November 27, 2006
Three Tiers for IMS
By Jay Seaton, CMO, Airwide Solutions
(IP multimedia subsystem) is the Holy Grail for mobile service operators who want to grow and embrace emerging revenue-generating technologies and services. IMS is a reference architecture designed to provide standardized, next-generation platforms for operators to deliver reliable multimedia mobile messaging. But the question of how to get to IMS can be an expensive one. Operators are already being squeezed by increasing subscriber demand for more features and services at lower prices, the need to increase capacity to handle growing demand for mobile messaging and the prohibitive costs of deploying subscriber services. It’s a mobile Catch-22.
Those who believe the only way to build an effective IMS architecture is to replace their existing infrastructure with an IMS network and products are missing the point and are dooming IMS initiatives to failure. Rather, operators should build on their existing infrastructure investments. That is, separate the architecture into more affordable, manageable pieces to support both the SS7 network they have in place and newer applications that support the session initiation protocol (SIP
) for delivering multimedia messaging services (MMS).
The first critical step toward achieving an IMS environment is to form a tiered architecture that separates intelligent storage, routing
capabilities for directing traffic, and gateways to manage messaging traffic and other service providers. Creating tiers of separately scalable components lets operators buy what they need when they need it. Most importantly, it provides a practical, controlled, phased approach to IMS without disrupting their existing messaging network or the billing, reporting and management elements.
The Mobile Catch-22 Explained
Mobile operators are suffering through the same opposing market pressures that forced many Internet service providers (ISPs) to either consolidate or diversify their services. Text messaging, like Internet access, is becoming a commodity billable by a low flat rate or bundled packages, not by time. Subscribers are demanding faster, better and more personalized services. Operators are trying to prevent churn and attract new customers by delivering services that bring more value to customers and by increasing the quality of service. Just as ISPs offered DSL
to retain and add customers, mobile operators are offering services such as MMS to entice subscribers to send picture messages and increase both usage and loyalty.
But the cost of rolling out new revenue-generating services can be steep, and present operators with some tough IT strategy questions. Aside from deploying services, do operators have the capacity to handle increased traffic and spikes caused by messaging applications without degrading quality of service? How will they do capacity planning for current and future traffic levels while reducing costs? How can incremental capacity be deployed when existing systems provide historical reporting of traffic requirements but do not provide comprehensive analysis of emerging traffic patterns?
A Three-Tiered Approach
Operators first need to evaluate their existing infrastructures and determine current and future needs and what they’ll need to get there. If they want to strive for an IMS architecture, they should avoid rip-and-replace “advice.” They’ve already spent tens of millions of dollars on short message service centers (SMSCs) and other messaging infrastructure elements. Why not use those investments as the cornerstone for building an architecture that supports next-generation messaging services, and add capacity, storage and other elements specifically when needed?
Operators should consolidate their SMSC infrastructure to focus on intelligent storage and second attempt message delivery. Doing so gives them the capacity to handle traffic growth while ensuring the system reliably delivers messages not received on the first attempt. A multimedia messaging service center (MMSC) allows operators to offer high-volume multimedia messaging to help grow revenues. MMSCs act as push servers to handle picture, video and other multimedia messages.
Architectures that feature messaging routers to complement SMSCs and MMSCs give operators more control over how they manage messaging traffic, and offer a cost-effective means of adding capacity. Routers act as frontline network elements to intelligently route messages, distribute traffic loads among different servers and deliver messages on first attempt (first delivery attempt) without storing them. This intelligent routing streamlines the network, reducing storage costs and ensuring the infrastructure runs efficiently, improving quality of service
The third tier involves messaging gateways operators can use to manage all of their messaging traffic. These gateways will enable operators to integrate applications into their network, and provide connectivity management and policy enforcement to ensure their messaging networks direct traffic accurately and efficiently. Operators will save themselves many headaches by ensuring the gateway they deploy is protocol agnostic, enabling them to embrace a variety of current and next-generation technologies such as SIP.
Deploying such a three-tier architecture, including SMSCs and MMSCs, routers and gateways, gives mobile operators a platform for deploying new revenue-enhancing services without disrupting their existing services, billing and management systems. Operators can offer a variety of personalized messaging options such as archiving, group messaging, parental controls, anti-spam and find me, follow me that will differentiate the operator’s services and retain customers who have customized their messaging to suit their needs. This type of architecture also helps operators better manage these services while reducing deployment and operating costs, so they can avoid the Mobile Catch-22.
More importantly, a three-tier architecture is an affordable stepping stone toward an IMS architecture that embraces voice, SMS, MMS and other next-generation technologies that will help operators continue to grow revenues in an environment of ever thinner margins.
Jay Seaton is chief marketing officer for Airwide Solutions, a company specializing in next-generation mobile messaging infrastructure and applications.