China joins the network API gang

  • Telcos all over the world are exposing their network capabilities to application developers via APIs
  • The GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative is helping them with their network API strategies
  • China’s three main operators are the latest to commercially launch a security-focused API

China’s trio of major operators are the latest to join the growing list of telcos that have exposed their network capabilities to the developer community via an application programming interface (API) that conforms to the Open Gateway specifications, which are fast becoming a de facto standard for the telecom sector. 

The API in question is One Time Password (OTP), which can be used to secure mobile applications and online services through the activation and delivery of a unique password to the end user via a text message (SMS), which then verifies the identity of the user. The OTP API can be incorporated by developers into their applications in the knowledge that it is compatible with the nationwide networks run by China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom which, between them, have almost 1.3 billion mobile users accounting for more than 1.7 billion cellular connections, of which more than 800 million are 5G connections. 

And, according to the GSMA’s forecasting team, more than half of the country’s mobile connections will be 5G by the end of this year, while by 2030 China is set to boast 1.6 billion 5G connections, about one-third of the global total: It is, and will remain for quite some time, the world’s largest mobile broadband market and is thus a critical one for the application development sector. 

China is the first market where the OTP API has been made commercially available and is also the first Open Gateway-certified API to be launched in the country.       

According to the GSMA, the OTP API “provides increased security [compared with] single-factor authentication and in card-not-present payment scenarios, helping companies increase consumer confidence and protect users from the risk of fraud.” That sounds like it would be useful in China, where the country’s Ministry of Public Security solved 391,000 cases of telecom and online fraud between January and November 2023 (so imagine how many others were not solved!). 

“The launch of the One Time Password API in the world’s largest mobile market demonstrates the commitment of China’s leading operators in keeping the country’s 1.28 billion mobile users safe from cybercriminals,” stated GSMA director general Mats Granryd in the official announcement about the launch of the OTP API. “As instances of online fraud continue to grow in both scope and scale globally, the GSMA Open Gateway is equipping developers with the tools they need to protect users in the digital space. We look forward to seeing the innovative new services brought to market with the initiative’s continued growth,” he added.  

As part of the OTP launch in China, three industry vendors – Citic Telecom, Huawei and ZTE – have signed up to the Open Gateway initiative and will help to ramp up developer engagement and support the use and integration of network APIs in China. 

You can find out more about the launch of OTP in China, as well as get the latest on the Open Gateway initiative, in a TelecomTV interview with the GSMA’s CTO Alex Sinclair that will be made available as part of the Telco as a Platform Summit programming on 26 March (after which it will be available on demand). The summit also includes a panel discussion focused on ‘How APIs and middleware can support vertical applications’ that includes expert speakers from Deutsche Telekom, Verizon Business, Intel and Wind River. 

The GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative has attracted widespread support from the global telco community as well as from vendors, integrators and the hyperscalers: According to the industry body, 48 mobile operator groups that, between them, account for 240 mobile networks and 66% of global cellular connections have now joined the initiative. For more details on network API activities around the world, see this news roundup and MWC24: The rise of network APIs.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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