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Cingular braves uncharted IMS waters

Cingular plans to deploy its Video Share product in the first half of this year, in what will constitute its first deployed IMS-supported application. The deployment of the Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem platform opens up new avenues for services and convergence for both the carrier and its newly merged parent, AT&T Inc.
Cingular demonstrated the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Video Share allows two users, who are both in high-speed HSDPA coverage areas, to initiate a live, one-way video feed while they are speaking to one another. The direction of the video feed can be reversed during the course of the call, and the device’s speakerphone automatically turns on so that the recipient of the call can see the screen and continue the conversation at the same time. Alcatel-Lucent Inc. supplied the IMS platform and the 3G network equipment for the demo, which utilized LG Electronics Co. Ltd.’s CU500v handset.
According to Kelly Williams, Cingular’s executive director of technology strategy, the recently deployed IMS platform will help Cingular and AT&T to be more nimble in application development and also open up new avenues for wireless/wireline convergence.
In prior cases where Cingular needed to define a new signaling message element, Williams said, the process typically involved creating a standard and going through a standards process, then building and testing the actual application: a drawn-out progression that could take several years. IMS, he said, bypasses the necessity of the standards process.
“We can start creating services and going from ideation to market testing very, very quickly because we don’t have to do anything from a standards perspective,” Williams said. “It has the potential to make a huge difference in how quickly we can produce and roll out new products and services.”

What is IMS?
While Video Share is the first application, Williams said, it certainly won’t be the last. Before Cingular even began deploying IMS, he said, “We as a carrier had to define what it was and what we really wanted to use it for.”
IMS was just beginning to get traction when Cingular first became interested in creating a live video-sharing application, so the company began to scrutinize the architecture. Based on Cingular’s analysis of the platform, Williams said, the company concluded that IMS was “a legitimate architecture and something that was likely to be important.”
“IMS is an architecture and an enabler that allows for a rather elegant solution for wireless-wireline convergence,” Williams said. For instance, he said, it could allow an application to be used on a mobile phone, then seamlessly detect when a person enters their home and transfer the application to another device, such as a television or computer.
IMS allows different data “bearers” to access the application layer of the network, so applications could be used via multiple mediums without needing to be re-designed for each one, Williams said.

Europe, Asia leading IMS deployments
Other carriers deploying IMS are mostly in Europe and Asia. Georges Smine, senior director of product marketing for Nominum Inc., said that operators around the world have gotten past the stage of learning about IMS and its capabilities.
“Now they’re trying to figure out, ‘How can we make money with this?'” he said. Nominum provides network naming and addressing solutions for IMS deployments.
He added that the IMS architecture has the potential to open up the networks to third-party developers and do for the world of telecom and telephony “what the software industry and the Internet did to the I.T. world” and take it from a mainframe-oriented world, where applications took a long time to develop, into a much more diffuse world, where applications can be developed by anyone with the right expertise.

Growth expected, lead by wireless
Research firm In-Stat has estimated that the number of subscribers to IMS-based services will grow from about 10 million in 2007 to more than 500 million by 2011. The company said that mobile operators would lead the way in establishing IMS-based networks and applications, driven by the desire to reduce operating costs as well as increase revenue.

Don’t believe the hype
Still, Cingular’s Williams acknowledged that there is an immense amount of hype surrounding IMS and its potential.
“We’re trying to see what the reality is, just like any carrier is,” he said. “We’re not buying into all the hype.” Instead, he said, Cingular is focused on “Does it really do what it says it’s going to do, what are the real applications and can we make some money at it?”
He said that IMS has the potential to allow the downloads of new services and applications without needing a new or specific wireless device.
Williams summed up Cingular and AT&T’s approach to IMS as a “middle path. We’re not evangelists for IMS, but we’re not saying that it’s meaningless, either.”

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