Fueling the mobile internet with open APIs

Phil Marshall/Tolaga Research
07 Apr 2014
  • Capitalize on accelerated innovation that is the hallmark of the mobile Internet
  • Fortify the role of network (both transport and control), billing and transaction capabilities as part of mobile Internet services
  • Exploit the current structure of mobile internet industry, which are siloed among competitive OTT players. This could involve techniques for mash-ups and service orchestration
  • Join forces with other communication service providers to broaden the reach of standardized offers.

Open application interfaces (APIs) are needed for communication service providers to expose differentiated capabilities to their mobile internet solutions. They are not new to the communications industry and in the past they have fallen into several categories. These include those that focus on traditional telecommunication services like voice and messaging, mobile commerce and financial transaction management, and the exposure of real-time user information (e.g. location, availability etc.). Examples include the Parlay/OSA initiative that is being directed by ETSI and 3GPP, and oneAPI, which is spearheaded by the GSM Association.

However, these initiatives have seen lackluster market performance, largely as a consequence of the threat they pose to legacy service provider operations, and integration complexities with established business support systems. As an example, many service providers have multitudes of disparate billing and customer care systems, each requiring separate API interfaces, and are confronted with services like webRTC, which calls their IMS investments into question.

Some service providers including AT&T, China Mobile, Smart/Philippines, Verizon, Telefonica and Telstra have made tremendous progress in pioneering open API adoption, albeit at a snail's pace relative to internet innovation. These players have paid attention to eliminate some of the operational challenges and complexities of their legacy environments, with the support of vendors like AsiaInfo Linkage, Ericsson, Huawei, IBM, Intel/Aepona and Sigma Systems.

While the market for open APIs is nascent, it has already demonstrated several important lessons. Here are three.

  • Overcoming operational hurdles and incentivizing innovation is more important than business model calculations when bringing mobile internet services to market.
  • Value creation does not always involve optimizing legacy systems, but nearly always involves improved customer experiences, such as user-friendly self-service portals. Open APIs are necessary to productize user-centric solutions at the pace demanded by the market.
  • Collaboration among service providers and ecosystem players is necessary to accelerate open API initiatives. However, the industry must be wary of consensus and vested interests in cases where they compromise innovation.

Phil Marshall is chief research officer at Tolaga Research. You can contact him at: [email protected]

This article first appeared on Telecom Asia Mobile Internet Supplement April 2014 edition

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