Major telcos kicked off Mobile World Congress (MWC) with a renewed effort to make 5G services more exciting than slightly faster mobile broadband.

Launched by the GSMA, it is called the Open Gateway initiative, and it aims to give developers access to a range of universal network application programming interfaces (APIs). If it works as intended, a developer will be able to offer apps and services that make use of advanced network capabilities like carrier billing, device location, and edge site selection and routing on any participating operator’s network.

“By applying the concept of interconnection for operators to the API economy, developers can utilise technology once, for services such as identity, cybersecurity or billing, but with the potential to be integrated with every operator worldwide. This is a profound change in the way we design and deliver services,” said Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, in a statement. “In 1987, representatives from 13 countries worked together to harmonise mobile voice services and enable roaming, and I believe that 35 years on, GSMA Open Gateway has the potential to deliver a similar impact for digital services.”

Providing a single, standardised point of entry into a network should lower the barrier to creating more compelling mobile experiences. Some of the participating telcos – of which there are 21 initially – are showing off various Open Gateway-enabled use cases. Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone are demonstrating – in partnership with Ericsson and Vonage – enhanced cloud gaming and interactive video enabled by Open Gateway’s Quality-on-Demand (QoD) API, for example. Elsewhere, Rogers, Verizon and Vodafone are using the Edge Site Selection API together with mobile edge computing (MEC) to host a multinational musical jam session over 5G.

Demonstrations like this are a dime a dozen at MWC, but more often than not they showcase the capabilities of an individual operator’s network or a specific piece of hardware or software. What makes Open Gateway different is that this is a coordinated effort on the part of telcos to appeal collectively as an industry to the developer community.

Sometimes these appeals fall on deaf ears, but some big names in the software industry seem to be paying attention.

“At Microsoft, we are focused on extending a distributed computing fabric from the cloud to the edge, together with our operator partners,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “We look forward to bringing the GSMA Open Gateway initiative to Microsoft Azure, to empower developers and help operators monetise the value of their 5G investments.”

Open Gateway seems to have caught Amazon’s eye too.

“GSMA Open Gateway is a significant step in enriching the cloud developer experience,” said Ishwar Parulkar, chief technologist for the telco industry at AWS. “Developers using AWS’s more than 200 services will also be able to leverage APIs from telco operators. This allows the developer community to create new applications, and for telcos to open up new models of consumption and monetisation for their networks. We believe this will help accelerate innovation in the telecom industry.”

According to the GSMA, Microsoft will promote Open Gateway at its Ignite and Build events, and AWS will do likewise at re:Invent.

To begin with, a total of eight universal network APIs have been made available: SIM Swap, QoD, Device Status, Number Verify, Edge Site Selection and Routing, Number Verification, Carrier Billing, and Device Location. Further APIs are due to launch throughout 2023, the GSMA said.

“Telcos have come a long way in developing a global platform to connect everyone and everything. And now, by federating open network APIs and applying the roaming concept of interoperability, mobile operators and cloud services will be truly integrated to enable a new world of opportunity,” said Telefónica CEO and GSMA chairman José María Álvarez-Pallete López. “Collaboration amongst telecom operators and cloud providers is crucial in this new digital ecosystem.”

For anyone interested, the 21 telcos that have so far signed up to Open Gateway are: America Movil, AT&T, Axiata, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, e& Group, KDDI, KT, Liberty Global, MTN, Orange, Singtel, Swisscom, STC, Telefónica, Telenor, Telstra, TIM, Verizon and Vodafone.

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