For the past several years, Orange Group has been using TM Forum Open Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to transform itself into a digital service provider and enabler. The Open APIs are already used for a significant number of the company’s internal APIs and will soon be used for some external APIs such as product ordering for internet players, according to Laurent Leboucher, VP, Architecture, Enablers and Security, Orange.
Orange provides fixed and mobile services to 269 million subscribers in 29 countries. Services include not only voice and data connectivity for consumers and enterprises, but also TV and banking. The company’s Orange Money service, for example, is used by 35 million customers in 17 countries, and in November Orange launched a 100% mobile-based bank in France.
Speaking at TM Forum Action Week in Lisbon earlier this month, Leboucher explained that Orange’s API program has two primary focuses: API transformation and improving developer channels. API transformation aims to change the mindset and culture within each Orange operating company and to help projects expose and consume APIs.
“We are trying to help countries understand the power of APIs, how they can help to deliver better customer experience, better time to market…and, also, how it can help us partner and create new opportunities,” Leboucher explained.
Orange Group views both internal and external developers as customers. Today the company has more than 150 shared internal APIs and 48 external. Already a few thousands developers (external and internal) are using at least one API per month.
Orange was among the first CSPs to sign TM Forum’s Open API Manifesto, pledging to adopt the APIs as a foundational component of their IT architectures, to promote global adoption of the API suite by their partners, and to expect technology vendors and systems integrators to support these APIs in their products and cloud-based services. To date 12 CSPs and 23 technology suppliers have signed the manifesto.
To make it easier for all developers, Orange Group has come up with easy-to-use tools such as a web portal for internal use and for external use (developer.orange.com).
Orange has a goal of “zero integration,” according to Leboucher, which means moving to self-service APIs (both internally and externally). “Our dream is to avoid integration as much as we can,” he said.
Other goals are to accelerate API adoption and support short- and long-term transformation of Orange’s ITN (Information Technologies and Networks) architecture by leveraging API standards.
“Since we have moved to the Open APIs, people have started to understand why they’re so important,” Leboucher said. “Contributing to and leveraging TM Forum standards used by our peers and competitors is much more efficient than trying to develop our own internal standards. For our operational IT teams, this was an important criterion in their decision process.”
Supporting ITN transformation
Leboucher shared a graphic depicting the company’s global and local IT systems and how they interact.
“Orange can be seen as a federation of national operating companies with local IT teams in every country who have lots of autonomy and corporate labs to support them, so technical and IT governance needs to be very clear,” Leboucher said. “We try to identify targets – what should be global and what should be local?”
Front ends and customer management platforms are examples of local solutions, whereas services and offer and product platforms can be shared across operating companies, he explained.
All the main blocks shown in the diagram must interoperate, and Orange uses TM Forum Open APIs and Frameworx to manage this at scale. In essence, the company has developed its own open digital architecture using TM Forum tools. (See this article for more about the TM Forum Open Digital Architecture.)
At the top of the layered stack in blue are party platforms, which are for customer engagement. Below sit offer and product platforms, which contain all the processes related to configuration of offers, rating and ordering. Beneath that layer are customer facing services (including network services and application services), running on a distributed cloud infrastructure as a service.
“You can see that those two layers are very independent and decoupled from each other, which means the same products can be provided to different customers segments,” Leboucher explained. “We need this strong decoupling.”
How do Open APIs help?
All these platforms use the same underlying infrastructure, and TM Forum Open APIs let Orange explain how services are mapped.
As an example of the Open APIs in action, Leboucher pointed to the myOrange app, a mobile app that customers can use to manage all their interactions with their mobile operator such as upgrading service or monitoring data usage. The app uses APIs based on the Forum’s Product Catalog, Product Ordering, Product Inventory, Usage Consumption, and OMA SMS APIs. Countries deploying the app are requested to expose these APIs. The APIs are being used in one country with four to follow.
Delivering end-to-end, SDN-enabled services quickly
Orange’s Easy Go Network allows enterprises to instantly provision virtual network functions (VNFs) like virtual firewalls for branch offices with full digital self-service ordering, customer care and reporting functions via a user-friendly portal. The company is leveraging work MEF and TM Forum have been doing on MEF’s LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) Sonata, which defines the reference point supporting management and operational interactions between CSPs and their partners for processes such as ordering, provisioning, service assurance and billing, to integrate with other operators for multi-operator, end-to-end connectivity services.
“We’ve identified that for our international customers it is important to have a unified way to manage the life of software-based network services around the world,” Leboucher explained. “It’s important to be consistent, so we are promoting the TM Forum- and MEF-defined Sonata API.”
In addition, Orange has decided to use Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) for management and control of its network and has implemented some of the Forum’s APIs within ONAP. “With next release we hope to be ready to expose APIs – service ordering will be first and then others will follow,” Leboucher said.
Ultimately, Orange plans to use the Open APIs to develop new business opportunities with partners. The company is already using the Product Ordering API with internet players and social networks to stimulate mobile data usage and increase ARPU.
“TM Forum Open APIs are now a very concrete reality in our IT transformations throughout Orange Group,” Leboucher said. “They are no longer an option. We definitely need our vendors partners to embrace the same APIs and get their solutions certified.”