The GSMA kicked off this year's Mobile World Congress with another bang on the network API drum.

Nick Wood

February 26, 2024

4 Min Read

Having launched the Open Gateway initiative at last year's big show, this year's announcement is more of an interim update, but it underscores just how important the industry group considers it to be.

Indeed, GSMA director Mats Granryd said it represents "the birth of a new API era" that promises to "unlock the full potential" of 5G networks.

The GSMA served up various milestones over the last 12 months – like Nokia's launch of its Network as Code platform; Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Vodafone's quality-on-demand API trial with Siemens Energy; and Veon's launch of Geolocation Gateway in Uzbekistan – as evidence of solid industry momentum.

It also cited some research carried out by McKinsey, which claims that Open Gateway and other network API initiatives represent a $300 billion opportunity for telcos between now and the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, in a speech to mark the beginning of MWC, Telefónica chairman José María Álvarez-Pallete noted that 47 operators accounting for 65 percent of the world's mobile connections now support Open Gateway.

"A year ago, we shared a vision for the industry, for the future of our sector, a massive revolution coming from a new era, the era of Earth Computing, in which networks are becoming proactive and liquid," he said. "The future is already here. It is happening. Amazing new products and services are already flowing through our networks."

The GSMA is understandably keen to keep the momentum building at this year's MWC. As well as hosting an Open Gateway Devcon, it is also holding a 48-hour Open Gateway Hackathon. Using Nokia Network as Code, participants will develop practical use cases based on common network APIs.

"Our collective job for 2024 is to nurture and grow this opportunity and provide ubiquitous access to enterprise developers and cloud providers, so they can do what they do best, which is launch game changing new services that can maximise the benefits of 5G networks," Granryd said.

The GSMA has identified three channels to market that it says will provide the necessary access and usher in this new API era.

First up is the Network Cloud Marketplace, which will use major cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Vonage as API intermediaries and aggregators.

Similarly, the dawning of the API era also involves grooming vendors like Ericsson, Infobip and Nokia for the role of strategic technology partners and resellers.

Then of course the operators themselves can also develop the means to offer network API access directly to the developer community.

If the industry has learned anything from the emergence of smartphone app stores – and the contrasting fortunes of Google and Apple compared to, say, the GSMA's Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) – then it's a pretty safe bet that many developers will be drawn towards the API marketplace model, with hyperscalers acting as middlemen.

As environments go, portals like AWS Marketplace and Azure Marketplace will already be familiar to many developers, so a network API marketplace would be a logical addition. They also have active online communities and knowledge bases that help software makers train and troubleshoot.

Indeed, it is quite telling that the GSMA's Open Gateway announcement serves up broadly similar quotes from representatives of AWS, Microsoft and Google, all of whom emphasise the importance of simplified, aggregated access to standardised network APIs.

Ishwar Parulkar, chief technologist for telecom and edge cloud at AWS said: "The progress of GSMA's Open Gateway initiative over the past year had [sic] been very encouraging. As we get into the next phase of telcos productising more APIs and monetising them through various go-to-market channels, the role of a common, aligned approach across operators, hyperscalers and other channel aggregators that Open Gateway is promoting becomes even more critical."

Ankur Jain, vice president of Google Cloud Telco, made similar remarks, adding that he looks "forward to working with our CSP partners and developers to bring innovative use cases to market."

Ross Ortega, vice president of product management, Microsoft Azure for Operators, concurred with his rivals.

"We believe that the standardisation of network capabilities and APIs is crucial for ensuring that developers can easily understand and adopt these technologies," he said. "Azure Programmable Connectivity is at the forefront of this effort, aligning closely with Open Gateway standards to pave the way for seamless integration and innovation."

The appeal of big cloud providers might limit the size of the opportunity for telcos that want a closer – and therefore more lucrative – relationship with the developer community. They will have to convince them that, as operators of the network, they are the best port of call for APIs.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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