The implementation of IP Multi-media Subsystem (IMS), the emerging standard governing fixed-mobile convergence, presents both challenges and opportunities for service providers. This was the overriding theme presented during the Beyond the Black Phone: the Road to IMS webcast, presented by CED magazine last month.  Lior Weiss, VP of media gateway business line at AudioCodes Inc., said one of the main challenges facing operators is who controls the client. This is a result, he added, of the proliferation of more intelligent devices capable of running multiple applications and protocols in an open environment. The introduction of session initiation protocol (SIP) also represents a disruptive force.  "Interestingly, the introduction of SIP through those end points fueled by the proliferation of broadband access really creates a call termination war," he said. "So, SIP really enables Voice over IP carriers such as Skype and Vonage to basically commoditize the traditional network infrastructure into a mere transport network and own the customer, effectively replacing the incumbent network provider."  Both fixed line operators and wireless carriers can feel the negative impact of this, Weiss added. "A Vonage or Skype client loaded on an open OS-enabled phone effectively is stealing the customer from both the mobile operator or the incumbent fixed line carriers…This is the new unbundling of the access network. All of these competition dynamics create a real challenge to operators," he said.  The AudioCodes executive said that operators can address these challenges in two ways: add different access technologies to support multiple devices and service bundles to the company’s greater service offerings. Carriers can "expand their service offerings with additional access technologies in order to provide more comprehensive service packages to differentiate and to reduce churn," Weiss said. "The operators can also seek service bundles to satisfy the customer’s desire for bundled services across multiple devices."  There are substantial benefits to operators which choose to implement IMS into their network infrastructures. It is a blueprint for next generation networks that will help carriers increase revenue. Weiss said that another benefit is operators can pick and choose the best of breed in network elements. This, he said, can help in "maintaining healthy competition and breaking away from the monolithic voice architecture of the past decade."  The breadth of applications available to users will also grow as a result of IMS implementation, according to Howard Pfeffer, group VP of broadband engineering and technology at Time Warner Cable’s advanced technology group. IMS allows for third party application developers to have greater involvement.  "Rather than building silos, the key element of IMS allows us to build individual applications, but then combine those applications to create new services," Pfeffer said. "I can have an application for streaming video and one for text messaging, and I can combine those into a new service. That’s one of the key elements of the horizontal application infrastructure."  As with any emerging technology, the hype can sometimes overstate the effectiveness of products using the technology. But both Weiss and Pfeffer believe the IMS goods will show themselves in the not so distant future.  "We’ve heard a lot of service providers quoting IMS as the, or one of the, greatest things happening in telecom in the last deacde," Weiss stated. "Bottom line is IMS brings a lot of good stuff to the table and my view is that operators would start adopting pieces of IMS as the market dictates and their service deployments dictate."