HiT Barcelona: Can Mobile Operators' New Openness Change Lose-Lose to Win-Win?

Thursday 11th June 2009 - 13:14

Mobile operators are finally ditching proprietary operator APIs - so-called "Walled Gardens" - and moving towards exposing network intelligence to third parties.

Next week's HiT Barcelona: World Innovation Summit in Barcelona will be discussing the need for open networks in order to engage with the growing community of application developers.

Representatives from the developer, operator and Internet communities are taking part in a panel discussion to develop the most effective approach for the GSMA's One API initiative.

Among them is Michael Crossey, chief marketing officer at Aepona, who spoke to smartphone.biz-news about some of the issues that will be coming under the spotlight.


Mobile network operators seem to have done their utmost to prevent developers from innovating on the mobile Web.

They have created barriers by using proprietary APIs - and contractual differences have limited the creation of cross-operator web applications.

Equally, developers have been barred from accessing rich network capabilities such as authentication, seamless charging, location assistance, push messaging and connection awareness.

This has undoubtedly been a lose-lose situation for both operators and developers.

That is changing and according to Michael Crossey, chief marketing officer at Aepona, the whole mobile industry theme has moved towards one of openness in the past year.

He told smartphone.biz-news that the main catalyst for this has been Apple's desire to make it easy for developers to create applications for the iPhone by providing them with tools and a route to market for their apps.
Michael Crossey, CMO at Aepona

"This has sparked off a flurry of activity in the industry, with a lot of operators and other handset manufacturers announcing open strategies to help them tap into the activity of the developer community worldwide," he said.

This is a marked change in tactic for carriers, whose expressions of interest in working with developers in the past have been superficial at best.

"The reality has been that, while they welcomed creative thinking, they wanted to cherry-pick the best apps for themselves and bring them into their own networks to sell," said Crossey.

This, obviously, hasn't been in the best interests of developers and everyone from Google to the "two men in a garage" set-ups have found ways of getting around the networks.

That realisation has finally hit operators, forcing them to "evolve their thinking", according to Crossey.

Last Bastion Crumbling

He said this has meant that the mobile operators "last bastion" - opening core network capabilities to developers - is crumbling.

"Historically there has been a lot of resistance to that," he said. "But they are realising that unless they collaborate, they will get by-passed.

"They look at the fixed-line world, where operators have lost the battle against over the top providers, and they are determined not to let that happen to them.

"They realise that if they collaborate rather than close the networks, they can contribute to the process."

It is widely accepted that one way to do this is to standardise API's and interfaces within and across operator networks.

The GSMA is leading the charge to adopt this approach - principally through its One API initiative, phase 2 of which has just been launched.

Crossey said this strategy is seen as necessary because even if every operator opens its network, developers will still have problems because of the different approaches each carrier adopts.

This would be both on the technical side and on the commercial one, because every operator's interface is different - be that with regard to terms and conditions, payment methods, business models etc.

Huge Breakthrough

By creating a cross-operator API, Crossey said it is hoped the fragmentation that would otherwise exist between operators will be reduced.

The GSMA is also proposing a common commercial framework to give developers a market for their apps.

"The operator can be assured that if it complies with One API, this will be portable between operators - this is a huge breakthrough for operators and developers," he said.

"If there is fragmentation, the whole ecosystem does not reach critical mass and the addressable market is not big enough.

"If there is a single set of APIs, the internet model has shown that the developer community is huge."

Operators may, understandably, be reluctant to embrace One API because of concerns that it would restrict them from differentiating their services from a competitor's.

However, Crossey said the technology means that it is possible to do both - have an API model for "commonplace" services such as messaging while still being able to differentiate on, say, video and multi-media capabilities because a particular operator has invested heavily in IMS technology.

Crossey said that Aepona, as a specialist SDP (service delivery platform) provider, enables the operators make their network capabilities - communications, information and intelligence - available to developers.

The Web Services-based APIs can then be used to telecom-enable both enterprise business processes and web-based consumer services.

"We provide a technical platform that allows these capabilities to be exposed to developers in a way that they are familiar with on the internet," he said.

On the web, developers use APIs to create apps that, for example, use Google maps and mash-up with PayPal or Amazon storage services.

Crossey said that after preaching the message of openness to operators for a number of years, there has undoubtedly been a definite shift in operators' willingness to embrace the concept.

The Belfast, Northern Ireland headquatered company's products have already been deployed by Tier 1 operators such as France Telecom/Orange, Sprint, Vimpelcom, Bharti Airtel, TELUS, TDC, BT and KPN.

"We are having many other conversations now about operators using our technology," he said.

Opening Up Potential

Aepona is also working with developers to help them bring apps they have created to its operator clients.

This involves showing developers how they can use network capabilities to greatly enhance their apps for use on the platforms Aepona has installed with operators.

Crossey said a simple example is explaining that, rather than just relying on GPS data from high-end handsets for an app, developers can be shown that operator networks can provide location data for every handset.

"So we can increase the addressable market to a huge degree," he said. "But very often the developer is not aware of what can be done."

A shift towards openness has also to include ensuring developers feel they are sufficiently rewarded for their applications.

If revenue-share models fail to do this developers will keep finding workarounds and alternatives to leveraging network capabilities.

For more information on the HiT Barcelona: World Innovation Summit: June 17-19 FIRA Barcelona, click HERE
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