US wireless operators remain flexible on network APIs

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all worked together to test the GSMA's 'device status' network API with drone maker Inspired Flight Technologies (IFT). But they're staying flexible beyond that.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

June 3, 2024

4 Min Read
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All of the big wireless network operators in the US are interested in the opportunities presented by network APIs, but they're generally keeping their options open.

"We're going to have all the different models," said Khamis Abulgubein, associate director of product management for Verizon's IoT platform, during a recent session at the Network X show.

"There's going to be a number of different consumption mechanisms," Stephanie Ormston, AT&T's AVP of digital services integration, told Light Reading recently.

Executives from all the big US wireless network operators – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – said they are going to develop network APIs for enterprise customers. But they explained that it's still early in the space, and they generally need to figure out how the market will develop before they firm up their pricing strategies and go-to-market initiatives.

"We haven't come up with our commercialization model," Abulgubein, the Verizon executive, said.

Following the GSMA, where appropriate

The US operators are part of a global push in the wireless industry to sell new networking capabilities to enterprise developers via application programming interfaces (APIs). The importance of the network API push has been rising as 5G operators struggle to find other ways to generate returns from their massive 5G network investments. Autonomous cars, metaverse goggles and robot surgeons haven't really materialized in a big way, and now 5G operators are looking for other ways – beyond fixed wireless – to make money from 5G.

GSMA, the global wireless industry's trade organization, has been working to rally network operators around the topic. The association launched its "Open Gateway" network API campaign last year. During the association's MWC Barcelona trade show earlier this year, it boasted that 47 mobile operator groups, representing 239 mobile networks and 65% of wireless connections around the world, have now signed up for its Open Gateway initiative.

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all already on the Open Gateway bandwagon. Just prior to the MWC Barcelona show, the operators teamed up to conduct a cross-carrier test of the GSMA's "device status" API with drone maker Inspired Flight Technologies (IFT).

The selection of a drone company was probably not a coincidence. After all, Amazon recently announced it received federal approvals to fly its drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). That potentially paves the way for swarms of Amazon drones to deliver Prime customer packages.

Picking and choosing

However, officials from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile explained that the GSMA's Open Gateway APIs are just one option of many. 

"I don't want to have to wait for a standard to come out to meet my customers' needs," said Abulgubein. He explained that Verizon has been offering various APIs for years through its IoT business. "You've got to meet your customers where they are."

Emil Liedtke, T-Mobile's senior director of wholesale partnerships and innovation, echoed those comments. During a session at the recent Network X show, he said T-Mobile plans to support some Open Gateway APIs while also developing its own separate API offerings.

Ormston, the AT&T executive, said the operator is currently testing four APIs: two that follow the GSMA's specifications and two that don't.

Similarly, executives generally said they plan to tackle the market through a mixture of direct sales and sales through aggregators like Ericsson's Vonage. Verizon has already signed up to sell its APIs through Vonage and Microsoft.

Liedtke, the T-Mobile executive, said the operator doesn't want to dictate where developers must go to get T-Mobile's APIs.

Into the future

Liedtke, Ormston and Abulgubein each expressed optimism that network APIs will generate interest among enterprise developers. They said that some APIs, like those for number verification, ought to be popular among financial institutions.

But APIs aren't everything. For example, both Liedtke and Abulgubein declined to discuss whether 5G network slices would ultimately be sold in an API format. "I think it's too early to tell," Liedtke said. "I don't think anyone is comfortable making a bet" on how operators will go to market with network slicing.

Network slicing promises to allow operators to sell dedicated chunks of network connectivity to enterprise customers.

Meanwhile, others are staying flexible too. For example, STL Partners recently increased its global forecast for network APIs from $20 billion by 2028 to $34 billion by 2030.

Darius Singh, an STL Partners director, explained to Light Reading that the change actually represents a slight reduction to the firm's original forecast. "The reason it looks like a significant increase is that we've added additional APIs and use cases, predominantly around the 'identity' or 'anti-fraud' family," he wrote. "Previously, we hadn't modeled these as they weren't deemed 5G/edge APIs, which was a previous focus."

Read more about:

Network X

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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