Policy + charging

Applications Unbound: Can Telcos Learn to Dance?

I don't often use this space to urge clients and readers to join one of our Webinars, but I'm making an exception for our event this Thursday, "Creating a Developer Ecosystem."

There are two reasons. First, strategically speaking, few topics matter more to telcos than this one, as I'll argue shortly. And second, we have two speakers who will effectively be looking at our industry from the outside in: Ross Turk, formerly of SourceForge, the world's largest open-source software development Website, and now with Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU); and John Musser, CEO of ProgrammableWeb, the Web's No. 1 source of APIs (and if you need that acronym spelled out, you need to listen in on Thursday).

This, then, isn't going to be your usual telco-centric view of the applications and service layers. It's a developer's-eye view of what a telco looks like to them. And it may not be for the faint of heart: Our speakers will lay bare just how applications developers see the network, and just how much telcos still need to do to win them over as partners.

It's also going to be an eye-opening insight into the amazing transformation of the Web into a full-fledged service development environment. As this Webinar will demonstrate, if telcos think that API programs are still an optional extra, then they are very badly mistaken. All around them, the Web is morphing into a different kind of animal, with APIs right at the core of what it does. Companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Facebook , Twitter Inc. , and eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY) are handling billions of API calls every day. For companies such as Salesforce.com Inc. , traffic via APIs constitutes more than half of all traffic. And in an increasing number of cases, it's the API that's the product. In this respect, Amazon Web Services Inc. is perhaps the model that telcos should be looking at if they want to stay relevant.

Without giving too much away, this event will also provide a wake-up call on the kind of development environments that must be used to attract developers. It isn't just a question of creating APIs that connect developers to telco resources; it's about creating the right kind of APIs.

So why does this matter? As I've written more than a few times in Heavy Reading research and in these columns over the past few years, telcos are making a potentially life-threatening mistake if they ignore what's going on here, and assume that, by and large, the creation of new services and applications can continue in the usual way. Most telcos and network operators have done little more than dip a toe or two into the open applications environment, instead of – as they now must – plunging right in. A revolution (not an evolution) in attitude is required here.

Every week, someone in the telco community rehearses that hoary old cliché about dumb pipes – but if telcos and networks operators don't listen up, and soon, that's precisely where their future lies.

Having said all of that, the battle is not yet lost. A small number of pioneering network operators look as though they are really ready to plunge into the open applications sea, and we can be cautiously optimistic that the next 12 months will be more interesting than the last. As our speakers will argue, one of the core requirements in any open API program is to have assets that are valuable to developers – something that telcos, assuredly, do have.

The Webinar is on Thursday, at 12 noon Eastern. Sign up and join the debate!

— Graham Finnie, Chief Analyst, Heavy Reading

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