New media means new price models

The IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) is generating a lot of buzz, but most of it is coming from the carriers and is directed at the consumer space. Telecommunications companies want to deliver rich media as entertainment to consumers, and are pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to bill for it.

What does this mean for the enterprise user? When it comes to IMS, the envelope will be pushed in the consumer space before it is widely adopted for business. As a result, business may have to adjust to, and conceivably could benefit from, pricing models built around consumer demand.

Speaking at VON Mexico recently, Kari Pasonen, vice-president of provisioning business for Comptel, made it clear that “one of the biggest challenges IMS systems bring to billing is the incredible amount of data.” Provisioning is usually one of the last things to be built into a network.

How is one to bill multimedia in real-time? Rather than opting for more complex business models built around elaborate processes, the answer may lie in a flat rate.

And that rate, once the regulators catch up to the technology, will be built on top of benchmark prices for data packets. As a result, carriers will decide to drive revenue off the pipe, providing bundled content services. “You buy the service from us and everything is included,” says Mats Palving, vice-president and key account manager for Ericsson Tele-com, also speaking at VON Mexico. “We have the content rights management, the billing mechanism, we make an agreement on a revenue-share basis.”

That said, enterprises still have to deal with the technological challenge of IMS.

According to Palving, the problem is that users want to move to IMS, but don’t want to lose what they have: “They don’t want to drop the service level on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network).”

Commenting on the large investments Canadian enterprises have made in telecommunications infrastructure over the past decade, Palving insists that standardization is driving the next generation architectural build-out.

And this is defending legacy systems and complementing IMS, he says. For example, old Advanced Intelligent Network (AIN) hardware was only designed for voice, but it can still come in handy and be re-used for call session control functions.

“A consistent message around the world is that end-users are saying, ‘We don’t want to throw everything out.’ British Telecom is building a new network, but that is rare.”

The short answer for business: you don’t have to abandon your old system to get full IMS capability. Palving has been an executive in Europe and the Americas, and has seen a lot of enterprise interest in the re-use of technologies. The issue then becomes integration.

Many enterprises will not choose Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) IMS if it means they will lose functionality, and there is a gap from what a classical PSTN can do compared to SIP-based IMS.

One company in the thick of the push for IMS is Vancouver’s Convedia Corp. Convedia supplies IP media servers and has a healthy roster of both telecom equipment and application partners.

Grant Henderson, a co-founder and executive vice-president of Convedia, sees his company as reflecting Canada’s traditional leadership in telecom and taking it to the next level. He also echoes a strong message coming out of the VON conference — IMS is and will remain a multi-vendor space.

“VoIP and IMS are very complex areas with very many elements in the architecture,” he says. “We can’t do it all. We focus on one aspect of IMS architecture: media processing for value-added services.”

WebEx, which provides hosted online meeting applications and is one of Convedia’s customers, is at the forefront of the charge for SIP-based VoIP to become truly multimedia. However, Jae Sook Jun, director of global network and telephony services for WebEx, is clear that video is by no means a slam-dunk.

“The Convedia Media Server can take 18,000 to 20,000 ports per chassis,” she says. “We are currently using 5,000 to 6,000 ports, but these are only audio conferencing points. They enable voicemail and unified messaging. There would be a different codec for video.”

One thing is beyond question: although the technological basis for the provisioning of multimedia services is established, including those that converge with mobile packet networks, the technological challenge for IP and video is still quality.

It will be the consumer, not the enterprise customer, who will be driving demand for reliability and simplified billing. And that’s good for business.

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