Open APIs: NaaS spawns a virtuous circle of ingenuity

The Open Hack at TM Forum Live! was the first time a Forum hackathon had provided network-as-a-service (NaaS) capabilities in conjunction with 5G network slicing and open APIs. Magic happened.

NaaS is a managed business model for delivering network services virtually. The Forum’s hack series has typically centered around customer management layers, but “at a service and resource management level, hackers can be a little more intimidated and a little less likely to use these APIs,” said Kevin McDonnell, Senior Director, Huawei.

His company provided a Big Data API, Revenue Management API and an Orchestration APIs its Infrastructure Enabling System (IES), alongside TM Forum’s suite of Open APIs and APIs from Salesforce, plus data from the city of Nice and a virtual drone from Vodafone.

McDonnell was keen to see what the NaaS spawned – after all, he was learning from the hackers, as much as they were learning from him. His company’s involvement provided a valuable opportunity to gain applied insight from a very different group of innovators than would usually have access to the tech.


After some initial guidance about how the NaaS capabilities could become a competitive advantage and could be monetized, McDonnell saw hackers realizing they could expand their ideas to leverage network connectivity: “That was very interesting, especially the teams that were focused on IoT or smart cities. They could see how they needed to orchestrate their services in a shared network.” The Open Hack winners, Port-omatic used those shared resources to build an app for monitoring the pollution from ships coming into Southampton, in the UK, to dock. Watch the following video to learn more about the winning project:

Port-O-Matic Smart Sea Ports – Open Hack Winner 2017 from TM Forum on Vimeo.


McDonnell also found there were two distinct ways of using APIs in the Open Hack. One was to take the APIs and learn how to run them in a cloud sandbox or test environment with prescribed toolchains and techniques. The other was to work from first principles, such as using postman collections and swagger API specifications, where developers can start development from a simple starting point.

Full circle innovation

McDonnell was also both marketing and technical lead for an award-winning Catalyst project in Nice, A Platform for IoT and Anything as a Service. It set out to build an ambitious prototype solution to address a major, real-life business question. ­

McDonnell explained, “We knew that this was a big, ambitious idea and we needed to attack it in baby steps. We looked at all the APIs across the architecture, and we picked a subset of them that developed through the Catalyst.

“We then decided that these were good candidates for the [Open Hack]. So, one Catalyst innovation spawned, potentially, other innovations in the hackathon, which was all down to actual concrete use of the API.”

He added, “The innovations in the hackathon could spawn next year’s Catalyst ideas, which will then form the next set of APIs, which will evolve back into next year’s hackathon and so on and so on. Hackathons themselves are like a three-day Catalyst.”

Alike and unalike

It was not only the common passion, but the distinct the variety in expertise that proved beneficial in the collaboration process, with McDonnell stressing that you don’t have to be the best coder to take part in the Forum’s Open Hacks.

“That probably puts a lot of people off because they’re afraid of it, but ultimately that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the business idea, and it’s about maybe four or five people, with different skill sets and experience, who’ve never met each other, getting together from diverse backgrounds and saying – ok let’s do this.”

The Nice Open Hack was also the first time that network slicing was exposed in any global hackathon (as far as TM Forum is aware), which is perhaps the most keenly anticipated 5G capability.

The next Open Hack takes place in Vancouver and will feature challenges around Smart City and how telco services can power these cities. Find out more here.


    About The Author

    VP, APIs & Ecosystems

    Joann’s career spans over 20 years in technology, ranging from consumer electronics, telecommunications mobile switching to OSS/BSS and more recently to industry collaboration. Joann is currently the program lead for TM Forum’s Open API & Ecosystems initiative, chair of the API Steering Committee and lead for the Open Hack program. Joann has significant experience leading complex large scale transformation programs for a number of organizations.

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