IMS goes to school
Thanks to an innovative collaboration between AT&T, Nokia Siemens Networks and the Georgia Institute of Technology, wireless customers could soon be using cell phones to share video with friends and family members while simultaneously recording it. Other creative applications resulting from the partnership include “virtual graffiti,” which automatically sends an instant message to a colleague's cell phone when the colleague enters a particular location, as well as an extensible triggering service that turns a cell phone user's ringer off when her or she has a meeting scheduled.
These applications are among the 15 developed by Georgia Tech students as entries in a contest sponsored by AT&T and Nokia Siemens, which awarded prizes totaling $100,000. Grand-prize winners also get an internship at Nokia Siemens.
The contest goal: to leverage IP multimedia subsystem (IMS).
Wireless operators have high hopes for IMS, an open network architecture that aims to quickly and easily support creative new applications by enabling different services to share network resources such as location and presence servers. This summer, AT&T expects to be the first U.S. carrier to launch an IMS-based service — a video sharing application that was developed in part by the company and in part by outside developers. Longer term, however, the company hopes that outside developers will play a greater role in devising creative IMS applications — and lessons learned from the Georgia Tech experience could help in achieving that goal.
“One of the things we're trying to do as a company is to create an environment that we can open for developers to come in without understanding every bit of the network,” said Scott Swanburg, marketing manager for AT&T Mobility's analytics and strategy group.
Using independent developers to help create applications to drive new lines of business is an approach that has had mixed results in telecom. The greatest success story of that kind, of course, was the Internet. But as Swanburg noted: “The mobile environment is so different from the Internet. We want the developer community to embrace the environment to write applications and be able to drop them in the network.”
The IMS Research Competition was open to any Georgia Tech student, although most participants were either IT or business students. “We encouraged students to form teams from different programs,” said Russell Clark, a research scientist in Georgia Tech's College of Computing, who mentored students as they developed projects. A total of 40 students entered the contest.
To support the contest — and additional research work involving IMS — AT&T and Nokia Siemens provided the university with a $5 million laboratory that essentially recreates a service provider IMS environment.
“The lab is best described as a full IMS core,” Clark said. “It's the real thing. It has all of the IMS core-enabling services like push-to-talk and presence, along with [home subscriber server] and media gateways and security. In addition, it's connected to both Georgia Tech's Wi-Fi network — which has close to 2000 access points — and to the AT&T network.”
By providing an end-to-end development environment, Clark said the lab provides great value to the students. “If they tried to do the same thing as a start-up, the cost of getting there is formidable,” he said. “They would need venture capital. Here, they have the opportunity to not just vet an idea, but to learn the whole process of what it takes to bring an idea to fruition.”
Therefore, Clark said, “We're very interested in engaging students from freshman year and advertising that one of the reasons they should come to Georgia Tech is this opportunity.”
Clark also sees the IMS lab and contest as elements of a strategy to spur student interest in telecom, which has waned in recent years as attention shifted toward the Internet. “One of the things we're doing is using the opportunity of [session initiation protocol] and IMS to re-engage people on telecom,” he said.
IMS is likely to become increasingly ingrained in the curriculum at Georgia Tech's College of Computing. In preparation for the contest, students learned about ideas behind IMS and the building blocks the architecture provides. Although most students were familiar — and comfortable — with Web servers and Internet programs, IMS was a new concept to many of them. “The fun part of teaching the IMS portion is to bring in SIP as a signaling infrastructure and help motivate students about why they would want to think about the architecture of an application differently than for a traditional Web page,” Clark said. “IMS is motivated by things like being able to include quality of service, security and a billing architecture such that — and this is key — a carrier will be willing and motivated to deploy it. We try to contrast between what it means to take an idea and make it IMS-enabled and SIP-based, other than just a handset that has IP added to it and treats the cellular network like EarthLink.”
How well students leveraged IMS was one of several criteria that judges from Georgia Tech, AT&T and Nokia Siemens used in selecting winners in each of five specific categories — including campus community, business, IMS enabling, young adult/teen and family (see sidebars). Judges also considered how well a group worked as a team, the uniqueness of their application and the viability of each team's business plan. Some groups provided detailed information about pricing, anticipated take rates based on original and third-party research, and return on investment projections. In planning their projects, students worked under the assumption that today's high-end cell phones with video display capability and other advanced features would be priced in the mid-range within 18 to 24 months.
The work that the students did is the intellectual property of Georgia Tech, but AT&T and Nokia Siemens have first right of refusal to implement any of the applications. As for whether any student applications are likely to see commercial release, Susan Schramm, head of North American marketing for Nokia Siemens, said, “Without question.” She added, though, that, “The question is what will be brought to market and whether it will look exactly like what was presented.” In some cases, students' work validated the applications that were already in the pipeline, Schramm said.
Representatives of Georgia Tech, AT&T and Nokia Siemens are still resolving what form any future contests might take. Although Clark, Swanburg and Schramm are all positive about the experience, each of them pointed to areas where the contest could be improved.
Clark noted, for example, that only a third of students who initially expressed interest in participating in the contest in some way actually signed on to enter. As a result, he said, “Part of our discussion is about tweaking the contest to enable those who are sitting on the fence to leverage their good ideas and good work and not cut them off.”
Schramm said she would like to see students from the different groups cooperate more with each other. “Because they were so worried about keeping information from each other, they didn't collaborate with each other as much as they could have,” she said. “One of our questions now is how can we encourage collaboration.”
Also under debate is whether to open the results of the competition to more companies. “There is a push now for some other operators to be involved that could take this beyond the walls of AT&T,” said Swanburg, adding that additional suppliers also might be allowed to participate.
Although contest parameters may change, Clark insisted that there would be “some form of next step,” noting that network operators and core vendors have expressed interest in hiring several graduating students who were involved in the contest, Clark said, “We've opened the door; we can't stop now.“
AAA: authentication, authorization and accounting
BSC: base station controller
CSCF: call session control function
CSDM: community service and data management
DMZ: demilitarized zone
DNS: domain name server
ENUM: telephone number mapping
FR: frame relay
GGSN: general packet radio service gateway support node
GMSC: gateway mobile switching center
IMC: instant messaging and chat
I-WLAN: industrial wireless local area network
LAWN: local area wireless network
MMAS: material management and accounting systems
MSC: mobile switching center
MPM: mobile presence management
MRF: media resource function
NSNBR: Nokia Siemens Networks border router
O&M: operation and maintenance
PCU: packet control unit
PDG: packet data gateway
PLMN: public land mobile network
PoC: push over cellular
SGSN: serving gateway support node
SSP: service switching point
VCC: voice call continuity
The 2007 IMS Research Competition at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which was funded by AT&T and Nokia Siemens Networks, awarded $100,000 in prizes in five categories.
CATEGORY: Grand prize and “campus community”
DESCRIPTION: A mobile version of social networking sites such as Friendster and MySpace.
“What's unique about SoCoNet is that it focused, not exclusively, but extensively on something that would be useful in a mobile environment,” said Russell Clark, a research scientist in Georgia Tech's College of Computing, who mentored the students as they developed their entries for the contest.
SoCoNet users can create and join groups of other users, and the application uses IMS to share a user's location, plotted on a map, with other members of the group. Group members can then click on the icon for an individual user to initiate a push-to-talk session.
“It's good for planned and spontaneous meeting places,” Clark said.
TEAM MEMBERS: Christian Menkens (St. Wolfgang, Austria), Matthew Rhodes (Angleton, Texas), Anders Davoust (Vaxjo, Sweden), Nikls Kjellin (Enkoping, Sweden)
CATEGORY: Business user
APPLICATION: Distributed Asset Tracking
DESCRIPTION: Employees can use their camera phones to update a database to record where they have moved valuable company equipment. Employees would use their camera phone to take a picture of an asset — such as a laptop, printer or computer — and then scan a barcode associated with the device.
“In the application, they can make a notation — for example, ‘I moved the printer from this room to another,’ or ‘I transferred hardware responsibility to someone else,’” Clark said. That capability could minimize or eliminate the need for a business to bring in a special team periodically to take an equipment inventory — a capability that Clark said could be useful at organizations such as Georgia Tech and others. “As a state institution, we have to spend a ridiculous amount of time every year reporting what we have done with taxpayer money, so we spend a lot of time on inventory,” he said.
If one of the contest sponsors does not exercise its option to implement Distributed Asset Tracking, the team that originated the idea plans to create a start-up company to implement the idea on its own, Clark said.
TEAM MEMBERS: Dannon Teremiah Baker (Augusta, Ga.), David McCann (Lawrenceville, Ga.), John Etherton (Jacksonville, Fla.)
CATEGORY: IMS enabling
APPLICATION: Extensible Triggering Services
DESCRIPTION: This category was a bit different from the others in that it focused primarily on what happens within a carrier network and on enabling different applications to interact with one other. As part of his work, however, the contest entrant devised some end-user applications that could result from that capability. By linking two applications, for example, extensible triggering services could then automatically shut off the ringer on a user's cell phone when he had a meeting scheduled — and automatically turn it back on after the meeting.
“The real contribution is a standard interface definition to the enabling service,” Clark said. That definition answers questions such as ‘What does a trigger look like?’ and ‘What does it mean to subscribe to a trigger or post a trigger?’ The contest entrant also did an implementation of the enabling service on a SIP application server to prove the concept.
Clark expects this type of application to have strong appeal to service providers, who will see it as a way to help networks scale to support large numbers of customers using sophisticated IMS-based applications.
ENTRANT: Vinesh “Vinny” Ramachandran (Dalton, Ga.)
CATEGORY: Young adult/ teens
DESCRIPTION: A location-based offering that enables users to share text, video, voice, music and photos with other users. One example of mobMedia's capabilities is what Clark calls “air graffiti.” Think of air graffiti as a virtual Post-it, Clark said. If, for example, a young man and young woman were scheduled to meet in a certain room, but the young man was running late, he could leave a message for the young woman via a pop-up that would appear on her cell phone when she stepped into the room.
Such applications also could have strong appeal in the business market, Clark said. “Realtors love the idea of walking through a home and picking up notes,” he said.
Clark added that the developing team also did a lot of work around form factor adaptation to enable higher-resolution devices such as laptops to display higher-resolution graphics, while lower-resolution cell phones would display a lower-resolution version of the very same graphics.
TEAM MEMBERS: Gaurishankar “Shanks” Krishnan (Bangalore, India) and Shivam Goyal (Bhopal, India)
CATEGORY: Family prize
DESCRIPTION: An application designed to let users share video with family and friends while simultaneously saving it to a network-based server. The application also leverages IMS to support two-way chat so that, for example, a husband and wife could exchange comments while he records their daughter's soccer match and she views it on a desktop computer.
TEAM MEMBERS: Devin Hunt (Atlanta) and David Jimison (Washington)
CATEGORY: Honorable mention
APPLICATION: Family Game Suite
DESCRIPTION: A game-sharing application specifically designed for an IMS environment.
TEAM MEMBERS: Robert Watts (Dunwoody, Ga.), Andrew Trusty (Atlanta) and Priyanka Mahalanabis (Decatur, Ga.)
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