Where are the IMS applications?


Earlier this week I spoke at the Osney media IP Telco world conference conference. This was a good conference with speakers whose views I respect like Niklas Blum of Fraunhofer FOKUS, Roberto Minerva of TIM, Graham Finney of heavy reading and others.

Many thanks to Ben Fletcher, Mari Tomkins, Sally Chatters and others at Osney media for inviting me to speak

I spoke on a panel called Deploying IMS: Opportunities and Challenges to Date – a challenging topic to say the least.

This blog is an extension of that talk with an attempt to continue the conversation ‘beyond the event’ – so to speak.

Graham Finnie, Chief Analyst at Heavy Reading chaired the panel asked : Where are the IMS applications? ( a now familiar question to many) – He then followed up by asking ‘Does anyone have a good word to say about IMS’?

So I decided to take the challenge – I partly answered the question on the panel – here is a more detailed reply.

Comments welcome on this chain of thought

IMS brings IP to the telecoms world.

IP traditionally implies dumb pipes – smart nodes(aka net neutrality principles – all packets are created equal)

Although IMS is IP based, it is philosophically the opposite of this principle since it seeks to make the network intelligent.

On one hand, thinking of IMS applications is a bit like thinking of 3G applications. Every application will be a 3G application but it really does not matter much anyway what the bearer is in most cases.

Consequently, if you flip this argument, then an IMS application needs to be an application that will make use of the (bearer) telecoms network itself.

So can such applications be possible?

In theory – yes.

In itself, making the network intelligent is not such a big issue.

Consider delay tolerant networks – which are used in military and space applications. In that case, all packets are not created equal especially when operating in hostile environments.

The real question is – are all packets created (commercially) equal?

Hence, the question spans more than the technical remit and is directly tied to business models and can be reframed as : Will people pay for applications with differential charging?

If such applications may be found then they would be ‘IMS’ applications in the true sense of the word

The context within which IMS operates cannot be ignored as well. The Internet and the Web are dominant. They are options for most IMS applications. The Internet and the Web are global and they are free. That does not help for IMS applications.

The Web / Internet is simultaneously IMS’s best dream(because the Internet is global and gets all the attention – features IMS aspires to acquire) but also it’s worst nightmare(because it is free and disruptive).

So, IMS applications must

a) Somehow uniquely leverage the network

b) For an Operator – and lets face it – IMS is mainly driven by Operators – be chargeable to the end user and

c) Must take the Internet into account – i.e. competing against the Internet will not work!

One key observation is; The Web is global. IMS is national at best – and in most cases sub-national in coverage(more than one Operator within a country). Also, end to end IMS connectivity issues are still not solved – and that hampers many IMS applications.

Ok. So what are the options. Here are some notes

a) Security: IMS can be viewed as a QOS network – and / or a secure network. Too much attention is placed on the QOS bit with the hope of gaining a share of the Internet pie – and not enough on the secure bit. Lets put it this way – will I tell my Operator about my music preferences? Probably not. However, can I trust my Operator to protect my 5 year old from malicious mobile content? Absolutely. So the security features of IMS coupled with trust are relevant – more so than the QOS features.

b) Mashups – SDP with IMS: I have touched on this a number of times on my blog. SDP(network abstraction) is a worthy goal. We will see it in some shape or form. Commercially, to make money tough, SDP needs to tie back to the mashups idea. This has some unsolved issues. For instance, have you seen a commercially successful mashup(for which people are willing to pay money for)? Its OK for Google to think long tail, mashups etc since the cost of experimentation is so low. But that does not work with network operators i.e. when there is an investment/cost – long tail is a difficult concept to adopt and hence there are some question marks as to how anyone will make money on an IMS/SDP approach.

c) Web services: IMS is not end to end yet – but there are options for instance SDP/IMS for an end to end IMS approach – SDP complements IMS by providing an end to end scenario. This area is being explored especially by Fraunhofer FOKUS(my company is a partner of Fraunhofer FOKUS). They key unknowns in this space are the billing model, the type of applications possible and the web services orchestration i.e. once the Telecoms/IMS service becomes like any other web service, how does it get monetised? How does it get orchestrated? See the issues pertaining to Web services orchestration

d) Local applications – I believe that telecoms will have a significant advantage with local applications – as will IMS (topic of a future blog)

e) Mobile VOIP – Topic of a separate blog. This can be a winner if managed correctly. End to End Mobile VOIP is an IMS application

f) Mobile Session based applications: In general – any session based applications which uniquely need the network / QOS to maintain quality of communication.

g) Applications that reduce friction and provide an instant response i.e. ‘better’ the same service available on the Web for free by using properties of the network in some way – topic of a separate blog

Comments welcome!


  1. Paul Golding says:

    IMS brings the benefits of IP to the signalling (i.e. control) plane for P2P services. It makes developing new P2P services easier and more cost effective than trying to do so with legacy platforms. SDPs can provide a useful bridge between IMS and legacy systems, but I don’t think they otherwise add any value.
    It would be far easier to rollout new network services with an all IMS network, especially if it were used to control voice calls (which it won’t be for some time, because they will remain circuit-switched).
    One example is that making a call to a number could be used to trigger any service related to the number being dialled. This could be used to trigger contextual advertising and so on.
    Another example is that it would be easy to offer users a service to record phone conversations and then access them per number in future.
    Visual voicemail, like the iPhone has, would be easier to develop using IMS.
    Making calls directly into a voicemail box would be easier to develop using IMS.
    This is all because triggering events from IMS (i.e. SIP) is incredibly easy and then developing an app using something like SIP servlets is a no-brainer. I feel confident that I could develop all the above apps in my lunchbreak, whereas if you were to ask me to do the same via today’s SS7 networks etc, I would rather go spend all that time, money and effort to create a virtual world where we can all live and pretend that Telco legacy doesn’t exist :)
    The problem is that any of the above services – and there are tons more just with voice alone – don’t have a proven business model that supports migration to IMS just to gain these benefits.
    Furthermore, the nature of the telcom network – even with IMS – is such that a guy in his garage with a SIP servlet SDK isn’t going to bother to develop an app. Hence, the people – i.e. massive global community of clever developers – who should really be answering the question ‘where are all the IMS apps’ aren’t in the picture. They’re not even interested. A few IMS hopefuls are battling away wasting tons of cash to develop apps that don’t stand a chance of hitting critical mass, especially with the lack of IMS handsets!

  2. Jeroen van Bemmel says:

    Couple of points
    1) IMS is valuable to operators not “because it is IMS”, but because it is an open, agreed upon standards based architecture that operators across the globe are adopting. “A standard” is better than “no standard”, what alternative is there?
    2) You can make P2P applications on top of IMS, there is nothing that forces you to “put intelligence in the network”. IMS centralizes subscriber authentication, but not necessarily service logic

  3. Sid Pachauri says:

    Can someone help me with a more detailed understanding of the potential IMS applications? What are some of these applications besides PTT and VoIP, that we are likely to see being rolled out in the near future?