IP multimedia subsystem and fixed mobile convergence loom large on many telecom carriers' radar screens as the demand for next-generation voice capabilities grows and service providers try to differentiate themselves from the pack.
According to a recent Infonetics Research study, "Service Provider Plans for Next Generation Voice & IMS," market forces are driving providers to look for alternative ways to offer services. Stephane Tral, principal analyst of service provider VoIP, IMS and FMC, said those same market forces are forcing providers to innovate to keep a leg up and that innovation is pointing toward IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) and fixed mobile convergence (FMC).
"You'd better come up with some ideas and smart things to do," Tral said, "or the other service providers will eat your lunch."
The study found that nearly 80% of service provider respondents plan to offer FMC by April 2008. Tral said that's a massive increase over the number of providers that had planned to have FMC services available this year. Currently, roughly 38% offer FMC.
The service providers that were polled said they are looking to offer FMC both to increase average revenue per user and to keep traffic within the network.
Tral said providers are examining their subscriber bases and trying to bridge services for broadband and cellular subscribers with FMC, and to attract more customers by offering both, eliminating the need for users to have separate providers and ultimately upping their subscriber bases.
Along with a massive boost in FMC offerings, more than half of the service providers Infonetics interviewed for the study expect to have an IMS solution deployed, at least partially, on their networks by 2010. Tral said that despite the massive uptake of partial IMS, Infonetics found that a significant number of service providers have no plans to deploy a full IMS solution.
"Despite the fact that 71% of the service providers we interviewed for a similar study last year expected to use IMS architecture in 2007, we cautioned that providers likely were being optimistic with their uptake plans," he said. "With this year's study, we now have concrete evidence of IMS adoption shifting out; just over a quarter are using IMS in 2007, and less than half plan to do so in 2008."
When providers consider IMS, operational expenditure savings are an important driver, Tral said, adding that "it has a toll on revenue but also has a toll on operational expenditures."
Still, some providers said they will never completely move to next-generation voice for access, and multiple heterogeneous access networks will exist for a long time, meaning that full IMS will not happen because IMS is the glue to join those networks together and make them work using SIP.
And as next-generation voice technology continues to mature and broadband penetration increases, many carriers are still adopting VoIP to reduce operational expenditures, grow revenue and add more margin-rich services.
Despite the growth in FMC and increased adoption of IMS, it's still too early to predict where carriers will take these technologies, according to Tral, because markets are very different from one region of the world to the next.
"We're dealing with a very unstable landscape right now," he said. "We have to wait for the dust to settle."