Jargon is a peril of modern living. My first career even took pride in coming up with new terms for a very slight twist on an established way of doing things. In my second career, I’ve made it my mission to avoid using jargon and acronyms wherever possible, mostly because those new colleagues who insisted on using them were talking their own language and nobody likes being excluded from a klique, right? So when I read “IoT” I immediately ask if this means “interoperability testing” or “Internet of Things,” depending on the career I was thinking about! The carrier I worked for did a lot of “IoT-ing” and if I had a penny for every time I deliberately misunderstood, I’d probably be able to buy myself a coffee. Unfortunately, my topic of discussion today involves a lot of jargon; please bear with me. I’m going to write about AT&T’s core network upgrades in order to work with the Internet of Things, or IoT (and as a happy paradox there’s a lot of IoT involved here, okay I’ll stop that now). The Internet of Things refers to the smart grid of interconnected devices, such as embedded computers, mostly smart devices. It encompasses all manner of devices such as chip transponders in animals, cars, the Nest thermostat and wearable technology. One of the weaknesses of traditional wide area or mobile networks is that one device was given one identity: if you used a GSM carrier, your SIM card contained your number and could not be duplicated on another device. If you lost your SIM card, you had to transfer the account across and it meant that your voice call could not be easily routed to another device.
AT&T are currently upgrading their back-end technology to improve the situation using an IMS, IP Multimedia Subsystem. The IMS is the framework first conceived in 1999 as a means of delivering Internet services over GPRS. It’s been regularly updated to include additional networks, technology and critically, VoIP (voice-over-IP, which means that your telephone call is converted to data, sent via the Internet and then converted back to sound at the other end). AT&T’s server and system upgrade was driven by the desire to implement VoIP over their LTE network, because LTE is a data-only. The IMS acts as a go-between the numerous different systems to make sure that everything runs smoothly. It’s this system that ensures if you call somebody from your modern smartphone within an AT&T VoLTE (this means a VoIP call using the LTE network!) and they are using a fixed line, the call will connect and all relevant parties will be charged accordingly. It will also mean that you can transfer your number to, well, any device that’s compatible with voice calls in whatever capacity you desire. This is perhaps how devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear S or successor devices will be able to handle calls when you ‘phone is not with you?
AT&T’s senior vice president of network technologies, Kris Rinne, talked about some of their products already using the IMS during an interview at the CTIA show in Las Vegas. She spoke of the Filip locator and communicator for children and an in-home monitoring service called Digital Life Care. There are also important enterprise markets opening up and as wearable technologies start to take off, plus smart devices around the home, systems such as AT&T’s IMS are going to become very important indeed.