GSMA tries (again) to take an API approach to enable new digital services

GSMA tries (again) to take an API approach to enable new digital services

The GSMA has launched GSMA Open Gateway, a framework of application programmable interfaces (APIs) providing universal access to operator networks for developers. The initiative has the support of 21 mobile network operators.

GSMA Open Gateway is working to standardize how services are delivered in the industry through open APIs. This gateway marks a shift in how telecom services are designed and delivered in an API economy, officials and partners said.

“GSMA Open Gateway is a significant step in enriching the cloud developer experience,” says Ishwar Parulkar, the chief technologist for the Telco Industry at Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Developers using AWS’s more than 200 services will also be able to leverage APIs from telco operators. This allows the developer community to create new applications and for telcos to open up new models of consumption and monetization for their networks.”

At MWC Barcelona 2023, attendees experienced a variety of demonstrations showcasing use cases for the APIs. Axiata presented an immersive live concert experience, and the 5G Future Forum hosted a jam session with musicians from across the globe.

GSMA Open Gateway provides developers and cloud providers easier access to operator networks by utilizing common northbound service APIs that provide a consistent and interoperable framework.

“GSMA Open Gateway will enable single points of access to ultra-broadband networks and provide a catalyst for immersive technologies and Web3 — giving them the ability to fulfill their potential and reach critical mass,” says José María Álvarez-Pallete López, the GSMA board chairperson and chairperson & CEO of Telefónica.

The GSMA Open Gateway supports various services, such as edge site selection and routing to support autonomous vehicles, SIM Swap to combat financial crime and QoD for drones and robotics.

“In 1987, representatives from 13 countries worked together to harmonize mobile voice services and enable roaming, and I believe that 35 years on, GSMA Open Gateway has the potential to deliver a similar impact for digital services,” says Mats Granryd, the director general of GSMA.

The initiative will support developers over the next 12 months by providing early adopter programs and promoting GSMA Open Gateway APIs at major developer events, such as Microsoft’s Ignite and Build and AWS’ re:Invent.

Analysis

API efforts in the telecom industry have a long history (of not being wholly successful). The idea has been to enable developers to ‘program’ networks and bring exciting new revenue-generating services to the market that telecom providers can profit from. The problem is that “Write once, deploy everywhere” is always a goal of developers, but launching a single application code base across various telco networks has not come to pass so far.

Apart from standardization efforts by industry groups like GSMA, TM Forum, ETSI, 3GPP and more (are you getting a sense of why API development efforts are hard?), there have been acquisitions by vendors. Take for example Alcatel-Lucent’s acquisition in 2010 of ProgrammableWeb, a provider of a searchable database of APIs, in an effort to woo developers. The company sold it three years later before being acquired by Nokia.

A more recent example was Ericsson’s acquisition of Vonage in 2021 for $6.2B in an effort to build on Vonage’s base of 1M users of its APIs. As for federation and resource orchestration using APIs, there was MobiledgeX.  The startup was aided by funding and participation of telecom companies only to see that effort fail to gain commercial traction as well. The company was sold to Google in 2022.

Is there something new this time around? The orientation is less telco-centric, and that’s probably a good thing. At the start, you have cloud providers participating; in theory, their developers will have access to these capabilities now. That means there’s a large base of potential developers, something which has inhibited previous efforts.

Also, the GSMA project is working closely with CAMARA, an open-source project within Linux Foundation that seeks to define, develop and test the APIs. The attempt at API harmonization across the telcos appears to be more strongly influenced by the cloud providers than efforts anchored in telecom industry groups. That’s likely to be a good thing considering the telcom industry’s past efforts.

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