Programmable 5G gets a little more real

T-Mobile said software developers can use network slicing to build video calling applications on its 5G network. But profiting from such offerings is still in the future.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

August 2, 2023

4 Min Read
(Source: pedro/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: pedro/Alamy Stock Photo)

T-Mobile this week announced that software developers can use network slicing on its standalone (SA) 5G network to build video calling applications with more consistent uplink and downlink speeds and lower latency. The result, the company said, could be more reliable video calls that may not freeze or skip.

T-Mobile noted that companies like Dialpad Ai, Google, Webex by Cisco, Zoom and others have signed up to test out its new capability.

Analysts generally cheered the move.

"This is another important step in making sure 5G lives up to the promise of delivering new and user-centric services for consumer and business users," wrote analyst Jack Gold on LinkedIn. "While some have questioned the promise of 5G improvements over current systems as functional improvements have been slow to appear, this move shows that forward-looking providers can achieve breakthroughs that advance the capabilities and usefulness of 5G for both businesses and consumers."

The launch "is a big deal," added Recon Analytics Founder Roger Entner on X (formerly Twitter).

T-Mobile's announcement is important because things in the 5G industry are clearly starting to slow down. Now, "the search is on for the next growth vehicle that can help to offset the more tepid consumer MBB [mobile broadband] trends," noted analyst Stefan Pongratz with Dell'Oro Group.

Advancements on advancements

T-Mobile's latest announcement builds on the company's efforts to remain at the forefront of the 5G trend.

Shortly after embarking on its initial 5G buildout, T-Mobile launched the SA version of 5G in 2020, initially to improve the company's 5G coverage area. T-Mobile's SA 5G signal can travel farther in its 600MHz spectrum when a 4G anchor signal is not present, as the company's initial non standalone (NSA) version of 5G required.

T-Mobile has been building on that early move to SA with other services ranging from carrier aggregation to private networks. At the same time, T-Mobile has been working to streamline its core network architecture.

Now, with the company's latest announcement, it's promising to let developers into its systems by surfacing performance metrics like latency, packet loss, jitter and frame rate.

T-Mobile isn't the only company looking to invite developers into the nooks and crannies of its network.

For example, Dish Network last year began courting developers with the promise of a wide range of application programming interfaces (APIs) into its 5G network. Categories of APIs include "connectivity service," "service observability" and "in-network cloud service."

Similarly, Verizon offers a range of APIs through its Amazon-powered edge computing service. And AT&T's CTO Jeremy Legg recently suggested the operator is finalizing an "open API platform" for network slicing, edge computing, virtual reality and other services.

"There is an API we're exploring that would allow applications to set a certain level of quality for the user experience. Another one is threat anomaly detection through which we can notify the user of a threat or take an action based on observed events via APIs," Legg wrote. "Network Insights API could produce more granular network insights data based on the network performance – for example, determining latency between a device and application."

The bigger context

Of course, T-Mobile and other operators hope to ultimately profit from developers programming their 5G networks. But they're aware that might take time.

"The mobile edge compute and private 5G networks ... the adoption curve [is] a little slower than maybe we would like," admitted Verizon's former CFO, Matt Ellis, earlier this year.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said the operator would continue to work on "advanced network services," but he declined to speculate on when such services would generate material profits. "When it becomes something that's bigger than a bread basket and really contributes, we don't really know," he said last month.

It's an area that's getting plenty of attention. For example, Ericsson recently acquired Vonage to position the company's platform as a kind of broker between the global developer community and 5G networks. With network APIs, the plan is to share revenues with network operators, Savinay Berry, Vonage's executive vice president of product and engineering, told Light Reading earlier this year.

The GSMA's new "Open Gateway" effort is intended to create a "framework" of universal network APIs that would then be accessible by the world's software developers. Unifying 5G network APIs would then presumably make them more useful, and valuable, to developers, according to the trade association.

5G players such as T-Mobile and Ericsson have seen the way cloud companies like Amazon profit from their own APIs. And they want to emulate that.

But they also realize that bringing in revenue will take some time. For example, T-Mobile confirmed that, at least for now, developers won't be charged for access to its network slicing capabilities.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

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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