IP Multimedia Subsystem: A Retrospective

IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) was once thought by many to be a catalyst for change in telecommunications, one that would bring more competition for services, greater mobility, and more specialized services and content. The drivers behind this change were anticipated to be derived from large and permanent shifts in the economics of the telecom market and new technologies at the time that were thought to offer more capabilities, and associated value-added services.

In 2006, Mind Commerce initiated coverage of IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) with its report entitled “IP Multimedia Subsystem: Driving New Business Models & Opportunities“.

We stated in this report: “IMS is not economically viable if the goal is simply to replicate existing services in a new architecture. The payoff of IMS is to develop and introduce new value-added services for incremental revenue at a lower cost per subscriber.”

This publication was considered by many to be a must-have resource for anyone responsible for planning, designing, implementing, or managing IMS networks and/or IMS-based applications and services.

At the time, there were great hopes for IMS providing mobile network operators with traditional intelligent network type control while enabling IP network functionality and flexibility.  In other words, IMS was supposed to allow the carriers to have their cake and eat it too.

However, much has changed in the ten years since the release of that report.  In 2006, voice produced nearly 90% of all mobile revenue.  In early 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, one of the first smartphones to use a multi-touch interface.  This would become a milestone event as Google would later launch the Android operating system, partner with the likes of Samsung, and the smartphone revolution would begin.

With that revolution, carriers would enjoy significant growth in data penetration and revenues as mobile Internet usage has surpassed desktop access as the most used digital platform.  In 2013, mobile data revenue would surpass voice, becoming the majority of wireless carrier revenue.

During this period of time, mobile network operators aggressively transitioned from 2G to 3G to 4G technologies, heavily promoted data plans to their customers, and ultimately acquiesced to the notion that apps and content would be fulfilled not by the carriers themselves but by the likes of Apple and Google via their platforms.

Now, the carriers are recognizing they are in a similar situation that they were in 2006 when voice was waning in favor of data.

In recent years, wireless carriers have looked toward the evolution of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications towards the Internet of Things (IoT) as having great potential to provide expanded opportunities beyond cellular services in support of traditional industry verticals such as the energy sector (3). In contrast, IoT provides the promise of cellular communications in support of automation as well as new products and services across an extremely wide array of industry verticals.

Complicating matters is the transition from 4G/LTE to 5G, which we expect to see commercially viable by 2020.  One of the improvements of 5G (compared to 4G) is anticipated to be improved support for M2M (4).  While this is a good development for the mobile network operators, alternative technology in the form of Low Power WAN (LPWAN) approaches to wireless access for IoT are rapidly gaining ground as a low-cost option that is available today.

Mind Commerce expects that 5G will transform technologies, services, and create entirely new business models as data about the data (e.g. data analytics) becomes the new currency.  Current technologies, such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, will be transformed due to 5G.  Emerging technologies, such as Haptic Internet and Robotic Teleoperation will become commonplace.

For more information, see Mind Commerce for its ongoing coverage of Communications, Applications, Content, and Commerce.

Also see: Understanding IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)


About Mind Commerce

Analysis of telecom and ICT infrastructure, technologies, and applications.
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