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3G’s next makeover – IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)

April 13, 2006
I wrote this for the AMIA Mobile Content Industry Development Group April ’06 Newsletter…..

It is probably all Vinton G. Cerf’s fault, who is now the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google, when he turned up to do a keynote at the Internet Engineering Task Force conference back in 1992 wearing a t-shirt that stated “IP on Everything”. The geeky statement back then has become an established visionary statement from “the Father of the Internet” of how our world accesses information today.
3G was designed from the ground up to incorporate services that were after thoughts in previous generations of telecommunications. One such after thought was digital data services. Data services are now woven tightly into the 3G service structure making it a seamless component that is a core functionality used by 3G users worldwide to do things such as download multimedia content.
Using high speed data services within 3G is causing a dramatic change in the way people are perceiving and ultimately using their mobile phones. Even the term “mobile phone” is defunct now with the devices utilising converged services such as listening and watching media, video talking, playing multiplayer games and mobile broadband data transfers for business users. As 3G services are utilised further there is a need to extend the functionality to incorporate customer’s needs as well as build in better Quality of Service. One such system that develops this process in 3G and other wireless networks is the IP Multimedia Subsystem or IMS.
Developed as a universal standard, the IP Multimedia Subsystem is essentially a platform that bolts into a carrier’s mobile network and enables them the ability to deploy richer, primarily session oriented, Internet style services for their customers. Of course, a major component for carriers to deploy IMS architecture is they gain a higher level of control of their existing services resources enabling, in some instances, a more cost effective deployment.
For the techie readers, here is a description of IMS from an Ericsson Whitepaper that includes some much needed three, four & five letter acronym delectables,
The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) standard defines a generic architecture for offering Voice over IP (VoIP) and multimedia services. It is an international, recognized standard, first specified by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP/3GPP2) and now being embraced by other standards bodies including ETSI/TISPAN. The standard supports multiple access types – including GSM, WCDMA, CDMA2000, Wireline broadband access and WLAN.
For users, IMS-based services enable person-to-person and person-to-content communications in a variety of modes – including voice, text, pictures and video, or any combination of these – in a highly personalized and controlled way.

To get an idea on what this is all about, here are some of the proposed applications that people will be able to use on an IMS enabled network.

  • Presence Server – a service that monitors the presence status of all users thereby giving the ability to see if that user is in a ready state to receive or interact with information from another user. 
  • Push-to-talk / Push-to-view  – user can click on a button to talk with friends or click to view an event straight away. Think Star Trek communicators!
  • Content/video sharing (“whiteboard”) – now that mobile devices can take pictures and videos, this will entail the ability for people to share these collections as soon as they are created. People will be able to interact live with these files.
  • Wireless Instant Messaging – incorporating presence functionality, people will use instant messaging to access other services. When you see your friend is available for a game of chess you can start up a game knowing their status states they are just as bored as you.
  • Voice/Video over IP – as convergence with other networks progresses this will become key in delivering voice & video over the most cost effective route.
These base services can be built into yet other richer hybrid applications including cross platform integration, such as PC based products. Overall the subsystem gives the carrier a new development layer that they or trusted 3rd parties can develop solutions on.
So, just when you thought your mobile device couldn’t possibly do more than you currently needed it too, IMS comes along and makes the world a better place for one and all. Though just remember that the next generation of mobile users will be taking this technology in their stride. If my 3 year old daughter can now use my Nokia N90 to take a video today, what will her generation as mobile users be doing tomorrow?

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