IMS World Forum: Quick Summary

The IMS World Forum was a packed event, with 250+ attendees, up over 20% compared to last year.  At first sight it’s fair to ask, why is a conference required on IMS, isn’t it old-hat?  That’s just the point, IMS is becoming main stream so the question is not about whether or not to deploy, rather how best.

In an IMS Survey I ran in 2009, shown below, 8% of operators had deployed IMS for commercial services, for 2011 the prediction was 17%.  I’m currently running a refresh of that survey, I hope to get a report out over the summer on those results, and the current figure of anticipated deployments in 2011 is roughly 17%, so we’re on target, with about 34% of operators deploying IMS by 2015.  Now of course as the saying goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  I’m not saying 17% of operator’s revenue is going over IMS, rather of the operators interviewed 17% have or will deploy in 2011 with commercial services running over that platform.  Most deployments remain niche.

I ran a pre-conference workshop at the IMS World Forum on “IMS Market Status and Case Studies,” that aimed to:

  • Provide a deep-dive quantified analysis of the IMS market status, enabling attendees to understand what operators and suppliers are thinking and planning.
  • Learn from real-world operator deployments understanding their challenges and opportunities.
  • An aim is not to provide yet another IMS technology training session; the vendors provide enough of them, rather a focused workshop of the practical realities of deploying IMS.  However, a brief IMS review is provided so all attendees no matter their background (especially non-technical) can understand the survey results and case studies.
  • The case studies will review the environment in which IMS is deployed, including IMS and SDP (Service Delivery Platform), Next generation IN (Intelligent Network), legacy IN, and JAIN SLEE (Java IN Service Logic Execution Environment).

The course had 30+ attendees, with lots of insightful discussions across the group, for example: the use of IMS for business services, the challenges in RCS (Rich Communication Suite), the complexity in billing, the costs premium associated with anything linked to IMS, need for simplicity given operators initial experiences with IMS, challenge of too many people in the industry being vested in a standard that from an architectural perspective is rather out of date.  This reflects an interesting situation with IMS being deployed yet the delay from concept to implementation means it’s not going to be a straight forward line to deployment, change is required.

The main conference had a roughly equal mix of operators and vendors, which was nice to see, this promoted great discussions.  Verizon, Rogers and Deutsche Telekom kicked off the conference with a panel discussion.  Larry Baziw from Rogers had a good handle on the importance in recognizing real-time communications has moved beyond voice and SMS into IM, social networks, and embedded through other applications and services; using his experience with his teenage kids where he’s the only one that calls them as an example.  Unfortunately, this was about as much market insight we got during the event. Unfortunately, too many technologists with a woefully inadequate understanding of the world outside IMS were making embarrassing attempts to create a strange world view that reinforced their beliefs.  There was a feel of a religious event with too many ‘believe’ statements
and much canting as if you repeat something often enough it must be

Picking out a few of the presentations highlights, I’ll review them in more detail in later articles:

  • Thomas May from Verizon presented their VoLTE experimentation results.  Props to Ecrio in being selected as Verizon’s client.
  • Wooyong Choi from SKT presented their experiences with RCS, which can be summarized as people will not pay for RCS.
  • Both Kevin Klett (Acme Packet) and Micaela Giuhat (Genband) provided cogent views on the implementation options for IMS, and some strong hints on simplification options.
  • Katarina Sekaljic  from Serbia Telekom gave an excellent presentation that highlighted the challenges in implementing IMS, which can be summarized as a destination with no clear route to get there. A comment repeated many time s in the IMS report shown below.

My high level conclusions from this event are:

  • We need IMS-lite urgently.  This should NOT be created by the people that generated the current complex mess, it should be an operator led initiative of motivated network and IT technologists (not standards people), marketeers (so there’s finally some market input) and people who’ve done it already (e.g. Skype) with the aim of creating an almost black box spec that does enough to enable it to be supported in the cloud, a common core focused on cost reduction, and supporting VoLTE and RCS in the reality of today’s market.
  • The main vendor messages on why to act on IMS are different, some were even using video, the pitch was “yeah video didn’t work last time, but it will this time with LTE and IMS it will be different”.  This ensures continued inaction by operators when they get such different and in some cases silly stories, and misses the core value of IMS: it’s about cost reduction – one session control fabric across all accesses – that’s it.  There’s no need to spin anything more, and please don’t pretend you understanding the advertising ecosystem, SDPs, APIs and the developer community when you’ve spent 10 years banging your head against a wall on IMS.
  • A statement made several times was “VoLTE is the reason operators should deploy IMS, and RCS is the best way to present VoLTE.”   LTE in the GSM world is really about trials with each operator in a region waiting until the other forces their hand to do more than dense urban cell and data only.  There really is no need for VoLTE in the GSM world for several years, and strategically waiting for LTE-Advanced could make more sense to implement nation-wide given HSPA+.  The CDMA world is quite different, as CDMA will be turned off, operators are racing to LTE-only to leverage global volumes and avoid the CDMA device tax.
  • We need an open-source IMS UNI (User Network Interface) client, so it’s just there, like IPV6, embedded in all devices whether they use IMS or not.
  • We need a reset on RCS.  RCSe is just plain embarrassing, the approach on mandating IMS is wrong and lacks interop with systems people are using today: Skype, Yahoo, MSN, Lync, etc.. RCSe is a hacked down version without presence, it still requires operator interop so why base on IMS?  SKT showed, when the service was free people used it, as soon as you ask them to pay they stop.  It’s called continuous improvement, an Audi today has lots more features and capabilities than an Audi 10 years ago – the same is embarrassingly not true for voice.  RCS is simply about making the communications network better, its not about incremental revenue.
  • It was also claimed VoLTE is how HD voice should be deployed.  HD voice can be deployed today across 2G and 3G, operators should have started several years ago (like Orange) – its again about continuous improvement, linking it to VoLTE and IMS for GSM operators is plain silly.

I’m going to review some of the presentations given at the event in later articles as well as some of the details in the pre-conference workshop.   My purpose here is just a quick summary.

We’re living in interesting times.  IMS is moving to mainstream, but IMS needs to change.  Next year’s IMS World forum could be either a very dynamic event if we react to the need to change, else we could see a double dip hype curve as complexity and confusion reign.