The Discussion around Telco Network APIs Celebrates a Great Revival, but the Chances for Commercial Success Are Slim

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By Leo Gergs | 4Q 2023 | IN-7092

The discussion around network Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) currently celebrates a comeback, as the telco industry desperately try to find ways to open its connectivity infrastructure to third parties to monetize its investment. As the discussion around APIs in telco networks is not new, this ABI Insight looks at why network APIs have not generated as much traction in telco networks, so far, and what would need to happen to change that.

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Ericsson and Nokia Announce New API Platforms: The Great Return of Network APIs?


Network Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are currently experiencing a great revival, especially because the rollout of 5G has provided a push for topics such as network virtualization, cloud-native networks, and increased programmability. While network operators have been leading this effort—with initiatives like GSMA OneAPI and CAMARA—telco infrastructure vendors are casting an eye at this opportunity as well: in 2021, Ericsson acquired Vonage for its APIs. As these efforts follow the OpenAPI specification, this allows developers to use these APIs interchangeably, therefore easing the creation of a large-scale open innovation platform. Executing upon this vision, Ericsson announced a partnership with Deutsche Telekom in September 2023 to offer communication and network APIs to developers and enterprises.

Amid this new push toward network APIs and programmability, Nokia announced the launch of its Network as Code platform at the end of September 2023. Built around CAMARA and GSMA’s OneAPI, Nokia’s Network as Code platform provides new tools such as Software Development Kits (SDKs), network API documentation, and a “sandbox” to create software code for application developers, which will become available in December 2023.

New Dynamics Increase the Need for Network Programmability


Moves to open the telco network infrastructure to the developer community are nothing new. After all, discussions around network APIs have been around for a decade already. Their uptake, however, has been very limited due to the high degree of complicity, the presence of a lot of proprietary technologies, security and privacy considerations, and regulatory hurdles. Their uptake has also been limited due to fundamental challenges in individual operator API initiatives: they only give developers access to their own subscribers, contrary to companies like Twilio, Apple, and Facebook, which give developers global reach. API syndication projects are not new either; Telenor tried to syndicate other operator APIs in 2013 and MobiledgeX tried to do the same for Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC). Both were unsuccessful. In the meantime, however, two main topics for the telco industry have emerged that increase the need for more open telco networks.

First, the discussion around bringing cellular connectivity to enterprises will require a certain degree of openness to the developer community. Enterprise investment decisions into new communication technology are primarily driven by specific use cases and pain points. Consequently, enterprises do not only require the telco network as a connectivity element, but enterprise-grade applications. To provide this, telco infrastructure vendors will need to open up to the developer community in one way or the other. Previous Open API initiatives were designed to counter hyperscaler and device manufacturer APIs for the consumer domain, whereas current initiatives are targeting enterprise use cases.

Second, the legacy telco industry is in a profound revenue crisis. What started with network operators not being able to generate additional revenue from the consumer domain is now slowly but surely creeping up the telco supply and value chain. Now, all telco infrastructure vendors are confronted with decreasing levels of network infrastructure investments by network operators around the world. This revenue crisis and the drive to remain profitable in a highly competitive market increases the need for infrastructure to open their infrastructure and cooperate with hyperscalers and developers.

What Would Be Needed to Make Network APIs a Success?


While there is a growing need for opening the telco network infrastructure to developers and hyperscalers, it will remain questionable whether initiatives around network as code and network APIs will be successful this time around. To maximize the likelihood of commercial traction, the telco industry, alongside the developer community, would need to take decisive steps to prepare.

  • Universal Federation: To attract developer attention and create a critical mass of initial applications, API initiatives need to offer access to most—if not all—subscribers in a market. Operator buy-in for these API initiatives needs to be close to universal.
  • Seamless Onboarding: In addition to the above, operators and vendors need to cooperate to present a unified development platform that can onboard new developers in a seamless manner, preferably using API formats they are already using.
  • Standardized Interfaces: Developers will be more inclined to develop applications at scale, rather than on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, the telco industry would need to define industry-wide standardized APIs that expose specific network functionalities. That way, telco infrastructure vendors can also ensure that integrity of the highly sensitive telco data is secured and that certain portions of the network are not accessible to third parties.
  • Authentication & Authorization: In addition, the telco industry will need to establish standard procedures for developers to authenticate themselves to obtain access to the network.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Telco operators and infrastructure vendors must ensure that their API implementations comply with telecoms industry regulations and data privacy laws. This includes handling emergency calls, lawful intercept, and user consent for data usage.
  • Monetizing Strategy: Finally, the entire telco industry needs to have a solid monetization strategy in place before opening up the network. This can include charging developers for API usage, revenue sharing for services developed on their network, or offering freemium models with usage tiers.


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