The convergence of communications on a single IP-based network presents a number of challenges for service providers, a conference in Montreal heard last month.  Speaking at the IP Telecom EXPO, Paul Desrocher, a project manager with CGI Inc., explained that providers are not only trying to come to grips with the impact that IP has on services and networks, they are also confused as to the appropriate migration path to IP. During his presentation, he highlighted the benefits and the problems associated with using two possible technology migration approaches: Service Delivery Platform (SDP) and IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).  The overriding difficulty facing service providers, said Desrocher, is they just can’t abandon the way they offer services now. In the transition from legacy services to new services, telcos want to leverage existing assets. As it currently stands, it isn’t clear whether they should move forward with SDP or with IMS, he noted, adding there are pros and cons for both.  In addition, the likes of Nortel Networks Corp., Lucent Technologies, Alcatel SA and others are all trying to capture market share with convergence products.  On top of that, the competitive environment is changing: Price is increasingly becoming a competitive tool; a greater number of consumers are migrating wireline usage to wireless devices and networks; broadband penetration continues to grow; and pervasive broadband networks are emerging, so users can get high-speed access just about anywhere.  Desrocher noted that in 2003, there were 49,000 hotspots in North America. That number has nearly doubled to 90,000 currently and this is changing the way people communicate, he stated.  Technology conundrumWith SDP, there is no clear definition, meaning a lot of vendors are in the market selling different variations of SDP. "It’s not very good news for someone who wants to move forward with ," Desrocher said.   CGI has, however, adopted a definition of SDP that it believes will allow service providers to get the most out of migrating to new IP services. According to Desrocher, SDP is a framework for the rapid deployment, provisioning, aggregation and management of IP services. It supports the delivery of voice and data services, which can be accessed in a uniform and standardized way.  IMS has its own challenges because it is a complex architecture, making the transition from legacy to new services difficult, Desrocher said. But innovative players in the market such as Skype Technologies and Vonage Holdings Corp. aren’t using IMS to deliver services across multiple platforms. This begs the question: must carriers use IMS to migrate to new IP services? The answer, he added, is both yes and no.  Desrocher noted that IMS is not yet finished and companies are still refining it. He cited the example of interoperability as one potential barrier to adoption. The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is the standard for VoIP delivery, but there are already 29 different SIP implementations in the market, he stated.  The challenge for carriers is to not only determine which technology migration path they are going to choose; they also have to set appropriate capital expenditures to implement the new technology platform. "Investment in the infrastructure requires a huge amount of capital," Desrocher said. This is complicated by the new competitive environment where margins on services are typically low.  So, he added, when it comes to implementing a migration path, the investment decision should look at all variables involved in a network rollout. Desrocher said, of course, CGI has an answer that could help service providers deal with the challenges associated with implementing a converged network architecture.  CGI offers customers what it calls the IPCentricity Service Delivery Solution – a framework of application components, templates and tools for the design and development of services. The convergence of communications services on a single, IP-based network can be considered the biggest driver of change in the telecommunications industry.  The challenge for telecom service providers is to find an appropriate migration path.