Toward IMS vision : who wants old standards end ?
IMS normative and partner bodies
After years of antagonism between telecom standards (GSM versus CDMA, SDH versus Sonet, IP versus ATM ...), they start to converge and we ear about an 'ultimate' norma : IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). " IP " because it is relying on IP-based transportation netwrok, "Multimedia" because it is managing any kind of communication / data flow, "SubSystem" because it is a part - the central one - of this super-network. Is this standard, pushed by the normalization group 3GPP, "The" future universal standard ? Let's try to answer observing who has interest that standard is adopted and who hasn't.
What are market insights on this ? Worldwide and local competition under both globalisation and deregulation (local markets opening) pressure forces carriers to cost reduction. This bring them to cost-saving and innovative solutions (like VOIP for instance) and push tem to get along with new equipment makers survivor or born on IT bubble ashes, often quite more adaptative than older and bigger companies in a sector that need less and less infrastructure and personel to develop products (Cirpack - now part of Thomson- , owner of one of the most successful softswitch in European market has about 50 employees). It is needed to have an alternative to price fall : fixed and now mobile are becoming 'commodities'. Bundles succeeded to limitate this price erosion by packaging ADSL connection with IP Telephony for instance. In this sipral of price discount and new offers, another way to improve business is to increase volume by attracting more customers in more country with a given product. This can be attained by the globalisation of a common standard that both stimulate the creation, the competition and offer wider applications and bigger networks for the customer everywhere in the world. GSM - spread in more than 120 countries - have been an example of such dynamics for handsets or infrastructures, in a smaller area : the Mobile one.
More precisely who's pushing to such a unification ? First : the new entrants : on carriers side ( VOIP or ISP), equiment makers or Application Service Provider (APS). This allow them to fight with same weapons and to get some chance to win in this Green Field area. More precisely, the equipment makers totally converted to Next Generation Networks (NGN) are quite close to the IMS standard (also based on IP), in addition to this, if they already rely on SIP in their products (e.g. Cirpack or Streamwide) they may want to leverage this advance on the market. Older ASPs (IBM, Cap Gemini) may save a lot by scale saving, their applications becoming more multi-customer and multi-country. To end with, big (and old) telecom companies (Nortel, Ericsson, Alcatel ...), because they may keep captive their former customer by proposing them gateways (full compatible with their former equiment) and an adapted migration (which is a touchy path). Migration to IMS being seen as a threat but unavoidable they may want to anticipate to keep the market.
Practically, IMS offer has already been lauched for test deployement at Carriers'. Equipement makers and Operators being then trained for further deployement when it will become the rule. Already, there is a lot of anouncement from the Equipment makers : Alcatel , Nortel , Huawei , Ericsson : 25 IMS bids / trials , Nokia , Lucent , Siemens : 30 IMS trials ...In this phase, lack of existing IMS-standard consumer product for handset do slow the extension of the standard.
In the other hand, the carrier not following IP and convergence move, the one drived by one business (only mobile or fixed), the ASPs not diversifying their offer with IP Telephony may fear IMS arrival. With that standard, and with convergence at large, those company may be badly hit by competition which offers more bundles ( ADSL + VOIP and/or IPTV).
Similarly, some carriers / equipment makers that have heavily invested in Mobile Infrastructure 2.5 G (GPRS, EDGE) or 3G (UMTS, cdma2000). We remember the enormous cost of the licenses sold by the government in UK, Germany and France (from 619 million euros - in France - up to 7.2 billion in UK, per license ! ). This doesn't incitate mobile Carrier to invest immediatly in a technology that may canibalize their 3G market (since IMS may promote VOIP for mobile as well). Althought those network will be integrated to IMS, it may retain part of the benefits of 3G and need more network investements. Their goal will be therefore to not to push this standard ahead. All those actors have no middle term interest in a core architecture built around IP and SIP.
Others factors are good signs for the standard wide adoption like IMS's standardization body : 3GPP and the its worldwide numerous partners. We will take note of some top equipment makers sayings at VOIP Convention 2005 in Paris last 18 and 19 October on this topic : even if some implementations of services using SIP may be proprietaries, they use to be integrated to the standard later (2 to 3 years) by the companies team working in 3GPP or SIP commitees. The common standard growth will then generate far more business, pulling forward the market - like Internet and IP did -, than other private standard they reckon.