Five Questions for Narothum Saxena, Senior Director of Advanced Technology and Systems Planning, US Cellular

For most Tier 1 operators, deploying IMS is not a question of if, but when. Operators understand that the IMS framework is a necessity for next-generation networks. But for smaller operators, IMS is not a sure thing. Tier 2 operators have to carefully evaluate whether IMS is going to provide the return on investment necessary to justify the deployment costs. FierceWireless editor-in-chief Sue Marek talked with U.S. Cellular's Narothum Saxena earlier this week. Saxena will be a keynote speaker at FierceMarkets' IMS 2007 conference in Washington, DC Sept. 19-20 (click here to register). He will be discussing the IMS framework and what it means for converged applications.

What does IMS mean to the Tier 2 operator?

Saxena: IMS is only important to us if it allows us to provide services that appeal to our customers. IMS has to provide them with a better customer experience. And finally, the customer has to be willing to pay for it.

FierceWireless: Are there services that will benefit customers that IMS will enable?

Saxena: We are looking at that right now. We are looking at the applications that make sense for Tier 2 operators. What is the demand? What are the needs of our customers? The most talked about applications are the converged applications such as integrating messaging with voice, location and presence and push-to-x.

FierceWireless: A few years ago we thought all these next-generation apps would require IMS. But now I’m hearing that there are lots of ways to deploy converged apps and not all necessarily require the IMS framework. Is that correct?

Saxena: Most apps that Tier 2 operators and Tier 1 operators have launched today are without IMS. Can we launch applications today without IMS? Absolutely. But IMS does give us the benefit of additional management of network resources and for converged apps that’s important. However, for Tier 2 carriers, I believe, the business justification for IMS is a tough one. It is very important to Tier 2 operators to adopt a more standards-based approach to get the economies of scale rather than a pre-IMS or proprietary approach.

Is there progress being made in the standards bodies?
I also feel that the standards bodies are working on some of the pieces of the puzzle for IMS. Policy management is up for standardization. SMS or IMS is to be standardized. There is a lot of activity in the standards bodies. But I would say that IMS is a good two or three years away from today for Tier 2 operators.

FierceWireless: Have you made a decision yet about IMS?

Saxena: We are investigating IMS but we haven’t made a decision yet. It’s important for Tier 2 operators to keep in mind that there is a lot of promise in IMS. We hope it comes true. But right now it’s only pre-IMS solutions that are available and they don’t serve the entire value chain.