Debate About IMS Creates A Confusing Sideshow to the Real Goals of Network and Service Evolution

There is considerable debate around the service delivery core of next generation networks. For some, IMS remains unconvincing, despite the great strides made in formalising the architecture, the momentum that seems to be gathering around the standards, and the evidence of real network deployments. At Gintel, we believe that IMS has much to offer and expect to see more IMS rollout in coming months. But, we also recognise that it is not an ideal solution for all situations.

Never-the-less, some attributes of IMS have become cornerstones of network evolution. For us, these include the following:

  • Decomposed network architecture
  • Exposure of abstracted service enablers
  • Adoption of SIP

The decomposed network architecture is critical. Building on the IN / CAMEL model which defines functional and physical entities and adding the concept of layers (transport, signalling, service, control), a decomposed architecture promotes a strong separation of concerns and points to a framework in which vendors can play to their strengths, delivering specific solutions that meet particular requirements, whilst slotting into a holistic view of the network.

The addition of abstracted service enablers builds on this, providing the interfaces that will unlock innovation and stimulate new business models. The search for a rich set of service enablers that can be exposed to different stakeholders has been ongoing for some time. The IN SCE tended towards the proprietary and was usually restricted to specialists within the telco itself. PARLAY, which we fully supported, was a strong contender, but never really achieved the goal of broadening the service development community. But, the kinds of enablers that are emerging today, based on web services and SOA principles offer much greater promise. What makes these developments compelling and suggests that we are finally on the right track is that newer abstract models can co-exist with more granular and lower-level concepts and interfaces. Thus, a telco can offer web services APIs in conjunction with their own PARLAY based systems or other service creation paradigms, all based on the same set of underlying network resources.

This can build an environment in which the telco can create the services they need to adapt and customise their network, whilst simultaneously allowing third parties to innovate in a secure environment with interfaces that are more intuitive and require limited specialised knowledge of the network itself – a key criticism of earlier efforts in this direction.

SIP has become the de facto standard for interconnection of NGN elements, as essential as oil to the running of an engine. Although the standard has evolved considerably since first introduced in the 1990s, SIP is a rich protocol for connecting and managing all kinds of disparate sessions.

These three elements are at the heart of Gintel’s product offer and underpin our philosophy. All of our applications are designed for a decomposed network, in which different external platforms and solutions provide the network connections and resources that are required for the application to function. These include:

  • Standardised execution environments, such as Application Servers that can provide connectivity to an enterprise service bus (ESB)
  • Media gateways that deliver TDM connections to the solution
  • Signalling gateways to connect to legacy SS7 signalling
  • Media Servers to provide media processing functions

We can both connect to existing abstracted network enablers, such as PARLAY, and expose service creation capabilities via a powerful yet simple graphical user interface. This allows insertion alongside existing service enabling technology and to provide new capability exposure to third parties.

Finally, our solutions have been developed from the ground up to support SIP and the signalling models it offers. Our applications can connect to IMS-compliant or alternative SIP interfaces, simplifying network connectivity options and supporting the gradual migration to an NGN SIP-enabled architecture.

We recognise that these three tenets are fundamental to the evolving network, but we also understand that there may be different ways of embodying these principles. One operator may choose IMS as the paradigm for building these capabilities into their network, whilst another may choose a different path to reach the same goals. For us it doesn’t matter – we consider it important to deliver the key attributes demanded by the NGN, but without compelling operators to adopt one particular model over another. After all, as service experts, we recognise that operators have to customise services to meet the needs of their individual markets and customers. The same argument applies to their networks – operators have choices that they make in order to create the best environment for their unique circumstances.

The three principles outlined above, encapsulated in the vision of “any user, any network, any service” remain true whichever model the operator chooses to adopt in NGN migration. Yes, IMS will be central to this, but at Gintel, we truly understand that operators also need choice. Our goal is to provide solutions that meet all of these requirements. Operators can be confident that solutions from Gintel can fit into their network and help them achieve their goals, irrespective of the overall framework that they choose to adopt.

And, at the end of the day, this is what matters more than the debate, interesting though it is, surrounding IMS and its future. That is really a sideshow that shouldn’t diminish the real goals of operators – to achieve a network configuration that allows them to control network resources, deliver rich and exciting new services, and create profitable new business relationships that leverage their assets and expertise. It doesn’t really matter how this is done, so long as the chosen model delivers on those key principles – a decomposed network, exposure of abstracted network capabilities, and use of SIP where appropriate to help harmonise network connectivity. So, don’t be distracted – talk to Gintel now, and see how we can help you achieve your goals!

Tore Saeter, July 2008

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