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Where is the value? The API enabled network Part 2

Amid all the discussion of APIs, there are some questions that need particular attention. We can ask for whom should they be released, what they should be for and why – indeed, it’s always good to remember the six honest men, but there’s a key question that we think should always be kept in mind: where is the value?

There have been a number of API initiatives that have expressly sought to identify value and expose capabilities to third parties (let’s not start discussing those again – we refer you to our other posts on the subject). However, these have tended to focus on capabilities such as “messaging” “location” “payment” and so on. The question is, do these have value and, if not, what does?

This is important, because if an API is to be of interest, it needs to offer something that has utility to the target audience. Messaging has been around for years and it’s debateable that a developer needs to go to an operator to obtain a messaging API. There are messaging providers all over the world, so it’s nice, but hardly something unique. Location used to be uniquely the province of mobile operators too, but that’s no longer the case – thanks to mapping efforts, there are all sorts of handset derived techniques that disinter-mediate the operator from the process (except when it matters, in emergency situations, of course, but that’s another story). While location once had significant value, it’s debatable how much it retains.

All of which means that operators have to determine what does offer value in their networks and make sure that APIs are exposed that enable third parties to leverage these resources. There are two approaches that can be adopted to this – a broad-brush approach, as advocated by at least one speaker at the SDP Global Summit, in which the network becomes entirely API enabled, with the result that all network elements and resources offer service APIs.

We think this is the best approach, but of course it takes time. The second approach is a sort of compromise in which the operator selectively identifies resources that have value and releases appropriate APIs. In this approach, we think the priorities should be:

  • QoS
  • Policy
  • Call control
  • Billing and payments

This is because, with the exception of call control, these are still assets that operators hold uniquely. Of course, call control was a unique operator asset, but no longer – like location, a salutary lesson that value can be eroded through time, but unlike location in that it still has value as evidenced by the alternative OTT providers who now offer call control APIs.

Identifying value is hard. It requires operators to lose preconceptions about what they think might be valuable. It’s strange that location, which is fundamental to how a mobile operator delivers services, for example, has little value today. But that’s because others have managed to capture some of that value and diminish what remains. It needs deep analysis and deep thought – but it’s definitely there.

OTT players, for example, cannot guarantee end-to-end service quality. They cannot necessarily support thousands of payment transactions per second. Value shifts. Operators need to place some bets and, in our opinion, pursue option two while keeping option one in mind as their overall goal. The beauty of that approach is that by exposing everything in their network hidden value will be unlocked that currently remains unrecognised – which will bring benefits to all.