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IBM unveils telecom strategy

IBM plans to help telecommunications carriers build applications and networks for its next generation of services.

Service providers which, traditionally, have relied on proprietary applications for service ordering, provisioning, billing and other back-end functions, can get new capabilities quicker and at lower cost by outsourcing development, said Rich Stomp, vice-president of solutions for IBM's Global Telecommunications Industry group in Atlanta.

IBM will provide carriers with its hardware, software and middleware, partner with other software vendors where appropriate, consult and carry out systems integration, he said. It may work with both the service provider and a content provider, such as a retail store that wants to place ads on the carrier's mobile phones, Stomp added.

At the centre of IBM's strategy is its Service Provider Deliver Environment (SPDE), a framework, IBM says, that is built on open standards. Partners and other software vendors can write software "adapters" to make their applications hook in to the SPDE Integration Hub software and work with the other pieces of the IBM-built networks.

The initiative is focused on Linux, but not exclusive to Linux, Stomp said. Although Linux is just beginning to emerge in the service-provider industry, it has the potential to save carriers money and let them take advantage of the creativity of the large Linux development community, Stomp said.

A group of software and hardware vendors in January kicked off an initiative for a carrier-class version of Linux. IBM is a backer of the non-profit Open Source Development Lab, which will manage the effort.

Although most carriers are not using Linux now, they are exploring its potential benefits, Stomp said.

IBM in some cases will also run entire sets of back-end applications for carriers wanting to outsource those functions. It recently signed a deal with Nextel Communications under which the carrier outsourced its CRM (customer relationship management) operations to an IBM subcontractor, in addition to the two companies working together on mobile wireless applications.

Other carriers, such as new carriers in Latin America, with little experience in delivering services and operating back-office systems, may turn over all of those operations to IBM, he said.

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