In partnership with 21 carriers, the GSMA Open Gateway initiative proposes a framework to provide universal, open-source application programming interfaces (APIs) into carrier networks.

The intention is that developers can access a variety of mobile network services, such as location, identity verification, and carrier billing, that all would once have been too complex or costly to integrate and utilise.

In time, the aim will shift to facilitating the use of APIs in applications such as immersive mixed-reality experiences and web3 applications, thus generating more 5G business for mobile carriers.

Success through Standardisation

By opening up their networks in a standardised way, mobile operators are seeking to exploit the successes of Twilio and other open API solution providers.

It is a move Piran Partners has long advocated in our work with full MVNOs, as a means of monetising their existing assets and reducing barriers to entry for software developers and new service providers.

Although no specifics have been provided regarding which services may be rolled out first, Open Gateway launched with API specifications for eight services:

  1. SIM swap (eSIMs for easier carrier switching)
  2. “Quality on demand”
  3. Device status (to notify users of their connection to a home or roaming network)
  4. Number Verification
  5. Number Verification (SMS 2FA)
  6. Edge site selection and routing
  7. Carrier billing or check out
  8. Device location (when a service requires location verification)

Further APIs are expected to be added this year, with some names possibly being altered. For example, SIM swap carries negative connotations, which the GSMA will likely be keen to distance itself from.

Revolution or Surrender?

Given the history of mobile carriers and their diminishing role since the smartphone usage boom, the initiative marks a fascinating and progressive development.

Yet, the transition to mobile network standardisation, by developing APIs for third parties to utilise tools more efficiently, can be interpreted as being one of two acts:

A revolution: Telecoms companies have traditionally been protective of their networks. However, they are now recognising the potential of a modern approach that brings about further development and progress in the industry. Moreover, that opportunities can be capitalised on by providing developers with a less complex, more scalable option by constructing APIs compatible with all networks.

A surrender: MNOs concede that they cannot adequately compete with the FAMGAs monetising the content that passes over their networks, and the tech giants with their lower costs to serve, and so try to join them instead, leveraging their remaining role in the final “wireless mile”.

An eco-system of virtual service providers

With AWS and Microsoft Azure signed up to the Open Gateway initiative and MNOs pushing Open RAN projects and SD-WANs to reduce costs and improve responsiveness, an end-state of one or two disaggregated ‘utility’ mobile networks within an eco-system of virtual service providers looks to be on the horizon.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Hoettges argued in favour of this move, claiming that operators must “abandon the black boxes” of infrastructure by embracing open RAN and disaggregating their fixed-line networks.

As well as lowering barriers to entry for developers and bringing services to the market that are both superior and cheaper, there is another benefit to an open network model that is arguably the most important – it’s better for the environment. With 5G networks consuming less power than earlier generations, enhanced service is a path to a greener future.

For Europe, Regulators appear to hold the key

In his speech, Hoettges drew attention to the differences between the European mobile market and other markets around the world, not least that’s Europe’s 5G coverage at 73%, lags well behind Asia Pacific (90%) and the United States (96%).

For Hoettges, “Delivering connectivity is operators’ only real business model and, to make it work, European regulators must begin to allow more consolidation.” This suggests a dawning realism of MNOs’ true role as utilities, with innovation happening elsewhere, and surrender. EU regulators have some homework to do.