believe this is relevant to any network operator regardless of their access technology. And by that, I’m not only talking about mobile technologies but I’m also talking fixed access technologies,” he said, adding that Verizon Wireless has been working with its fixed-line counterparts at Verizon.
For the time being, the task force plans to work together to come up with a concept document and an architecture document. Afterwards, the task force companies plan to approach IETF, 3GPP, 3GPP2, CableLabs and other standards bodies.
Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.


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