Yesterday, a trio of Brazilian telecom operators — Claro, TIM and Vivo — launched three APIs in the latest industry effort to better engage with the developer community. This is a hot topic and one that CCS Insight discussed in detail in Insight Report: Operators Open Networks in Renewed Bid to Lure Developers.
The three APIs — Number Verify, SIM Swap and Device Location — focus on combating digital fraud for financial institutions. Their launch is part of the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative, which was announced to much fanfare at MWC earlier in 2023 (for our take on the announcement, see Insight Report: MWC 2023: Telecom Operators).
In my view, Open Gateway is a long-overdue initiative. Apple and Google created the app economy over a decade ago by unlocking the capability of mobile devices through APIs. Since then, operator collaborations aimed at courting developers have mostly been unsuccessful. Failed efforts include the Wholesale Applications Community and the OneAPI Exchange, as the industry struggled to find the right balance between partnership and competition.
But this time there’s greater optimism. Firstly, the transformation of 5G networks to become more cloud-like and software-centric opens many more capabilities to developers, making it easier to programme.
Secondly, Open Gateway boasts the endorsement of major cloud and technology companies, each with their own established developer relationships: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Ericsson’s Vonage are all on board.
And thirdly, operators are also more motivated to engage with developers than in the past as they desperately seek new revenue opportunities amid a dearth of commercially viable uses for 5G networks, particularly in the consumer market. I’ve noted them steadily becoming less insular and more prepared to partner.
For developers, the framework offers the opportunity to develop an application once and have it deployed multiple times across many networks, so they can focus on service development, leaving complex network integration and compatibility to the telecom operators.
So, if you’re a developer in Brazil, it’s now possible to reach hundreds of millions of potential customers the world over. According to the GSMA, nearly 40 mobile operator groups representing 228 mobile networks and 64% of global connections are now part of Open Gateway.
This should all mean the creation of closer partnerships between telecom operators and software developers. The two have appeared poles apart in the past, their historical lack of collaboration reflecting different cultures and styles of working. Developers are quicker-moving and more prepared to “fail fast”; operators tend to be more risk-averse and work to longer investment cycles. The latter have also been wary of opening up their networks because of potential loss of control or security concerns.
But adopting a more open mind-set should be just the start. Operators also need to ensure they offer the right education, tools and support. The GSMA’s recent Open Gateway DevCon event in Las Vegas, which aimed to show developers how to use open APIs to develop new features and capabilities, is a step in the right direction. Yet as admirable as the Open Gateway initiative sounds, it will also take time to bear fruit, which won’t help to placate increasingly restless sector investors.
A recent report from Nokia showed that nearly three-quarters of operators believe that open network APIs is a top-five priority. As 5G networks gain traction, I’m expecting to hear about many more efforts to open networks and engage with developers.
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