IMS: How Telecoms is Becoming More Like the Internet

Next Generation Network (NGN) technology is a term that refers to the transition from the traditional technical organisation of telecoms services to one that is based on IP, the Internet Protocol. The TSSG who are based in the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland have been researching and prototyping the technology that is going towards building the telecoms architecture of the immediate future. This new type of telecoms structure is referred to as IMS, the IP Multimedia System.

The older system, Signaling System 7, (SS7) was a well standardized, elaborate, complex set of protocols for building telephony functions such as carrier pre-select services, computer-telephony integration and pre-pay. But the application and service model had some big weaknesses.

As can be seen in the main picture, it was vertically integrated so a developer or innovator was limited to building a specific application on top of a specific subscriber data layer with specific media functions and a specific network interface. As a consequence, there were lots of different protocol variants for each kind of application.

Shane Dempsey is an NGN architect at the TSSG and he explains further, “ It meant that the only people who could run a telecommunication service were network operators working with system integrators.

“It was a massive system integrations exercise because you had to know, for example, lots of different variants for the protocol for a particular equipment vendor for this network operator who has a speciality for this equipment and so on. The question becomes, “How do I make this work?” This led to really expensive development life-cycles.

“IMS is not child’s play but it is a lot less hassle. Because it’s a lot less hassle there are API layers being built on top of it.”

IMS has a horizontal model for its architecture as opposed to a vertical one. This allows for a common database for subscriber data and common media function capabilities. Telecoms architecture starts to look a lot more like internet architecture.

One of the many reasons for shifting to this new telecoms structure was a realization that the success of web based applications, particularly those based on social networks, on the internet implied that there were similar opportunities to be exploited in the area of mobile technology.

Shane points out that, “Previously, telecoms vendors didn’t believe that they needed additional ways of storing information like the contacts that you have, your directory of friends, the presence that you have or your dynamic information like your location. It didn’t really occur to them that you needed that.”

However, creating that functionality in SS7 was difficult because of the inherent complexities. However, the move to IMS is not necessarily straightforward.

When you move to a mobile internet it becomes necessary to move to a packet based network. Once you are doing that you might as well have IP switching in the core.

Shane goes on to say, “IP in the core network isn’t a huge deal because the internet is IP at the core. But pushing IP out out into the network is a big deal because previously it was based on time slot technologies. If you are making calls, voice is time slot orientated. [By means of Time Division Multiplexing — TDM.] So moving to IP is a major effort in terms of standardization.

“Packet switching is a kind of a colloquialism that internet scientists use. The packets aren’t of a fixed size but the data can be divided up into packets and you don’t necessarily get the same throughput at every second. So you can get a voice traffic coming through plus internet traffic where people are sharing all sorts of files, documents, audio, video, etc., which are being sent over the same connection.”

By having foundation layers that are common to all parts of the system a great many applications of which some are in some form of existence today become easier to build and easier to deploy.

For businesses, for example, it will be easier to have:

  • Corporate Directory: You can have your own business contacts on your mobile phone but it is now possible to access your companies own directory if it is active.
  • CRM: Applications will be easier to build. It will be much easier to be able to see who is on or off the grid and where they are.
  • Communication Log: For corporate audit services.

For more general use the Rich Communication Suite offers functions on our mobile handsets that we are familiar with from the internet such as:

  • Calls enriched with multimedia sharing.
  • Video call and conferencing.
  • Hi Definition quality voice calls.
  • Enhanced messaging.
  • Mobile and desktop convergence: All the operators are making web service APIs available for the IMS platforms. This will allow third party developers so build applications that can set up conference calls, pull presence information and pull location information and so on.

As Shane states, “We’ll effectively be using internet communications everywhere.”

Shane has a slideset that you may view for further information.

Weedle: Creating a Fabric of Credibility

Iain MacDonald started Weedle with the desire to provide a fundamentally better way of connecting people who have skills to people who need them within a trusted environment. Weedle employs 18 people at present, most of whom are mathematically and software orientated, and has users in over 160 countries. Not bad for a company that is only about a year old.

The origins of Weedle began when Iain needed to solve an arboreal problem at his home. He explains further, “I needed to find somebody who could help me cut down some trees at the bottom of my garden. I spent a bit of time asking my friends and my family if they knew somebody but unfortunately they didn’t. Then I went to Google and I found people who said they were very good tree surgeons but they were strangers to me. I found it very hard to trust them in terms of their competence, their value money, their reliability or their trustworthiness.

“I was pretty sure that the right person was out there. That they were out there looking to connect with me and I’m looking for someone with a skill I need and I am trying to connect with them. But the reality is that it is currently very difficult for us to find each other.”

Iain designed Weedle so that people who are searching for someone with a skill can go beyond just depending on how the suppliers have presented themselves, either via advertising or simply having membership of a professional or trade body. Using social networks as a means of verification there is now a way to assess other factors such as reliability and suitability in terms of being able to work with them.

“When you are looking for a lawyer or someone like that, often when a friend recommends them to you and you end up going to the lawyer they can turn out to be not the sort of person you are looking for. We can circumvent that waste of time by being able to see all the details of the person who has the skill before you contact them.

“What we have is a fabric of credibility. Say, I go to Weedle and I make my skill page. In order to be found when someone searches for me there are a couple of things we take into account in the context of our search algorithm. So, the first one is the content of my skill page and does it match for what someone would be searching for. The next element we take into account is who this person is actually connected to. We may have someone who has created a skill page and is connected to fifty people but they may be less credible then someone who has connected a skills page that maybe only connected to five people.”

How does Weedle compare to Facebook and Linkedin?

“Facebook is very good for communicating with your friends and Linkedin is very good for managing your white-collar network of contacts. But it is not so good if you are looking for a plumber or a carpenter.

“Even if you were looking for a corporate lawyer to float your company on the Nasdaq you’ll get a resume or a some type of CV. What people are really looking for is what projects has he or she been involved in, what role did he play, how long did it take him to do it and to see examples of the expertise that he has.

“It’s not just about say, a yoga teacher who simply states they have worked in ABC Yoga for the last five years. On Weedle you will see; this is where they trained, this is where they worked and here is a video of her giving a yoga class. Here are photographs of the yoga studio, here is a list of ten people that are in your network that went to their class.”

How much of a role does Semantic Web technology have in your system?

“It’s really very significant: A lot of sites using search have gone down the hierarchical directory structure route. A person would have to pick from a drop-down box and choose ‘telecom industry’ and then ‘mobile telephony’ and then ‘mobile network.’ It’s very hierachical and pigeon-holes people into specific positions.

“The particular benefit of using a semantic ontology is that we have no hierarchy to the classification of our user skills. If you go on to the site declaring that you are a carpenter then all you need to do is say “I am a carpenter.” We know that we need to present that search result in a population of search results generated when others search for terms like carpenter, woodworker or joiner.

“We can apportion levels of relevance to the skill pages we have versus search strings. Machine learning combined with Semantic Web technology creates a much better user experience.”

The underlying idea that determines credibility and trustworthiness both offline and online is social proof. Any claim you may make about yourself personally or professionally is validated, or not, against how you are perceived by your social network. Professional bodies may declare you competent and award you some sort of certification and send you out the door to ply your trade but it is how you handle your day to day dealings that really count for most people.

Iain has come up with a system that allows you to access the layers of social trust that surrounds us all and enables access to the sort of vital information on someone that would only normally become available over time and after, possibly, a number of encounters.