On the Road to Triple Play, IMS Could Show the Way
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It looks like the gold rush for providing “Triple Play” services is about to get underway. Triple play refers to the ability to provide integrated services including data (traditional Web and e-mail), voice-over-IP (VoIP) and high-definition video over the digital network. Now, the term is in the process of being replaced by IMS, which refers to “IP multimedia subsystem,” a much more comprehensive concept that includes both fixed cable and mobile networks that will hopefully be able to adapt to and accommodate services we haven’t even thought of yet.
One of the prime movers in this direction has apparently been Verizon Wireless, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, has been quietly working with five major telecom equipment vendors—Cisco, Lucent, Motorola, Nortel and Qualcomm—to get them to develop products that fit Verizon’s requirements. The five companies are reportedly making major changes to their next-generation network technologies to accommodate Verizon’s needs. However, they are also indicating that they will be selling their new technology to other carriers as well.
We can extrapolate several possible conclusions from this. First is that the companies will be offering standard, interoperable products and that most likely means that they will be based on the ATCA/AMC standards, which will allow multiple vendors to sell to multiple customers and also let those customers select various components from the mix of vendors. Second, it is most likely that the bandwidth requirements will be such that the push for “fiber to the home” (FTTH) will be greatly accelerated.
While data and voice over the Internet are pretty well understood and becoming more widespread, adding IPTV is a bigger challenge. Quality of service (QoS) becomes imperative because dropped or late packets can disrupt the viewing experience as described in the article QoS Challenge by Net Insight in this issue of RTC. The solution aims at the use of intelligent protocols rather than brute force buffering or wasteful reservation of resources. The tradeoff there is that QoS for IPTV will require large amounts of very fast processing power, which semiconductor manufacturers such as Freescale, Infineon and Intel are busily developing and announcing now.
So the term “Triple Play” represents the ideal, the goal, while IMS represents how it will be achieved. Getting to the holy grail of a fully converged, all-IP fixed/mobile network will still take a long time and will have to deal with a large amount of still extant fixed network equipment and services. Still, estimates are that by mid-2007 there will be some 25 million phone lines using VoIP in Europe in addition to the tens of millions still using the older telephony technologies. Thus, managing the transition will still be an enormous issue, but it looks like the roadmap is becoming clearer.
The question now seems to be, “What does this mean for the immediate future?” Well, for one thing, it seems to indicate that those who early on hitched their wagons to the PICMG 3.x and subsequent AMC stars will be rewarded. The idea that the manufacture of boards and systems will be taken over by a small number of very large companies will no doubt be realized to a certain extent. However, it looks like those equipment providers (the Lucents, Motorolas, Nortels, etc.) will be offering products based on the open standards and not proprietary, incompatible designs as was once feared. But then, off shoring and commoditization of high-volume products is basically a given.
Nonetheless, the size of the coming market and the variety of niche or specialized (and as yet unanticipated) products and services that will graze in that pasture will continue to offer opportunities to innovative companies supplying more specialized products in terms of ATCA and AMC modules, protocols, middleware and applications. It should be especially fruitful for the AMC arena. In addition, I predict a sort of “Windows phenomenon.” That is that the existence of this standard and the size of the market created by the very big players will open opportunities for large numbers of smaller companies addressing needs that are beneath the radar of the big players, just as the existence of the world of Windows has offered opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs. So not only is the network converging, our conception of how that convergence will happen is converging as well, and the future looks bright indeed.