The Divergence of CDMA and UMTS Operators on IMS: Summary of IMS Executive Conference, 19-20th September 2007, Washington DC

I attended the FierceMarket’s IMS Executive Summit 2007 on the 19th and 20th September.  The agenda included keynote presentations from Stuart Elby, Vice President, Network Architecture, Verizon; Mark Kaish, Vice President of Voice Development and Support, Cox Communications, and Narothum Saxena, Senior Director of Advanced Technology and Systems Planning, US Cellular.

Learning from the event

The CDMA and UMTS networks have clearly diverged on IMS.  Comparing this conference to IMS Asia in March of this year, the difference could not be starker.  The reason is CDMA operators decided voice over EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) will be VoIP, and IMS provides a standardized service control layer to support VoIP and other IP multimedia communication services.  UMTS does not require VoIP to implement voice services, so the drive does not exist.

Notes from the event

Stuart Elby’s Keynote: An open and frank presentation on the fact that VZ’s (Verizon) motivation for IMS is long-term operational cost savings in the services layer.  Highlighted the critical issues of:

  • Inter-carrier peering to enable VoIP and other IP-based multimedia services to work across operators.  Which is critical to meet the Internet threat as services must work with my contacts on other networks; and
  • ANI (Application Network Interface) to enable application developers, enterprises and customers to harness the capabilities in the network such as customer context, authentication, calling and messaging; to do stuff they want.

VZ plans to deploy CSCF (Call Session COntrol Function) and HSS (Home Subscriber Server) components in ’08.  Stuart highlighted the critical role of the SDP (Service Delivery Platform) in exposing the capabilities of IMS and other assets in their network.  This was one of the few presentations that had a cogent position on IMS and SDP, while most either ignored the SDP or thought Parlay was perfectly adequate; I’ll do an entry on this issue soon.

During questioning the issue of how enterprises use IMS capabilities in an operator’s network was raised, for example most of the flows will appear as encrypted VPNs (Virtual Private Network) because the enterprise wants to protect its information.  This is an area that needs attention, because enterprise communications are becoming a critical battle ground, witness Cisco’s Smart Business Communication Solutions.

Mark Kaish Keynote:  Mark gave an inspirational presentation.  Critical issues for Mark are bundling is becoming commoditized, and the ability to prime the pump with compelling applications for the many sub-segments in their customer base.  He highlighted the importance of using the Strategic Services Roadmap to drive the case for action in an operator.  They’re currently running an IMS technical trial for 85 of their employees, what has impressed them most is the speed at which new services can be created and deployed.  He gave examples of a day planner and a network address book.  During the questioning, the issue of how an operator markets so many applications was raised.  Here Web 2.0 comes into play in using community / viral marketing, as well as good old bundling and segmentation.  Mark also highlighted a problem common to many IMS trials, that SIP stacks are not all the same, they had handset software issues to address during the trial.

Narothum Saxena Keynote: US Cellular plan to trial IMS in ’08.  They view IMS as not an ‘if question’, rather a matter of ‘when.’

Session on Device Roadmap: Paul Callahan (Airvana) highlighted for me the key point of the conference, because EVDO revA mandates VoIP Sprint and Verizon Wireless must adopt IMS much earlier than their UMTS colleagues.

Session on Killer Apps for IMS:  General consensus that there is no Killer App, rather a Killer Environment.  But take the video share service as an example, an operator can implement it for $200k as a silo, or $1M with a lightweight IMS framework.  Simple economics drive operators’ decisions to not adopt IMS.  Femtocells were also a ‘flavour of the month’ driver for IMS, c.f. presence, mobile instant messaging, push to talk and fixed mobile convergence in the past.  I’ve been requested to do an entry on femtocells, I’ll get around to that soon.

Session on What is the ROI for IMS? No ROI numbers mentioned, apart from Ericsson’s mentioning they have 40 IMS contracts and 80 IMS trials 🙂

Session on IMS Case Studies: Sprint made an insightful comment on using IMS as guidelines, and highlighted the importance of not having architecture limit service deployment decisions.  This echoed a similar point mentioned by Stuart Elby on their drive for A-IMS.

In Conclusion: the drivers for CDMA operators on IMS are different to UMTS operators.  I recommend suppliers with IMS (service control) components or solutions focus upon CDMA operators as the best chance of revenue in the next 18/24 months.  And for UMTS operators outside North America, suppliers not focus on IMS rather upon service innovation and service creation (SDP / SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)).