Feature Article

July 29, 2009

NGN/IMS Forum: IP-Based Service Delivery Models Emerging

The gap – once wide – between consumer and business services is disappearing fast, as more and more businesses turn toward so-called “integrated communications,” the head of a nonprofit organization that advocates for the interoperability of IP multimedia subsystem and next-generation network applications and services told MobilityTechzone in an interview.
According to Michael Khalilian – chairman and president of the NGN/IMS Forum, which is hosting Plugfest 8 from Oct. 5 to 9 in Durham, N.H. – service delivery in the future will be focused increasingly on new IP-based methods.
“The median between the enterprise and the SOHO is getting shorter and shorter as both increasingly share the same access services and devices,” Khalilian told MobilityTechzone during an interview (printed in full below).
As MobilityTechzone reported, this year’s Plugfest 8 will focus on interoperability for voice and multimedia applications, BSS/OSS and security inter and intra network. Specifically, experts will discuss: end-to-end interoperability testing for IMS and NGN applications and services; interoperability of the control plane and the diameter protocol; and charging functions impacts on BSS.
We talked to Khalilian – and some frequenters of the Plugfest event series – about why the NGN/IMS Forum’s work is so important and why companies should seriously consider attending.
Our exchange follows.
MobilityTechzone: With the rise of the network itself as a the platform for enterprise communications, and the prospect that next-generation devices such as smartphones will continue to see exponential growth, we in the IP media space are seeing NGN and IP multimedia subsystems grab more and more headlines. What kind of up uptick in interest, if any, is the NGN/IMS forum seeing in Plugfest? Where is that interest coming from?
Michael Khalilian (pictured left): There is a great deal of interest in convergence to NGN and IMS services and new products.
We are seeing the demarcation between consumer and business services disappearing very fast. An enterprise integration system is appearing with IMS as the telecom industry goes through convergence and migrates to IP application services and delivery versus smartphones. We are expecting that the future will be more focused on integrated communications and multimedia applications. Service delivery will be focused on an array of new IP service delivery methods. The median between the enterprise and the SOHO is getting shorter and shorter as both increasingly share the same access services and devices.
Our members have selected the following topics to focus on in 8th NGN IMS Plugfest. They center around interoperability for voice and multimedia applications, BSS/OSS and Security inter and intra network and include:
  • End-to-end interoperability testing for IMS and NGN applications and services
  • Interoperability of the Control Plane and the Diameter Protocol
  • Charging functions impacts on BSS
MobilityTechzone: For operators, NGN and IMS are critical, though it isn’t clear just when they’ll migrate to those technologies. What is the NGN/IMS Forum doing right now to accelerate deployment?
MK: Most SPs have already migrated to NGN and IMS technologies to some degree. Almost every single Tier 1 SP in the world has already migrated at some level to NGN, which includes some level of convergence to IP networks.
To accelerate the deployment through our Plugfest series we focus on interoperability and integration issues which demonstrate and validate these services. We are also developing technical and ROI white papers as well as guidelines for the development and deployment of IMS and NGN modules and services. These are informed by our experience in our interoperability test lab and the work of our working groups between test events.
MobilityTechzone: Plugfest 8 is billed, in part, as the only interoperability event that covers converged IMS and NGN services over wireless, wireline and cable broadband. Talk to us about the programs at this upcoming PlugFest in Durham, N.H., running from Oct. 5 to 9, and what service providers and others can expect to take away from the event?
MK: Examples of test topics planned for Plugfest 8 include:
  • Application and Feature Testing across the Control Plane
  • Online & offline charging scenarios for IMS events and sessions
  • Interface Compliance testing: The 3GPP standard interfaces that use Diameter
  • Topology hiding scenarios: IMS/NGN Control Plane interoperability including border controllers, legacy network gateways, service location function, and policy control elements
  • Multi-domain scenarios covering user-to-network and network-to-network IMS interoperability
  • Further study of IPsec on the Gm interface
  • Inclusion of IPv6 within the core network
Service providers and vendors who participate will have a greater knowledge of how their networks and services work in multi-vendor and multi-carrier environments. They can also use our certification to prove to customers and prospects that their services and networks work well with respect to these topics in a simulated real world environment with other vendors and service providers.
Participation in NGN IMS Plugfest 8 is open to all companies. Plugfest 8 participants will include such companies as: Comverse, HP, Mu Dynamics, Radvision, Tech Mahindra, and Tekelec. Sponsors of Plugfest 8 include T-Mobile, Intel and Radvision.
MobilityTechzone: We see that Plugfest 8, specifically, is an effort that brings together three technical working groups, including those involved in “Diameter/Control Plane,” “BSS/OSS” and “Security.” This last group – the one that addresses security – is of special interest to our readers, as more and more sensitive information travels over the network and consumers, enterprises and SMBs seek to ensure secure communications. Talk to us a little about what kinds of emerging concerns the security working group is looking at these days.
Thomas Maufer, director of technical marketing at Mu Dynamics: Security testing amounts to seeing how systems, or components of systems, handle invalid or unexpected inputs. IMS uses many standards-based protocols leveraging IETF and 3GPP standards, but in unique ways that need to be tested for interoperability and conformance as well as security. As you can imagine, the number of ways for inputs to be incorrect is far larger than the number of ways that inputs might be correct.
MK: The approach of one IMS Forum member, Mu Dynamics, validates interoperability for a well-chosen set of interactions and then generates millions of test cases that stress the targets by sending unexpected inputs and monitoring the network for undesirable behavior. Mu allows users to define the interactions via captured network traffic, or use built-in testing models developed by Mu. Mu’s engine automatically generates test cases that are modeled on common mistakes that protocol implementation developers make over and over again.
Mu has enhanced the test capabilities it brings to each Plugfest and has seen steady improvements in the implementation quality of the IMS vendors that are present. Mu’s security testing can be viewed as an extremely aggressive form of Plugfest testing.
MobilityTechzone: In what way does Plugfest 8 represent a chance for participants to demonstrate so-called “smart monetization” approaches to NGNs?
Gabriel Matsliach, general manager of billing and active customer management at Comverse: With the realization that the “killer application or service” is no longer enough and with voice ARPU on the decline, operators are focusing on their networks – their greatest asset –with many investing in next generation IP-based network technology to lower costs and speed time-to-market. However with an expanded service offering, the right conditions need to be in place to enable a more seamless and consistent usage experience across the services now available.
One critical condition relates to monetization with key questions such as: how can carriers monetize new services that capitalize on network investments? What are the best charging models?
For example, even though the technology is in place for subscribers to access multiple services during a single session; are carriers’ BSS systems capable of supporting seamless service transitions, and are they able to recognize changes in quality of service and accurately charge for this shift? To avoid the pitfalls and risks associated with the introduction of new advanced/converged services, carriers need to address the following in order to fully monetize services:
  • Is my existing BSS environment capable of supporting real-time session control?
  • Are my third party/delivery costs accurately accounted for?
  • What about revenue leakage resulting from subscribers’ inability or willingness to pay?
  • Can my BSS environment support real-time policy management, rating and charging for all or some targeted services?
‘Smart charging’ or ‘smart monetization’ means the ability to accurately charge all services regardless of network, service or service combination and payment type. Some ‘smart monetization’ approaches include:
  • Value-based charging based on:
  • Quality of service
  • Value perceived by the subscriber
  • Accurate charging for:
  • Multiple services within the same session (each service is charged accurately)
  • Charge differentiated rates based on subscribers profile & real-time usage
  • Charge premium services as prepaid for immediate revenue realization
  • Financial exposure reduction:
  • Extend real-time rating and charging capabilities to targeted services to minimize/eliminate 3rd party exposure & bill shock
Participation in NGN IMS Plugfest 8 is open to all companies. For online registration and info contact the forum at: info@imsforum.org or visit www.NGNforum.org.

Don’t forget to check out MobilityTechzone’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users.

Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for MobilityTechzone, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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