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Network APIs and the Path to 5G Monetization

2024-02-22 10:53:00| Source:Rcrwireless

AT&T, Verizon, Vonage all pushing network APIs and software developer outreach ahead of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

Step 1: Using network application programming interfaces (APIs), operators expose network data and capabilities to software developers

Step 2: Developers leverage the data and network capabilities to create exciting new applications and services

Step 3: Innovation, growth and profitability as the API economy flourishes

While talk of network APIs and the value these open interfaces could bring to operators, software developers, cloud players, end users and others, is not new, it’s certainly having a moment ahead of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This is the latest bid for more effective monetization of 5G networks which, after about five years in market, have not been, well, very effectively monetized. 

As for the timing, last year at Mobile World Congress host organization the GSMA rolled out its Open Gateway initiative, described at the time as “a paradigm shift in the way the telecoms industry designs and delivers services.” This particular push is meant to get operators to align around common network APIs and make the whole process standardized and scalable. Some of Open Gateway’s APIs include support for SIM swapping, quality on demand, device status, number verification, simple edge discovery, device location and more. To take device location as an example, operators’ networks have this information; giving developers access to that information would allow for, say, a bank to stand up more robust fraud protection services. From GSMA, “The location verification feedsthe bank risk decision engine and security measures are applied accordingly by the bank.” And that’s one example of many detailed here. 

In addition to and in collaboration with Open Gateway, the Linux Foundation also hosts the open source CAMARA project which is focused on defining, developing and testing APIs, harmonizing API requirements, and publishing definitions and reference implementations. Also in the mix are the operators themselves who operate their own developer portals. And then there’s Ericsson-owned Vonage, a communications platform as a service (CPaaS) provider focused on integrating video, voice, chat, messaging, AI, verification and other capabilitiesexisting products, workflows and systems. 

Ericsson bought Vonage for $6.2 billion, closing in July 2022. The idea, as described at the time, was “to transform the way advanced 5G network capabilities are exposed, consumed and paid for. This will provide the global developer community, including Vonage’s more than one million registered developers, with easy access to 4G and 5G network capabilities via” open APIs. Speaking on an earnings call in October 2023, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm guided for “small revenues” through this year. “I think the fair thing is to expect [a more material increase] during 2025 in reality because we really need to get not only several operators involved, we need to get the industry and the developers to start using the APIs as well for this to scale.” Also of note, Ericsson took a $3 billion impairment related to the Vonage acquisition. 

Approximately a yearOpen Gateway (now), MWC is again upon us, and we’re seeing a flurry of network API-related news items from Vonage, of course, as well as major operators like AT&T and Verizon. Let’s go through some of them. 

On Feb. 8 Verizon announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Vonage “outlining their intention to introduce Verizon network [APIs] to the Vonage platform that will enable the developer community to access network services and capabilities.” They also said to expect a Verizon x Vonage collab on new APIs. Integration of Verizon APIsthe Vonage platform “will enable enterprises to create deeper engagement with consumers across the customer journey to drive a better overall experience and brand loyalty.” 

There was a good metaphor in the release—“Verizon-developed APIs will serve as the connecting tissue linking together developers, enterprises, applications and the wealth of network services and data that can enhance application capabilities and customer experiences as well as drive innovation, growth and profitability.”

Innovation. Growth. Profitability. As we sit here five yearsthe 5G cycle with $100s of billions spent on these networks, it’s probably time to focus on those things. And if APIs are the path to innovation, growth and profitability, better late than never. 

A week later on Feb. 15, Verizon put out another press release, this one focused more on the company’s own API portfolio and, again, on “accelerating digital transformation within enterprises, and driving innovation, growth and profitability.” 

Now onto AT&T. AT&T is also engaged with Vonage on making APIs accessible to developers, according to a Feb. 20 press release issued by Vonage. Vonage EVP of Product and Engineering Savinay Berry wrote, “We will be able to together deliver innovative new services and capabilities to enterprises and end users, while accelerating innovation for the network. We expect the demand for new services, innovations and value creation enabled by 5G to grow significantly over the coming years.”

AT&T provided more (some?) specificity in a blog post by AVP of Technology, Digital Services Integration, Stephanie Ormston. The piece was essentially a plug for AT&T’s network API accelerator program—“your ticket to the future.” She gave examples “to inspire you,” including using AT&T’s “anomaly threat detection APIs [to] identify anomalies such as malware activity, excessive data usage, device identify spoofing, or session-related anomalies.” Or for the internet of things, developers can use APIs to apply “greater intelligence and capability on top of virtually any experience where connections exist.” And in the gaming space, “How might hardware- or cloud-based gaming, streaming, and content creation be impacted by network capabilities that make latency a thing of the past? How might gamers respond? How might game studios? This is for the next great app developers to find out!” 

We’re not going to dissect this here, but we’d be remiss in not pointing out the 4G-era talking point around operators spending billions to deploy networks that are then monetized by “over the top” players, e.g. app developers that used the network to deliver new services and innovate, grow and profit. Ignoring this tension around intentionally outsourcing innovation and bemoaning that growth and profitability flowed to the people innovation was outsourced to, back to Ormston’s blog: “New business models. Disruption. And innovation. At the foundation of these things is the network upon which the future is being built.” 

As operators eagerly court developers in an effort to make money off of 5G, you’ll likely hear the words “APIs” and “innovation” used liberally at MWC. And even if this recalls what many have characterized as missteps of the past, maybe it’ll work this time. With regard to the three-step process at the top of this story, steps one seems to be in hand, and step two seems to be a priority. Now for step three—innovation, growth and profitability. Hopefully Ericsson’s CEO is right and the levee will break in 2025; a preview of not the next but the next, next Mobile World Congress perhaps?