The telephone industry is concerned about cable competition. As such, members of that industry spent a good deal of time at SuperComm in Chicago discussing how and when to implement elements of the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) layer to merge cellular and wireline networks into a seamless voice and data – and some even suggested video – offering that would one-up cable’s triple play. Initially developed as a means for moving IP data onto third generation (3G) cellular phones, IMS has quickly morphed into a way to blend the emerging home-based VoIP infrastructure with wireless in-home networks—Wi-Fi or Bluetooth—and the wider outside cellular network to offer seamless roaming between the two networks with one device. The phone companies have an admitted short window to put this in place before cable completes its “fourplay” of similar services. They also have an advantage in that they also own or run the cellular services so there’s no need for complicated agreements or mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) partnerships. “IMS is a platform capability (that) will be table stakes,” for future network deployments, said Bill Smith, BellSouth’s CTO. “It can be applications, but in many cases it’s the facilitator.” A risky technology? It also has its risks. Using the IMS layer to converge services, a provider runs everything over the IP network, including wireline and wireless voice and IPTV and high-speed data. “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket,” Smith cautioned. “When we start moving all this to IMS, when you lose it, you lose it all.” That’s why IMS, with reliability more akin to cellular and Internet than wireline voice, while a hot topic, is not a hot deployment issue of yet and probably won’t be until at least next year. On the other hand, the telcos face competition from cable operators intent on a triple play offering with VoIP as a main course and need something to supplement traditional services. First: Get VoIP Implementing IMS is a “two-stage decision,” Smith said, starting with merging the TDM and IP infrastructure and then using IMS as an overlay. “We have to have voice-over-IP on our network,” he said. While many of the wireline players were talking up IMS as a way to link home networks with cells, James Orr, principal network architecture-market development for Fujitsu Network Communications, was predicting it would instead trickle in from the wireless side of the business. “The cell guys are more advanced,” Orr said. “They have the infrastructure to do it.” Follow the user In Orr’s paradigm user demand will drive the service into the wider market. At the same time, “there won’t be a single service that drives this,” suggested Roger Ward, president of the Multiservice Forum (MSF). Ward said that service providers looking for the killer application to invest in architecture that bleeds wireline and wireless services will be disappointed. Instead, he suggested, investment will drive the service and applications will arise from there. “There is a concept of leveraging the infrastructure,” agreed David Michaud, SVP of business development and marketing for NexTone, describing this as “re-usability of the home network.” Whatever it’s called and whatever definition of IMS is applied—application, platform, layer—it was evident at SuperComm that the telephone industry is hot to trot for the technology and sees it as a way to combat cable’s intrusion into the voice space. “It’s a preservation strategy,” said Eve Aretakis, president of network convergence for Siemens. “Voice is just a starting point.” Telephony Talk at Cable-Tec…20 Million is "Conservative" Estimate The C-level execs who spoke at last week’s Cable-Tec Expo in San Antonio were bullish on telephony, although the CTOs pointed out more challenges than their CEO counterparts. Arris Chairman & CEO Robert Stanzione said cable stands a good chance of blowing past financial analysts’ projections that the industry will sign up 20 million VoIP subscribers over the next few years. “The 20 million number is actually conservative, based on what Cox is doing with CBR technology and what (Time Warner Cable Chairman and CEO) Glenn (Britt) and others are doing with VoIP,” he said. “I think we stand a good chance at winning a large bunch of those telephone customers.” Britt, whose company is now signing up VoIP subscribers faster than high-speed data customers, noted that Time Warner has already enlisted more than 500,000 VoIP recruits and is now starting to introduce such new features as caller ID. Talking wireless Britt also noted Time Warner, like several other major MSOs, is talking to potential partners about integrating wireless and VoIP services in a larger phone bundle and is exploring the use of Wi-Fi for voice signals inside the home. “We’re actively engaged in conversations,” he said. There apparently isn’t a lot of fear about how cable will compete with telcos in the quad play-video, data, wireline and wireless voice. Liberty Media SVP & CTO Tony Werner suggested that cellular providers will be interested because cable can offer wireless providers “very inexpensive minutes” by switching calls off the cell network onto the home network, although he did admit that “some of them are skeptical.” Ubiquitous, over-the-top competition The skeptics may even circumvent cable partnerships to deliver wireless to the home and then use a Vonage-type VoIP service for the “wireline” piece. “They (cell carriers) have an ability to do an over-the-top on us and do a seamless product,” Werner said. Cable’s answer will be “QoS (that) will always work better than just a big pipe.” Cell providers, and to a lesser extent even the telcos themselves, have another advantage over the cable industry that will have to be overcome. They offer nationwide service ubiquity. Cable, built on its heritage as an entertainment provider with multiple outlets, didn’t need to worry about presenting a unified face to the customers. That’s changed and demands attention, said Time Warner Cable SVP of advanced engineering and subscriber technology Mike Hayashi. -From Communications Technology’s Cable-Tec Expo Show Daily More on IMS…Siemens Says It�s a Must-Have The Next Generation Exchange (NGE) solution Siemens Communications introduced this week has the lofty goal of helping service providers grow VoIP services while gradually and cost-effectively migrating off legacy networks, but it doesn’t ignore IMS and the potential to deliver quadruple play services that throw seamless wireless connectivity into the IP voice, video and data mix. “If there was one message from SuperComm, it was one of the quadruple play,” said Susan Schramm, vice president of marketing for Siemens Communications. “Without question, Siemens, which has an IMS offering, is not putting anything in the marketplace that’s not a building block and IMS compatible.” Helping telcos migrate—safely The NGE is intended to help telcos with existing TDM infrastructure move over to IP—including, but not limited to VoIP—with a minimum of hassle and with the reliability intrinsic in 100-year-old voice systems. It can scale down to systems as small as 1,000 subscribers, but is intended for larger systems, up to 100,000 subs, where operators are changing out class 5 switches with Siemens softswitches and gateways. At the same time, it’s also bringing reliability into the mix, an important component for many who fear that the all-encompassing IP convergence could create an all-encompassing services crash. “If you just put one big pipe to a home and one big pipe to a neighborhood and put all your eggs in one basket, you probably worry at night,” said Schramm, Siemens’ director of carrier network solutions. “”We have been in this industry 100 years and probably have figured out you want to plan for what used to be called Mother’s Day issues and now we call them American Idol issues.” Low-margin handsets Siemens doesn’t have all the parts to make a seamless IP play, having sold off its handset business during SuperComm because “it’s hard to make money” in the handset business, Schramm said. Most RFPs don’t require vendors to provide every piece of the network, Schramm pointed out. And besides, “While we absolutely have to have an end-to-end solution … we also recognize the need to inter-work with everybody else,” she concluded. -Jim Barthold

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