By Tim McElligott
Jun 21, 2007 12:00 AM
Market leaders say patience is needed, but one upstart claims that’s nonsense.
It is almost understandable, though regrettable, why so many people in the U.S. do not subscribe to the theory of evolution. One of the trouble spots is that it is so gradual. One minute there’s a fish using its fins like weak little legs, and 10 million years later there’s a salamander. The IP multimedia subsystem, or IMS, is the same way. Everyone wants to see the salamander.
Unfortunately for impatient market watchers and vendors with vested interests, there is necessarily a long gap, if you will, between the fish-out-of-water we know as the TDM network and the evolutionary marvel anticipated to be IMS.
As Tim Krause, chief marketing officer of Alcatel-Lucent North America, said: “You don’t really build an IMS architecture. You try to deliver a service that will make you money, and you use IMS technology to do it. Years later, when you’ve added other services, you say, ‘Wow, look, I have built an IMS architecture.’”
This, in part, is why the buzz surrounding IMS has been so confounding. And it is why most vendors will not be talking about IMS directly at NXTcomm—most, but not all.
Companies whose IMS message has already been forcefully delivered, such as Acme Packet, Alcatel-Lucent, Sonus Networks and Tekelec will be toning down their IMS-specific messages in favor of the applications IMS enables. Veraz Networks, on the other hand, has a strong message about IMS: Everyone else is lying.
First things first: Perhaps it would be easier to know what messages attendees at NXTcomm should not hear. “They should not hear that IMS has been completely thought through and standardized,” Krause said. “They should not hear it has permeated every kind of service delivery or that it is a unifying technology for all services.”
He acknowledged that people want to hear there has been a major breakthrough or that some service provider has gotten to the point where it has turned a corner with IMS and has all their services on an IMS infrastructure. “But you won’t hear that,” Krause said.
In fact, the only thing you’ll hear concerning IMS at the Alcatel-Lucent booth is that the applications and services they are demonstrating happen to run on an IMS-compliant infrastructure. “We look at this the same way our customers do. They are looking for applications that drive demand on their network, and IMS is sort of a means to an end in that case,” Krause said. “It is a convenient way to develop services that cut across technologies and different types of access networks.”
To prove its point, Alcatel-Lucent will be trying to change the discussion from over-the-top hype to competing against over-the-top service providers. It will do so by demonstrating applications and services such as Evros, a security application that helps extend enterprise IP networks into the wireless domain. It also will be demonstrating, among other things, a data grid application for federated and consolidated databases that sit outside the service provider network, but which the provider can use to correlate a user profile.
“There are some proof-of-concept demos, but mostly when we go into a show like NXTcomm, we look to demonstrate things you can buy right there on the show floor,” Krause said.
For that is what service providers are buying: applications and service, not IMS. IMS will, like the evolutionary tree, grow stepwise as people add more applications, Krause said.
“Service providers don’t want to hear from us that the uber-standard of all time will be ready in two years so they can deliver their services then. It’s the other way around,” he said. “They are pragmatic. They know they have to compete and need new services quickly. But with an eye on the future, they don’t want to redo things every time so they deploy solutions that are IMS compliant.”
Acme Packet’s Seamus Hourihan, vice president of marketing and product management, also believes the best days for IMS lay ahead. His company’s IMS message at NXTcomm will not be about current deployments, per se, but about what will be needed in that uncertain but promising future. The company will be talking about what’s missing from IMS. And like Alcatel-Lucent, Acme Packet sees a gap in the enterprise space.
“What is missing in IMS from a functionality and feature perspective is the ability to support the delivery of services to the enterprise customer,” Hourihan said.
The company has identified issues with IP-PBX compatibility with IMS. Hourihan said that IMS assumes every end point can autonomously register itself with the call session control function (CSCF) within the network. However, PBXs aggregate multiple end points. And that’s a problem.
So Acme Packet will be demonstrating a new capability called surrogate registration—something Hourihan said only Acme Packet is doing. Surrogate registration provides a proxy-type registration capability for end points attached to a PBX.
IMS makes another assumption—that everyone is using public address spaces. But many enterprises use private address spaces within their virtual private networks (VPNs). Acme Packet will be showing how to bridge securely into such VPN environments.
“A number of core softswitch IMS vendors are very interested in our capabilities here because they want to help their customers be able to service the enterprise, which is the most profitable business segment for them,” said Kevin Mitchell, director of solutions marketing at Acme Packet. “And they aren’t going to migrate to an IMS core that cannot serve their enterprise customers.”
Another mode of silence for IMS is on security. “Security is something they have only scratched the surface of in terms of architecture and functionality,” Mitchell said. He cited, for example, the lack of a security function in the proxy CSCF, which is the first hop into a service provider’s IMS network.
“These are things service providers will need, whether or not IMS has defined them to date,” Mitchell said.
Yet everyone agrees the one thing that has not been defined in the IMS spec is, as Steve French, senior manager of product marketing for Tekelec’s network signaling group said, “a road map for implementation.” And most agree with what else he said: The IMS is not an end game.
But at least there are priorities. For Tekelec, these are interoperability and signaling. “Without signaling, nothing else works,” French said.
The problems service providers will have transitioning to an IMS infrastructure are not much different from those they had when separating their signaling and switching infrastructure back in the early days of the intelligent network, French said. However, this time there will be a hybrid network in place for a long time, one that supports different types of signaling.
To help smooth this transition, Tekelec will be introducing a new session initiation protocol (SIP) signaling router at NXTcomm. It will perform what Tekelec calls unified signaling. It will support signaling and monitoring across TDM, next generation network and eventually IMS network domains.
The new product is based on technology acquired when Tekelec bought Czech-based iptelorg GmbH in August 2005. The company was a developer of SIP routing software and had a product called the SIP Express Router, which Tekelec has beefed up into a carrier-grade product thanks in part to its growing relationship with HP.
“We will see a lot more traction in this area before we actually see a full-scale IMS deployment,” French said. “The business case for this solution is here today. Operators can see that.”
Having exited the application server market when it sold its Switching Solutions Group to GenBand in March, Tekelec is focused once again on its core competency: signaling. It has strengthened that competency with its recent partnership with HP and will be discussing that and the subsequent embrace of an open IMS platform at NXTcomm.
“Our vision is still the evolution of IMS,” French said. “HP also has a strong evolution story. They are number one in North America for [home location registers]; we’re number one in North America and in the world in SS7 [signal transfer points.] Clearly we want to continue that leadership into the new domain of IMS.”
They may have to carry it for a long time. “We have reached a plateau in terms of hype. The next stage is reality, but we’ll be at this point for a while yet,” French said. “Why, there are still [requests for proposals] coming from companies that have already announced their preferred vendors.”
Patience in such an evolving market is key to survival and to winning. And by virtue of being among the first to market in the softswitch segment, Sonus Networks has had to be patient. Expect to hear some of its history and success when you visit its booth.
“Sonus is a company that has a long history in terms of deploying IMS-enabled or -capable products,” said Vikram Saksena chief technology officer of Sonus. “We expect to be a leader in demonstrating how IMS can help operators and carriers deploy next-generation services.”
And demonstrate is what it’ll do. “Our theme will be around applications—as it always is with us,” Saksena said. Sonus, like Alcatel-Lucent, will try to make the IMS infrastructure incidental to the power of the application it can support. Sonus will demo applications around instant messaging and short message service as well as voice, video, data and personalization capabilities.
In addition to demonstrating service and applications that both Sonus and its partners have developed, the company will be discussing the results of the IMS Forum plugfest taking place this week at the University of New Hampshire. Sonus is a Gold sponsor of the event.
“The plugfests help separate the hype from the reality and help figure out who has what,” Saksena said. “I think then people can start focusing on their business models and applications.”
Although mostly complimentary to IMS—because, according to Saksena, it is a driver for accelerating IMS and uses an IMS back end—Sonus will dedicate a section of its booth to its work in the picocell and femtocell space.
The company’s message about IMS, if it is asked, is that architecturally, it is a long-range vision. “Pretty much everyone is convinced of that,” Saksena said. “Nobody is on a path that does not align with IMS, and all major decisions are based on how they line up with IMS. Whatever they deploy, they want to make sure it is compliant today or will be soon so there are no architectural gotchas.”
All this patience and long-term thinking is a bunch of hooey, according to Doug Sabella, president and CEO of Veraz Networks. If you want the Veraz truth about IMS, visit booth 6045.
“We are throwing down the gauntlet in terms of the promises and Power-Points and personal relationships companies use to [sell] IMS,” Sabella said. He added that companies are not truthfully approaching the market in terms of what they are trying to build. As a 15-year veteran of Lucent with a management team long-in-the-tooth with telecom experience, Sabella said he knows the game.
“Tier 1 vendors put their [service provider] customers at a competitive risk because they are unwilling to break out of their traditions,” Sabella said. “And this is coming from a guy collecting a pension from Lucent, so it’s not as if I have bad will against the company, but I know from having spent time there that freezing the market is what these guys do, and it stifles innovation.”
Sabella saved some venom for Ericsson as well. “Traditional equipment providers are using their position to create monolithic boxes again, then define it as IMS. It’s happening up and down the street with these Tier 1 folks.”
He pointed to Ericsson’s product line and said it was basically a next-generation TDM switch and that the company is using its relationship with carriers to keep themselves in a position of strength, which is a disservice to service providers. “Look at BT’s 21CN. Everyone knows it’s not going so well. That’s partly because people like Ericsson made lots of promises they weren’t able to deliver on.”
He said Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Siemens went as far as to try to get Veraz kicked out of a competitive RFP. “They wanted us out because we were going to respond with solutions that could be actually deployed, not promises, not PowerPoints,” Sabella said. “It’s a competitive world, I understand that, but they are fighting not with real products but with politics.”
As for what you will actually see at booth 6045, Veraz is showing its new IMS release, which enables service brokering functionality that can mix and match application platforms and deliver applications and services across a variety of devices and access technologies—even those not 100% IMS compliant.
“We’ll also show how the service broker can tie service back into the back office for service provisioning and activation,” Sabella said. “We are bringing the essence of rapid service delivery that can access innovation form any application platform.
While you’re watching the company’s demos, you might also hear about its recent successful deployment of IMS for a WiMAX network at Caribbean broadband wireless operator Onemax. Onemax chose Veraz’ User Services Core to offer its subscribers voice over IP and IP-based multimedia services while Veraz’ ControlSwitch and I-Gate 4000 series of media gateways will enable Onemax to connect to other operators.
You also may hear about the companies 60 IMS-related deployments and its industry-leading 12:1 voice compression technology.