"Time-to-market is an ongoing challenge for IT people in Hong Kong's competitive telecom market," said Samuel Poon, technology & development director for New World Telecommunications. "If someone can launch a service in two weeks and you take three months, you won't get any business."

Driving the need for new services is a dominant trend: traditional TDM (Time Division Multiplexed) fixed line phone networks are being transformed into a pure IP network for voice, data, video and everything else.

With the emergence of new technologies like IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem)-which supports IP services on both mobile and fixed networks-IT needs to prepare service provisioning and billing systems to support IMS services. "The challenge is that the ultimate applications for IMS is still evolving," said Poon. "Flexible software architecture-such as SOA, which is based on web services standards-will enable you to build services that can be changed quickly and easily."

When paired with new broadband wireless IP technology WiMax, IMS can support broadband applications anywhere. WiMax and 3G will coexist, declared Poon: "3G is a mobile phone technology, whereas WiMax is based on IP and is a data-centric network. You can use multimedia services on WiMax."

The latest version of WiMax can support high-speed mobility, and as a result, noted Poon: "All data applications running on 3G will run on WiMax, and PDAs and notebooks will also use WiMax [as] its bandwidth is superior."

"The mobile road map is that GSM first migrated to GPRS, then to the 3G network," he said. "It will next upgrade to HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), also known as 3.5G, to improve frequency utilization, upgrading bandwidth from 384Kbps up to over 1Mbps.

FMC to change equation

Hong Kong's imminent FMC (Fixed-Mobile Convergence) demands real-time collaboration between fixed and mobile carriers. "We need integrated customer profiles, billing, marketing, customer relationships, and a phonebook, all on a common platform for fixed lines and mobile networks," said Poon. "On the IT side, we had to re-engineer most of the application systems, because the billing services for fixed and mobile networks are so different."

"We need to calculate the usage cost of fixed and mobile networks for a single call," he said. "In the future, tariffs may be integrated: either the fixed calls will be charged for usage or mobile calls will not be charged for usage. At present, mobile calls are almost at a flat tariff, so in the future, if everything runs on IP, true integration could be a flat rate or a packet rate for IP usage."

With FMC, a caller will not be able to tell whether the number is mobile or fixed, so the now-separate fixed and mobile number portability databases used by carriers to locate a called person will need to be integrated into a single database. If a called person uses a single number for his mobile and fixed phone, they must decide which phone he or she wants the network to ring.

"A subscriber with fixed and mobile phones could decide that both phones should ring when his number is called," explained Poon. "Or perhaps a fixed line would ring at certain periods of the day and the mobile at other periods. A button on the fixed phone could be pressed to indicate the presence of the subscriber to receive calls. Another advantage is that, in an office or family home, subscribers can arrange four different ringtones for four different people."

"On top of the IMS application platform, on both fixed line and mobile networks, we can have different types of real-time multimedia messaging and collaboration applications," added Poon. "Any multimedia application can run on IMS."

"We have to start developing many different types of application to run on the IMS platform and we may need external contract staff to support development," he said.

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