Wednesday, May 2, 2007

IMS for Operators with Mobile & Fixed Units

In previous posts I described how I think IMS is currently perceived by many fixed operators and by mobile operators.

Operators that have both types of organization will obviously combine the fixed and mobile perceptions. As there are important differences between them, it might not help having a consolidated view on IMS at the company level. However, it is also likely that, for reasons explained before, IMS is a topic that is more on the radar of the fixed unit. This makes that the overall perception of IMS in the company is likely to be close to the one of a fixed operator.

However, the key IMS keyword for a fixed and mobile operator is likely to be convergence.
The only problem is to define what IMS-based fixed mobile convergence is, and to answer such a basic question as: how many IMS does it take to converge?

If you ask the question to each of the fixed and mobile organization, they are likely to provide one of the following answers:
- It takes two IMS core network for fixed mobile convergence: one for the converged fixed network and one for the converged mobile network.
- It takes only one IMS core network, as long as our organization owns it. Otherwise, we believe that IMS is a bad technology.

As I already had the opportunity to explain, I believe that not only fixed mobile convergence requires a single network, it also requires a unification of the fixed/mobile subscriber into a single converged subscriber. This unification will impact the whole company, and will need to be performed in several steps.

For the operator, the possibility to deploy a unique network shared between mobile and fixed access certainly represents an important opportunity for cost savings. It also certainly promises a better user experience for customers, including interesting possibilities for convergent services, available across all the devices connected to the network.

However, in the short and mid-term, IMS is also likely to be an important source of headaches. Being linked to fixed mobile convergence, which is a topic that will touch all the organizations of the operator and will eventually lead to a major redefinition of the company, IMS is a highly organizational and political topic for operators with mobile and fixed units.

Consequently, a key question associated to the deployment of IMS for such an operator is the following: should the re-organization of technical units start before IMS deployment, or can it start later, once IMS has been deployed and is already supporting several services?
My 2 cents to this very difficult question is that it may be good to provide a minimum of clarification concerning the future of the company and its existing organizations, and maybe even more than this, if the operator does not want to see an anti-IMS coalition being formed in organizations which do not know what their future will be.

This said, I believe that an operator that successfully handles the FMC challenges has good assets for success in the future telecom world, by its deep understanding of both the mobile and fixed domains, and by its established footprint as both a mobile and fixed operator.

Typically, in a case where a mobile operator would hesitate to deploy an innovative service because of the hurdle to get the relevant support in mobile handsets combined with doubts about its business case, a converged operator could decide to first deploy the service on open fixed devices (e.g. a PC), see how successful it is, and then drive the porting of the service on mobile handsets once it is confident that there is a clear demand for it. Similarly, a converged operator may from the beginning conceive services that will be accessible through fixed and mobile devices.

As a conclusion I would say that an operator with fixed and mobile units certainly faces the biggest challenges for deploying IMS, because of the FMC-enabling nature of IMS, while it may at the same time have the most interesting opportunities, thanks to the same FMC-enabling nature of IMS.

Christophe

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent Blog. I was wondering if you could enlighten us on SCIM in future articles.

Anonymous said...

Very informative blog. Please keep up the good work. 1) Would it be possible to add more service examples whenever you can? It is for me one handicap for the IMS. 2)I'd also like to see a better description on how a non-IMS-based service layer can take advantage of the power of IMS, i.e. how Internet/Web 2.0 companies could rely on IMS for value-added features provided by the Operators? 3) do you think that operators should unite for providing a semantic layer on top of IMS for a unified usage of services? So far, Parlay X didn't succeed and I personnaly don't see any standard capable of doing so? How would you see that?

Christophe Gourraud said...

Thanks for the positive feedback. This is important for me to see that what I write is not nonsense for everybody :)

On the SCIM... This is a very interesting topic, on which I have opinions that may not be mainstream at the moment. I will address the subject in the coming days.

The other questions are also very interesting.

This is my intention to describe more service examples in the future, so stay tune.

On 2) I will try to do something as well, though I am coming from the telco world and am not necessarily the best person to see what IMS can bring to Internet companies. However, I may have some points, for instance around the user orientation of IMS, or the opportunity for IMS to harmonize the set of protocols used in the Internet and impose SIP , an IETF protocol, as one of the important Internet protocols in the future.

Concerning 3), I think there is a need for operators to agree on an IMS application layer architecture, as well as on some basic principles. This might need to be done by operators among themselves, and not that much under the influence of classical telco vendors. On the other hand, the risk is to over-rely on standardization. There must be an agreement on basic principles, that leave room for differentiation and innovation. This is a difficult compromise to find, more especially in our industry, which is heavily standard-driven. For instance, a problem with a Parlay X approach is that it is a very slow process, which relies on the assumption that all service capabilities can and must be standardized. This was fine for the legacy telco world, but in an all-IP environment it should be possible to create new service capabilities very rapidly and for each operator to develop its own set of differentiating web services. This is more the Internet approach, in which new web services appear all the time without any need for a standard body to decide on all the details.

Zebo said...

I agree 100% about the slow process of Parlay X standardization. However, I would like to emphasize another aspect regarding service development using SIP vs. Parlay X "interfaces".
My statement here is: To stimulate and achieve rapid service creation in IMS, we need to create such a environment as in the case of the Web. This means use of 1) open and 2) web based interfaces.
2) SIP is not a web based interface, as XML and web services are. It is a signalling protocol that requires a knowledge, that Web programers don't have. "Every" Web programmer knows how to post a server with a XML/SOAP request and understands, for example, such a simple method as Parlay X's makeCall (in contrast with SIP's invite/ack/... how many messages compared to one?). No question, what one is more similar to "Skype's" callto://skypename/...
1) Telco providers will, in my opinion, not (with ease) open their networks and expose SIP protocol to large community of Web developers ("oh ... my call control is out of my control"). Service development might (again) stay a "walled garden" for small set of companies, instead for innumerable PHP/Flash/AJAX/.../Web 2.0/... developers. Take as a simplest example the SMS services (still the killer app of mobile operators :-). Interfaces, avalible from Telcos to develop these services are (mostly) XML/Web Services. A numerous of inovative application appeared from mostly web companies. The integration with Web, which is simplier in the case of Web interfaces, is yet another issue.

I would appreciate any opinion on this thought ...

BR, Zebo.

Christophe Gourraud said...

Hi Zebo,

I fully agree with the statement you are making about the importance of web services. The "official" IMS service architecture shows a very partial vision of the application layer, as an IMS application should make a heavy usage of SOA and web services, both by exposing services to 3rd party applications (typical Parlay X situation) and as a consumer of 3rd party services (the currently underestimated counterpart).

On the other hand, I may disagree with you for the SIP part. I believe that SIP could also be extensively used by 3rd parties (see my post on why IMS is not a walled garden) more especially if they implement endpoint centric services (in devices or application servers).

I therefore oppose to a vision where the whole application layer is about web services and SOA, and SIP is relegated to limited session control stuff. For me the optimal application world can equally use the power of web services and the power of SIP. See my post on the User Oriented Architecture.

Christophe

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