Passport to the future: will APIs deliver the digital telco?

Written by on May 17, 2016 in Opinion with 1 Comment
FreeImages.com/ Christopher Bruno

FreeImages.com/ Christopher Bruno

When the CTO of Vodafone described how they are changing from an engineering to a design lead IT environment, perhaps he was thinking about APIs. Vodafone is, he said, beginning to dare to ask questions like ‘what would Google do if they owned the company?’

From a huge and exhausting uphill struggle to transform telcos into adaptable digital players, humble APIs might be the magic sauce to dramatically accelerate the process.

APIs and their design, formulation and adoption are one of several very interesting projects that the TM Forum has been working on recently. A year ago, at TM Forum Live, we dared ask ‘whether the Forum is still relevant’. Back then, there were some serious doubts, but judging by the feedback from this year’s event, the answer is now far more positive.

The Catalyst programme, seen last year as possibly the one good thing the Forum did, has exploded. This year there were close to 30 Catalysts. From data lakes to distant diagnosis, from omni-channel support to delivering an entire digital ecosystem, telcos, vendors and consultants are working together to deliver these proof of concepts.

The other good thing is the work on APIs. So good, in fact, that the very same C level speakers that adorned the stage at the Great Telco Debate, talking about their vision to change into software businesses, have agreed to something game changing. The Forum has signed up nine of the world’s largest telcos – Axiata, Bharti Airtel, BT, China Mobile, China Unicom, NTT-Group, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone – to adopt and promote the TM Forum’s suite of Open APIs for digital service management. This will provide a catalyst, if you will pardon the expression, for the entire ecosystem to evolve, and quickly.

Open APIs have the potential to deliver all the things that we have been discussing as an industry for many years. Not only do they help internal processes, but they allow telcos to work with digital services providers to offer new products and services, and get them to market much, much quicker than in the bad old days. The initiative benefits everyone in the digital world.

The potential of APIs, it seems cannot be under-estimated. Google’s mobile data API is one such example. This allows the network to understand and react instantly to what is travelling across it, in what circumstances. A customer wants to watch YouTube and the network can optimise the experience.

This is exciting stuff, and only the beginning. As Nik Willetts, Deputy CEO of the TM Forum says, “by 2018 we want 200 service providers to be using our APIs.

And proof that they work, if proof is needed, is highlighted by BT. As George Glass, chief systems architect, says “I can tell you that if you use TM Forum APIs they will work because we are using them ourselves in mass markets for our customers”. The company was also able to ‘reduce 4,500 systems to 26 platforms and 1,800 systems, as well as reduce new service introduction from eight months to mere hours in some cases’.

Looks like the telcos are back in the game.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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  1. Mike Bradbury Mike Bradbury says:

    The worry here is that TMF’s API initiative, like many previous initiatives, stems from a focus on the network or technology. Conceptually, this idea of REST APIs is all great stuff, but you do wonder if telcos are actually going to execute successfully. Experience tells us that without a business/monetization proposition to hang them on, most of these supposed breakthroughs become pet projects that ultimately make no business difference. Sooner or later, telcos must surely have to accept that grand transformational visions based on improving their technology are beyond them and start finding ways to give customers what they want now.

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