You couldn’t walk more than a few feet on the show floor at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week without hearing about open APIs, or application protocol interfaces, and how important it is for mobile operators to have open APIs in their 5G networks so they can more easily work with developers.

And why is the developer community so important for mobile operators to court? Because developers can create promising new applications that will make use of the 5G network’s core capabilities. But more importantly, many believe that developers hold the key to 5G’s network monetization issues. “Ultimately this becomes a way to drive more value from the network and produce more positive business outcomes,” said John Byrne, research VP of communications service provider (CSP) operations and monetization at IDC.

Why APIs?
Basically, APIs allow third-party applications to make use of the 5G network. But to make APIs available to external development communities, mobile operators need to expose these network APIs, or open these APIs, in a way that is easy for developers to work with them.

That’s why the GSMA formed Open Gateway, an industry initiative developed to create a framework of universal APIs. The goal is to expose developers to standard APIs such as identity and security so they can create applications that can be used across many operator networks around the world. The Open Gateway initiative is supported by 21 network operators and the group has released eight standardized APIs under CAMARA, which is the open-source project that developers can use to access these network capabilities. CAMARA is managed by the Linux Foundation in collaboration with the GSMA.

Open APIs were a big part of Ericsson’s purchase of Vonage for $6.2 billion back in 2021. Ericsson plans to use Vonage’s developer ecosystem to help wireless operators better monetize their 5G investments by creating a standard interface for 5G application development. The company plans to do that by tweaking the Vonage communications platform and using it to create a suite of network functions with open APIs. Ericsson is a supporter of the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative and of CAMARA.

Byrne said that he believes that Ericsson will initially use that Vonage platform and developer community to create open APIs for basic functions like location data or voice messaging, but eventually they will introduce more sophisticated API functions as well.

Likewise, Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile US also have created a developer platform, called T-DevEdge, that uses joint APIs to make it easy for developers to create new solutions. T-DevEdge even has a customer, Siemens Energy, which is using one of the new APIs to perform virtually assisted maintenance. T-DevEdge also has enlisted help from Microsoft Azure, which will be the first cloud provider to integrate the new set of network APIs into their cloud platform.

And because Deutsche Telekom is also a supporter of CAMARA, T-DevEdge is going to be a contributor to CAMARA as well.

Why Now?
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the importance of open APIs. AT&T used to host an annual developer summit that was centered on providing APIs for developers to create applications for AT&T’s 4G network. But AT&T soon learned that developers really wanted to be able to create applications that could be used across multiple operators, not just AT&T’s network.

And the GSMA tried to rally operators to join forces around open APIs back in 2012 with a platform called OneAPI Exchange that was operated by Apigee. But that effort fell to the wayside when Apigee was acquired by Google for $625 million in 2016.

The question is whether this time the efforts around open APIs will stick. Lynnette Luna, senior research analyst with S&P Global, noted on LinkedIn that she is encouraged by the carrier industry’s movement toward open APIs. “Not surprisingly, most have to do with quality on demand — for cloud gaming, and video streaming and calling,” she noted.

Likewise, Byrne said that he believes there is more incentive for operators to work together to make open APIs a reality this time. “They definitely need it for 5G monetization. We have been talking about it for a long time and not a lot of progress has happened.”

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