Lucent's latest IMS deal could speed dual-mode services

BellSouth Corp. is turning to Lucent Technologies Inc. for help in building an IMS (Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem), the carrier announced Tuesday, a move that could put U.S. cellular giant Cingular Wireless LLC and its two parent companies on the same page in building out their next-generation service provisioning systems.

BellSouth, the incumbent fixed-line operator in much of the southeastern U.S., has signed a multiyear, nonexclusive agreement with Lucent to buy the Murray Hill, New Jersey, vendor's IMS products and its integration, maintenance and support services. Last month both Cingular and SBC Communications Inc., which co-owns Cingular with BellSouth, also signed IMS deals with Lucent. The financial terms of any of the three deals were not disclosed.

IMS is an architecture intended for both wireline and wireless carriers to deliver services over their emerging IP networks. The new architecture should allow providers to bring users a variety of new services at a faster pace than with a traditional infrastructure, analysts said.

IMS takes the place of the control infrastructure in the traditional circuit-switched telephone network, with the key difference that it separates services from the underlying networks that carry them. With IMS, services can reside on application servers anywhere and be delivered by multiple wired and wireless service providers. Information about the preferences and access rights of a carrier's customers is held in a central system and can be made available to other carriers to enable roaming.

As a common service provision architecture across wired and wireline networks, IMS could be used for combined fixed and mobile services in which a subscriber carries a dual-mode cellular and Wi-Fi handset. That lets users carry the same phone on the road as at home or in the office, connecting to home broadband or an enterprise LAN via Wi-Fi. BellSouth began a trial of such a service earlier this year with Cingular, said BellSouth spokesman Brent Fowler.

All major service providers want eventually to offer fixed-mobile convergence, according to Burton Group analyst David Passmore. Doing part of that work with the same vendor may make things easier for the BellSouth, SBC and Cingular to implement the service in the short term, he said.

"Having the wireline and the mobile operators all using the same software from the same vendor would seem to facilitate this," Passmore said. "For near-term implementations, being able to rely on a single vendor has its advantages, but over time I think you'll see the vendors will end up supporting pretty much the same standards."

BellSouth's deal with Lucent covers only a subset of what SBC and Cingular are committed to buying from the vendor, said Roger Heinz, a vice president in Lucent's Converged Core Solutions group. All three will use the Lucent Network Gateway, which provides a media gateway function between the traditional and IP infrastructures and between wired and wireless networks, as well as the Lucent Network Controller, which controls the media gateway functions. They also have contracted with Lucent Worldwide Services for integration, maintenance and support.

BellSouth's initial goal with IMS is to roll out a consumer wireline VOIP (voice over IP) service next year.

"With BellSouth, we're very focused on time to market in getting a VOIP solution out," Heinz said. By contrast, SBC and Cingular are looking more immediately at multimedia, he added.

In addition to the VOIP service, the carrier sees IMS helping with future fixed-mobile convergence services as well as conveniences such as being able to program a home DVR (digital video recorder) while on the road using a mobile phone, he said.

"It's going to allow us to quickly and efficiently deploy new applications," Fowler said.

Though Lucent, a late 1990s spinoff of the old Bell System's technology division, has done well with IMS deals in the U.S., competition around the world is stiff, said Burton Group's Passmore. IMS adoption is in full swing in Europe and Asia, and vendors such as Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Siemens AG and Alcatel SA have already made deals with a number of vendors, he said.

"BellSouth and the other wireline operators really have no choice but to move to a successor to the [public switched telephone network] that is based on IP," Passmore said.

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