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Rethinking Telecom App Development

Developers and telcos can together create a sustainable and profitable telecom application ecosystem; they've just been doing it wrong so far.

Alan Quayle

September 10, 2013

2 Min Read
Rethinking Telecom App Development

A popular misconception whenever the term "developer" is used in the telecom industry is to think of weekend hackathons attended by long-tail mobile application developers.

For the telcos, chasing where it's proven you're not wanted makes no sense. Or, as Albert Einstein may have said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Mobile application developers care about access to a large, engaged customer base that is prepared to pay in time, cash, and/or privacy. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Android fulfill their needs to the detriment of BlackBerry and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). Telcos are irrelevant.

Where should telcos focus instead? The telecom industry needs to innovate in services, or else cede services to others and become ISPs. Service innovation matters across the demand curve, not just the long-tail. The telcos should focus on certain opportunities: internal service innovation; service innovation with existing ecosystem partners; and service innovation with a segment of developers to which telecommunications is relevant.

As one mobile application developer told me about one operator, "There is no clear process or guidelines; decisions are made with no consistent policy; developers’ livelihoods are treated with disdain. We no longer try to sell to, or work with, Telco X."

Or, to quote another, "Telco Y's developer community doesn't appear to have any support; we asked a question on one of their APIs and did not receive a response after multiple requests. Support is critical and a basic requirement for an API; they can't even get that right."

And, yet another: "You don't have to own everything. Running a network distracts you from customer service. Using telecom APIs means we can focus on delivering the best service and best support to our customers."

So what do telcos need to do to address the service innovation gap?

  • Retake control of internal service innovation from their so-called "strategic suppliers" that have stifled it and instead work directly with telecom application developers.

  • Work with their existing partners to deliver service innovation in cooperation with telecom application developers.

  • And, last but not least, focus on a subset of long-tail developers, telecom application developers that can extend telecom into new ecosystems and business propositions. Think of them as a "beach-head" or "lead bowling pin" into the broader long-tail developer community.

Telecom application developers exist and are grossly underserved by the telecom industry. The Telecom Application Developer Summit (TADS) is attempting to address this gap. It's a grassroots initiative from the people building this telecom application industry.

Developers and telcos can together create a sustainable and profitable telecom application ecosystem: We just need to focus on where telecom is relevant and take control of our destiny.

— Alan Quayle, Independent

About the Author(s)

Alan Quayle

Alan has spent 23 years working at the "bleeding edge" of IT and telecom.  Work experience includes: BT, Cambridge Technology Partners, founded Teltier (sold to Cisco) and 10 years as an independent focused on theintersection of IT, Web and telecom.  Customers range from global leaders such as AT&T, Etisalat, M1, Telstra, Verizon, Huawei, Oracle to innovative start-ups such as Apigee, AppTrigger (sold to Metaswitch), Camiant (sold to Oracle), Guavus, Layer 7 (sold to CA), OpenCloud, and Tropo.  For more information check out his blog,www.alanquayle.com/blog, or follow him on Twitter, @Alan_Quayle.

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