IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is emerging as the central integrating mechanism for future telco services. We have been reading about IMS for several years, and have read several long technical explanations. But we didn't have a good idea of what IMS can do for users, and were delighted to have to opportunity to learn more.
Lucent has positioned IMS as a critical part of making multiple services interoperate. As a follow-on to our meeting with Lucent at Telco TV, we visited their IPTV headquarters to meet with Marcus Weldon, CTO, Lucent Broadband Solutions and Kurt Steinert, Media Relations.
Lucent uses the term "blended services" to describe a stage beyond service bundling. Bundling is a marketing device which provides discounts to customers who subscribe to multiple services. With blended services, voice (fixed and mobile), data, and video services are aware of each other and interwork to provide higher user value. Much of the discussion at TelcoTV was about blended services and many telcos are making blended services--rather than bundled services--their path to differentiating their services from those of competitors.
Marcus talked about IMS as being "a common services control framework" which has "most of the smarts for real time interactions". He walked us through some real-world examples of blended services to show us what this could mean for a user.
Integrating the TV and the cellphone
Here's one scenario he shared. Most of us have heard of services that alert people if their phone rings while they are watching TV. The service allows the user to decide whether to take the call by looking at the caller ID on the TV screen. The user can answer the call at that time, or decide not to take it and send it to voice mail.
In an IMS world, where intelligence can provide many details about the particular situation, the service can go well beyond the basics.
For example, if only one person is watching the show and decides to pick up the call, the program will automatically pause on the TV screen and will start recording to a network-based PVR. When the viewer finishes the call, the TV will prompt her as to whether she would like to continue from where she left off. If several people are watching the program, and one answers the call, the others have the option to pause the show; however, they want to keep watching, the program continues playing and is simultaneously recorded to the PVR from that point, so the person who took the call can see it later.
What makes this all work? Two of the key elements for IMS-IPTV interworking are a central user database, which stores the current user profile and session state, and the Service Capability Interaction Manager (Service Broker) which is the piece of intelligence that provides the dynamic services blending.
In this TV/phone call example, Lucent detailed the requirements to implement such a service.
Let's continue our scenario a bit further. Suppose the person who had to take the phone call now has to rush to the airport to catch a plane. If she takes a video-capable device--such as phone, laptop or PDA--with her, IMS intelligence will allow her to watch the conclusion of the program on this other device while she is traveling. Such interworking across wired and wireless is an important result of IMS control.
Another example shows how IMS could help to generate advertising revenue. If someone is watching the Weather Channel and has signed up for a local weather alert service, a message could alert the viewer if a storm is impending. An RSS feed could provide more detail--via "Web on TV"--to learn the timing and severity of the storm.
If the viewer lives in Florida and the alert was about an approaching hurricane that might come his way, a local Home Depot store could push an ad for plywood to board up his windows. He would have the opportunity to cancel the ad or could indicate "remind me later" so he could take action in his own timeframe. In this case, the ad might well be viewed as helpful, rather than as an intrusion.
These and additional scenarios that Marcus walked us through gave us a clearer picture of the goals surrounding IMS. Of course, these things will not be implemented overnight, but will gradually be introduced and made to interwork with today's systems.
AT&T, BellSouth and Cingular Wireless
We found these examples pretty compelling as an argument for IMS--and were evidently not the only ones. In October, SBC Communications announced that Lucent Technologies will provide an IMS platform to help SBC (now AT&T) integrate wireline and wireless services as well as high-speed Internet and video. That same month, Cingular Wireless awarded a contract to Lucent for an IMS-based solution for new personalized voice, video, data and multimedia services. In November, BellSouth selected elements from Lucentís IMS-based solution, including network integration and technical support, to provide the platform for their residential Voice Over IP service. (BellSouth and AT&T together own Cingular.)
It seems as though these three service providers believe Lucent's IMS is part of the "secret sauce" that will help them reduce the complexity of their networks and enhance their service offerings, so they can meet their goal of attracting and retaining customers.
( www.lucent.com )