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Managing Carrier Fixed-Mobile Convergence

Session management technology is entering a new development phase that will have a significant impact on how network operators converge fixed and mobile services, but plenty of technology and deployment issues need to be sorted out before the optimal paths to fixed/mobile convergence are determined, according to a report from Heavy Reading.

"At least 20 equipment makers are playing a role in the next phase of the session management market's development," notes Joe McGarvey, Senior Analyst with Heavy Reading and author of the report. "There are significant differences among these players in terms of how aggressively they are expanding out of their initial orientation and moving toward a universal gateway."

Ultimately, the approaches that emerge as the clear winners will have a major influence on how telecom services are delivered for years to come, McGarvey says. "The great paradox of the session management market is that while there is near-universal agreement over what services and functions need to be performed to deliver reliable and timely communications and entertainment services, there is considerable debate over where these edge services and functions should reside."

Although some carriers are already beginning to offer FMC services that bridge multiple access technologies, service providers will likely not move in any meaningful way toward a consolidated approach to session management for multiple access networks until 2008, McGarvey adds.

Other key research findings include the following:

The path to developing next-generation convergence gateway products is loaded with potential potholes and detours. While the ideal of a convergence gateway is represented by a single device that provides security, QOS assurance, and mobility management between different types of access methods, it is conceivable that some service providers will find it more efficient to split these functions up among two or more physical elements.

Makers of security equipment for mobile operators are taking the early lead in adding functionality to their products and positioning these products as a front-end to multiple types of access networks.

Over the last year or so, several suppliers have significantly expanded the functionality of their products from lower-layer security devices built for a single access technology to multi-access gateways with support for higher-layer services, such as QOS assurance and policy enforcement.

Although standards play a significant role in the development of next-generation networks, the development of convergence gateways will be hampered by the fact that these standards are controlled by multiple competing groups.

IMS has been shaped by diverse organizations including the 3GPP/3GPP2, ETSI Tispan, and PacketCable -- all of which have different network operator constituencies and agendas. These groups all require different functional modules and different interfaces for performing the tasks associated with convergence gateways, such as policy management, which will put a strain on equipment manufacturers to develop products that support all the different variations of interfaces and protocols.

I believe that the complexity inherent in this multi-group scenario is sure to drive up the the cost of IMS platforms and associated implementation services. The whole notion of following a "carrier-grade" product development cycle is out-of-sync with service provider's need to deploy systems that help to contain operational costs. Critics of IMS say that's exactly why most deployments will fail even a rudimentary ROI assessment.

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