The GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative, launched with much fanfare at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), reached what some industry observers are calling a “new milestone” in Brazil this week.

America Móvil-owned Claro, TIM Brasil and Telefónica’s Vivo unveiled three network APIs — Number Verify, SIM Swap and Device Location — that focus on combating digital fraud for financial institutions.

As noted in a blog by Kester Mann, an analyst at CCS Insight, “if you’re a developer in Brazil, it’s now possible to reach hundreds of millions of potential customers the world over.”

Growing support

Open Gateway was formed out of the CAMARA open-source API development project and aims to define a federated platform that is designed to provide universal access to operator networks for developers.

According to the GSMA, 39 operator groups now support the initiative under an MoU, representing 228 mobile networks and 64% of global connections. Supportive vendors include AWS, Ericsson, Microsoft Azure, Nokia, Infobip and more.

Meanwhile, Brazil is also not the first market to commercially launch Open Gateway APIs. Earlier in November, Sri Lanka’s four mobile operators, Bharti Airtel Lanka (Private) Limited, Dialog Axiata, Hutchison Telecommunications Lanka, and SLT-Mobitel, launched three “value creating” APIs: One Time Password (OTP) Validation, Device Location and Carrier Billing.

The GSMA noted that this gives “developers and enterprises a standard way to technically and commercially reach over 21 million Sri Lankans regardless of their network operator.”

In addition, Deutsche Telekom (DT) is now offering network APIs under the brand “MagentaBusiness API,” in collaboration with Ericsson-owned Vonage. The aim here is to allow developers and business customers to build apps and services that communicate with DT’s network in Germany. Three APIs are currently being made available: Quality-on-demand, Device Status and Device Location.

Open Gateway APIs have so far been commercially launched on 11 networks worldwide, although not all of them have been publicly announced, and 19 CAMARA APIs have been published and are ready for use.

Henry Calvert is leading Open Gateway in his role as Head of Networks at GSMA. His overall assessment is that the initiative is going pretty well so far, although there are of course plenty of challenges along the way.

For example, he points out that telcos have historically been extremely competitive with one another and sometimes have to be convinced that collaboration is required to enable enterprise customers to, in turn, reach their own customers, who could be on any network.

“By the end of the year we expect to have about 35 of the MoU signatures with commercial launches,” he said, although he noted that it will not be clear until the end of the year how many networks this will involve.

“We’re looking at about five to seven market champion launches,” he added, indicating that the GSMA is working with 15 market champions at the moment. A market champion is an operator such as DT or Telefónica that takes the lead on Open Gateway deployments within a particular market.

In addition, in order to promote better conversations between operators and developers, an Open Gateway DevCon was recently held in Las Vegas and the next one will take at MWC Barcelona in 2024.

More optimism?

Calvert remarks that this is probably the “fastest adopted initiative we’ve ever done in the GSMA.”

“The reason for that is that we see the potential of the cloud infrastructure players and what they’re doing and how that enables developers. And we’re trying to fulfill the gap that the developers are asking for on the networking side. And the operators see that, and they see an opportunity to deliver to that in a consistent way,” he said.

CCS Insight’s Mann agrees that Open Gateway “is a long-overdue initiative.”

“Apple and Google created the app economy over a decade ago by unlocking the capability of mobile devices through APIs. Since then, operator collaborations aimed at courting developers have mostly been unsuccessful. Failed efforts include the Wholesale Applications Community and the OneAPI Exchange, as the industry struggled to find the right balance between partnership and competition,” he said.

In his view, there’s greater optimism this time round.

“Firstly, the transformation of 5G networks to become more cloud-like and software-centric opens many more capabilities to developers, making it easier to programme. Secondly, Open Gateway boasts the endorsement of major cloud and technology companies, each with their own established developer relationships: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Ericsson’s Vonage are all on board,” said Mann.

Significantly, operators are also more motivated to engage with developers than in the past “as they desperately seek new revenue opportunities amid a dearth of commercially viable uses for 5G networks, particularly in the consumer market,” he added.

At the same time, Mann also warns that Open Gateway will take time to bear fruit, “which won’t help to placate increasingly restless sector investors,” he said.

“A recent report from Nokia showed that nearly three-quarters of operators believe that open network APIs is a top-five priority. As 5G networks gain traction, I’m expecting to hear about many more efforts to open networks and engage with developers,” Mann said.

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