Convergence Conference Speakers See IMS as Telecom Ground Leveler When completed, the uber-complex IMS specifications will level the telecommunications playing field among traditional telephone companies, fixed and mobile wireless, satellite and cable, according to Jim Southworth, CTO of East by North. Southworth, an industry veteran and consultant to law enforcement/security sectors, venture capital and the broadband industry, was one of a bevy of panelists expounding on the amorphous IP Multimedia Subsystem protocol during a FierceMarkets-sponsored Executive Summit last week in Washington, D.C. Of the bunch, Southworth did his best to ruffle a few feathers by pointing out that no particular transport method has an advantage in the fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) play that IMS is expected to facilitate. “It’s not going to be the simplistic carrier model that everyone assumes for IMS,” Southworth warned. “We’re going to be dealing with many different ways of transporting data.” Everyone will get a chance to play. The wireless carriers, seen by many of the conference’s speakers as those with the most to gain from a convergence with fixed services, will run head-to-head with wireline carriers who find bigger chunks of bandwidth available on those hair thin copper wires they like so much. 30 Mbps from DSL In that regard, Southworth said, 30 Mbps throughput “is not out of the question with some forms of DSL now. DSL has become a very interesting subject.” DSL, though, is a stopgap. Fiber, is the end game, and Ethernet over fiber will cause “equipment costs to drop like a rock,” he continued. Even without Ethernet, “fiber as a means of transport is here and here solid,” he said, with Verizon leading the way with its fiber-to-the-premises FiOS. “I’ve never seen such an aggressive marketing campaign,” said Southworth, noting that Verizon sent four reps to his house “to get me to switch from Cox.” Besides mobile wireless – or perhaps part of it – the emergence of WiMAX will also dent the IMS-centric telecommunications space. WiMAX, he said, got a reality check from Hurricane Katrina when 450 WiMAX routers were air dropped into devastated areas and “they worked, much to the chagrin of the Bell operating companies.” Peripheral players While addressing the conventional – and, in the case of WiMAX, semi-conventional – telephone space, Southworth did not leave out players that were considered on the telephony periphery just a few years ago. “Coax (cable) is very much a player in our ballgame,” he said, while adding that satellite can’t be ignored. “It’s a fact of life that we’re going to need it for a lot of locations. In the U.K. and other places I’ve been, the national flower is the satellite dish.” Southworth’s conclusion: “If it can be a bit pipe, it’s a player; it has to be a player.” This means that the player best able to negotiate the complexities of offering converged services via what everyone at the conference agreed is an extremely complex – and getting more so – protocol, will be ahead of the pack. The first challenge is providing service level assurance, which is “a fact of life. This is no longer a best-effort world,” he said. Jitter de-bugging Since IP video will be a part of the converged world – looking at this from the noncable perspective – quality assurance is essential, and that means controlling jitter, or “network constipation” as Southworth labeled it. There must also be enhanced security, he said. “You can’t bolt it in. you have to build it into the infrastructure from day one.” The second piece of the service pill Southworth offered may be less palatable for many conventional players: The networks cannot be walled, and the attitude that anyone running on a carrier’s network other than the carrier is a “parasite” must go, Southworth said. “They should be called big customers,” and carriers should adopt “content insensitivity.” That, of course, is easier to preach than to practice as carriers and cable operators struggle with the plethora of outside start-up players who want what they consider a free ride on networks they built with their own hard-earned dollars. Southworth’s advice: Get over it. The walled garden approach won’t work in the new converged space because someone will crack the wall and let in the aps providers, and everything else will tumble down. Not a technology issue FMC, even in light of developing IMS standards, is no longer a technology issue, he said. “The technologies that make this happen are no longer rocket science.” The plan has moved to using the “value-added integrated services” that can run on the new networks. “You have to have the data, the value-added services, the things we all pay money for, embedded in the network.” What will lead the hit parade? Mark Kaish, vice president of voice development and support at Cox Communications and a panelist during the two-day conference, was blunt when asked about the so-called “killer application” that would make IMS worth the investment in time and effort that it’s taking. FMC, he, like others, said, is the “most important upfront application,” but after that, “I don’t think we know” because the telecom space has “atomized” over the past four years into different trends. “What you have to have is that flexible architecture,” Kaish said, pointing to the cable industry’s joint venture with Sprint Nextel in the mobile wireless space. “We could spend $1 billion on market research, and I can guarantee you it would be wrong,” he said. In the meantime, he, like other panelists, admitted the new telecom space is different because consumers now see the network as the “shiny pipe” that enables applications running on their end devices. “People are making decisions based on their devices,” he said. “The customer is being trained to think ‘devices.'” A-IMS primer And just when everyone thought it was safe to jump into the IMS pool, Verizon Wireless and a group of its vendors threw a monkey wrench into the works with a proposal clumsily called Advanced IMS (A-IMS). While at first glance adding yet another bit of complexity, A-IMS came about for the best of reasons. It’s an enhancement to the proposed IMS specs, said Jonathan Rosenberg, Cisco Fellow, at Cisco Systems. “There’s a whole new work plan that has to get started around security, a whole new work plan around policy,” he said. – Jim Barthold

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