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Good developer relations are key to CSPs’ API business ambitions

Operators recognize the importance of getting developers on board to work with network APIs as NaaS business models start to take shape.

Michelle Donegan
26 Apr 2024
Good developer relations are key to CSPs’ API business ambitions

Good developer relations are key to CSPs’ API business ambitions

As communication service providers (CSPs) aspire to becoming platform businesses, based on Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) capabilities, one of the challenges is attracting developers to use their network APIs.

There is momentum and enthusiasm around the GSMA’s Open Gateway and TM Forum’s Operate API initiatives to standardize APIs via the Linux Foundation’s CAMARA project. More than 40 operators have made a total of 94 APIs available commercially across 21 markets around the world since the program launched in February 2023.

But it was clear from some CSPs speaking at the recent FutureNet World in London that there is work to be done to engage with developers and define routes to market if opening up 5G network capabilities is to deliver new revenue opportunities.

During a panel discussion on how to drive revenue from APIs and platform models, representative from Colt, Deutsche Telekom and Telia were optimistic about the new business opportunities while acknowledging the telecom sector’s limitations when it comes to developers.

Fahim Sabir, Director of Network on Demand at Colt, explained that, unlike other API-centric organizations, telcos don’t have a support structure around APIs with developer relations (DevRel) people who can work through use cases with customers to put together solutions. “We don’t foster communities of development.”

“Building APIs and getting them out there is the easy bit…The thing that we need to spend a little bit more time focusing on is the people element. Developers are people. So, the question is, what do we need to do as CSPs to absolutely reduce the friction for them to be able to use our platforms? And the question I would ask is, are we doing enough in that space?” he said.

CSP developer platforms also lack the scale and ease of use of those provided by public cloud. For that reason, many view hyperscalers as important partners for network APIs.

“Even I can go and integrate AI capabilities of Google into whatever I want to. But for them to be able to do the same thing with us, we need to try to come as close as possible,” said Shahryar Khan, Director & Head of Mobile Packet Core at Telia Group.

“How easily [developers] are able to onboard onto your platform will … decide the pace for how they can develop the applications. That will be the key,” he added.

Operators should think of developers as customers along with enterprise end users, according to Hartmut Wittig, Vice President of Magenta API Capability Exposure, Go-To-Market & Sales Support at Deutsche Telekom.

“If a developer is not satisfied, the best business cannot achieve something. Developer relation has to be right. That’s why it is very important to discuss with the hyperscalers, which have tens of millions of developers in their community, … and to all the aggregators,” he said.

Wittig said that he would not expect telcos to be strong in the developer ecosystem, which is why they should “talk to the customers’ developers”, which could be systems integrators, partner platforms or hyperscalers.

As CSPs shift to a so-called “outside in”, or demand-led, approach to service development, which starts with identifying use cases and building solutions for them, they will naturally be in discussions with enterprises in various sectors.

But at the same time, Wittig said CSPs need to “keep one, and better two, eyes on the developer folks, who have to be satisfied.”

Here, he views CAMARA APIs as an important step because developers “are satisfied by having one standard that is working” in a country or across a continent.