While IMS has been around for some time, many operators are migrating IMS solutions to virtual infrastructure, while adding new service capabilities, such as RCS and RBM. At the same time, the adoption of DevOps release cycles means that the ever more frequent updates and enhancements. Keeping pace is tricky – what’s the answer? A versatile IMS core test solution.
The IP Multi-media sub-system, or IMS has been the primary means of delivering session control and services in fixed and mobile networks for many years. While originally designed for all networks, supporting an access-neutral model, IMS really began to take off in fixed network more than a decade ago. More recently, the adoption of VoLTE gave IMS a significant boost and it remains critical infrastructure for many fixed and mobile service providers.
The IMS story has been one of continual evolution. Of course, there have been standards-based enhancements and architectural changes, such as the introduction of VoLTE / VoWiFi, but there have also been significant changes on the delivery side. Early implementations benefitted from advances in COTS processing hardware but still required dedicated operating environments and racks. However, in recent years, there’s been a gradual shift towards virtual deployments.
Today, almost every IMS RFx that we see is for a fully virtual solution that should be deployed in the telco cloud of the operator concerned. This means that the first – or even the second - generation of IMS solutions (depending when first adopted) is gradually being replaced. This replacement cycle continues, because IMS also provides key capabilities for 5G networks. Indeed, the session control function remains indispensable, even while other opportunities are targeted.
And, virtual implementations are likely to make the delivery of new, IMS-based services, as well as enhancements to existing capabilities much more frequent, because of the parallel introduction of new DevOps innovation practices and processes.
It’s too early to say what will ultimately happen with IMS, but it’s clear that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. But the changes in deployment models and new innovation cycles also demand a change in how IMS is supported – as well as a new approach to quality assurance, as new network capabilities such as slicing are brought to market.
All of which is to say that testing the IMS core has never been more important. With continuous delivery cycles for updates, emulating different scenarios and modelling performance is now (virtually) mandatory.
What you need is a solution that provides the versatility to encompass all key IMS interfaces, as well as media and content support, while offering the scale to perform mass testing and full compatibility with your virtual network environment and core.
Flexibility is essential in the new cloud native era, so you’ll also need a roadmap to enable new features and functions to be supported as the landscape evolves. We’ve also learnt a lot from our own deployments. It seems that many operators, for example, have found challenges in ensuring that their new virtual IMS (and EPC, for that matter) investments actually deliver the promised performance. Ensuring that such investments deliver the promised performance – consistently and under realistic conditions – is a key element of any migration programme.
And, with many operators beginning to move strongly towards adoption of RCS and its enterprise equivalent – RCS Business Messaging, or RBM – the need to add new capabilities to ensure that the entire service portfolio can be validated and emulated, under real and sustained load should be clear.
RCS for consumers is now well-established, but RBM for enterprise and business customers is an emerging opportunity. It’s also likely to be more competitive. Customer churn is one thing, but you cannot afford to lose enterprises that seek to use RBM for customer engagement using your network and reach. The A2P messaging market is growing strongly, so it’s a huge potential opportunity.
The cost of losing valuable new business partners is likely to be very high – and operators must deliver on SLAs and other conditions, more rigorous than terms offered to consumers. As a result, ensuring that you can support such customers, retain their business and help them evolve their customer engagement strategies is a key objective for any operator that is moving in the direction of RCS / RBM support.
So, why do you need an IMS core test solution? To keep up with software evolution, to ensure you can deliver, and to provide both existing and new value added services to your customers. The fact is, there’s simply no alternative. You cannot effectively manage an evolving IMS service portfolio or IMS infrastructure without an equally effective IMS core test solution.