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February 28, 2023
MWC23 – Cats are dumb. They look at your finger when you point at something. They chase lights from laser pointers. And they cannot be herded together from one place to another.
Yet the GSMA is going to try to herd cats once again with its new "Open Gateway" effort. Announced here at the MWC Barcelona show this week, it's a "framework of universal network Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs), designed to provide universal access to operator networks for developers."
If that sounds familiar, it is. In 2010 GSMA operators announced the "Wholesale Applications Community" (WAC), an alliance that would "build an open platform that delivers applications to all mobile phone users."
That too didn't really go anywhere.
But here we are in the 5G era, so might as well give it another shot.
"We've failed in the past because we haven't considered the interoperability," said Enrique Blanco, Telefónica's CTO, during a panel discussion here.
"The difference now is the level of attention," agreed Verizon strategy chief Rima Qureshi during that same panel.
Qureshi added that the companies participating in the GSMA's new API effort, like Verizon, are giving it attention "from the highest levels."
But, like cats, not everyone is onboard. "We are part of CAMARA but not the specific GSMA initiative," wrote a representative from T-Mobile in the US in response to questions from Light Reading about whether the company was participating in the GSMA's newest "Open Gateway" effort.
CAMARA, by the way, is another API alliance by the GSMA, announced last year. Officials participating in the new "Open Gateway" effort said it's based on the work already done by CAMARA. But apparently the formation of a new organization is required for progress (or at least necessary to generate more buzz).
Regardless, T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom announced what would appear to be a rival API effort, called T-DevEdge, that's designed to "make it easy and simple for the global developer community to create new, connected solutions. These APIs will give developers a direct and simplified entryway to connectivity and other core network services on both sides of the Atlantic."
Another company not listed among the 21 operators signed on to the GSMA's new "Open Gateway" initiative is Dish Network. That's noteworthy considering last year Dish began publishing some APIs into its new cloud-native, open RAN standalone 5G network.
And yet another company absent from the list of GSMA API participants is Rakuten Mobile, which also operates a cloud-based open RAN 5G network.
"The concept of API exposure is extremely valuable," said Tareq Amin, the head of Rakuten's mobile business, during a Rakuten event here.
But Amin argued that operators need to focus on "meaningful, monetizable, APIs." Specifically, he pointed to an API published by Rakuten Mobile in Japan that provides developers with access to its text messaging services. That API is "amazingly profitable," according to Amin.
The hyperscale angle
The GSMA's latest API effort was the talk of the show this week. Analyst Dean Bubley – who decided not to attend MWC – described it as generating the "most interesting headlines."
"While it's easy to point to innumerable failed telco API initiatives in the past, this time there seem to be some lessons learned," wrote Bubley, of Disruptive Analysis, in a brief LinkedIn post on the topic. "Firstly the hyperscalers are there as partners/channels on day 1. Secondly I've seen references to telcos using the APIs for inhouse use-cases, which is essential in my view."
Indeed, during a presentation here, Ishwar Parulkar of Amazon Web Services (AWS) said the company would help "Open Gateway" operators by sharing some of the lessons it has learned in selling hundreds of its own cloud computing APIs.
That's not a surprise, wrote Bubley: "For AWS, [Microsoft] Azure and [Google] Gcloud, this looks like just another set of APIs to add the 100s they offer developers. If it works, great. If nobody uses them, then no worries either," he argued.
Other analysts agreed. "It will be interesting to see the layers and partnerships each carrier will have when it comes to developer programs. Some may opt to have an AWS or Azure manage it for them. Others like Telefonica have created their own program," wrote analyst Lynnette Luna, of S&P Global, in response to questions from Light Reading.
It's all about timing
So why is this year's Open Gateway API initiative different from those in the past?
"The network is different now," Parulkar of AWS said. New 5G networks can give developers a much deeper level of control than previous versions.
Similarly, Gabriele Di Piazza, an executive with Google Cloud, called the GSMA's new API effort "promising." However, he cautioned that "we are really at the early stages."
Di Piazza argued that operators will need to deploy standalone (SA) 5G technology in order to properly surface and sell APIs into their network. That has proven to be a difficult task.
"What I've seen so far counts as 'necessary but not sufficient' for this to fly," Bubley concluded of the GSMA's latest API program. "Let's see what happens."
If Twilio's stock price is to be believed, investors are also taking a wait and see approach. Twilio today is worth around $11 billion in part because it developed APIs that sit on top of mobile networks worldwide. Customers like Lyft use Twilio's APIs to send and receive texts from drivers and riders.
Thus, presumably the GSMA's new "Open Gateway" would represent a threat – or at least a development – for Twilio. But based on the company's financial performance before and after the GSMA's "Open Gateway" announcement, Twilio investors either don't know about it or don't care about it. Perhaps they're not concerned about herds of cats.
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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