CSPs need to tackle fragmentation to unlock potential of network APIs – research

  • Fragmentation and complexity are seen as main challenges when CSPs embrace open APIs, according to new study from Analysys Mason and Nokia
  • The pair believes open network APIs have significant potential 
  • However, the ecosystem is still on a “big learning journey” as it is yet to reach maturity, according to analyst Caroline Chappell

Communications service providers (CSPs) need to address fragmentation and complexity challenges when adopting open network application programmable interfaces (APIs) if they are to unlock the significant opportunities for new use cases and revenue streams once their network capabilities are exposed to developers, a new study suggests.

Discussing the results of research commissioned by Nokia and conducted by Analysys Mason during a TelecomTV event, experts from both companies shared insights on the reasons why programmable networks are seen as the way forward in the industry, as well as the main challenges telcos might face when turning to open network APIs.

According to Shkumbin Hamiti, head of the network monetisation business unit at Nokia, now is the right time for telcos to embrace open network APIs because CSPs are yet to reap the benefits of investing more than $100bn in 2022 alone in building 5G networks. “Those networks come with a tremendous set of features, which are very useful for a set of players in the enterprise domain, around Industry 4.0. And those capabilities need to be brought in the hands of the developers that build applications for Industry 4.0. As an industry, we have to get our act together to open up those capabilities and bring those to the developers at large”, he noted.

Caroline Chappell, research director at Analysys Mason, concurred. Despite noting that there is still lack of education and maturity in the market, she explained that there are going to be “more and more complex” use cases in the future, consisting of “many moving parts, many different components that are going to be running on different clouds even in different parts of the world” and, as a result, everything is set to “become as-a-service”.

“When you get a highly distributed as-a-service environment, the network is so critical to that. But what we’ve had so far… is: ‘Let’s do this over the internet’. The internet is marvellous, because from a developer point of view, it looks like a single network – they don’t have to worry about what goes on underneath. But what they’re missing out on is the incredible richness of capability locked into the network, that’s really only been available to network specialists,” emphasised Chappell.

She gave examples of when staff needed to work from home and experienced less-than-satisfactory performance capabilities of productivity tools. This, as she put it, is because “we’re doing it over the internet, we’re doing it on a best-effort basis”.

“The amazing opportunity now, starting with the 5G network because of the way it’s been architected, [is] that we can open up those network capabilities to developers, so that nothing needs to be ‘the best effort’ anymore. You can get much more customised connectivity because you can access those network capabilities through APIs – if, of course, this is done the right way,” she added.

The research found that network API exposure is a top-five priority for most (73%) CSPs turning to open APIs and software development kits (SDK) to enable developers to create programmes that offer new 5G services. It also revealed that more than half of software developers are eager to write programmes enabling them to enrich their applications so that customers get improved quality on demand, while they are also increasingly familiar with the concept of network APIs and increasingly want to take part in such developments.

Significant challenges

The analyst highlighted fragmentation as the biggest challenge for CSPs: There are many aspects to the network; various industry bodies are working on different types of network APIs; and the communication-platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) vendors and public cloud providers have their own APIs.

“There are APIs everywhere. So how do we stop this fragmentation in order to be able to give to developers a coherent, consistent environment so that they can start experimenting with these APIs and start using them for the good of their applications? I think fragmentation is one of the issues and challenges that CSPs have to face,” noted Analysys Mason’s Chappell.

She described the Open Gateway initiative, unveiled at MWC this year, as “a very big step forward” in terms of defragmenting the network API landscape and bringing “a lot more prioritisation and consistency into that API development.”

This is where Nokia’s Network as Code comes into play, according to Hamiti, as it is a service that addresses the developer experience and builds on capabilities that are offered by public and private 5G, as well as 4G, networks. “It’s a service that tries to defragment the experience… we see [that] as a key to unleashing the true potential of what has been built and accumulated across the years within the CSPs,” he noted.

According to the Nokia executive, this type of service can also tackle the issue of complexity for developers and enterprises. “When you think about the digitalisation journey of the enterprises, they need an easy way of consuming the connectivity – whether it is in a form of connectivity offered as a private wireless network or a connectivity offered as a slice from a CSP. They still need an easy way to connect their applications and their processes, without needing to have a deep knowledge of 3GPP technologies. Therefore, those challenges are something that may slow down adoption of technologies for digitalisation and that’s something that we need to absolutely solve,” he emphasised.


Operators are advised to consider ways to attract the largest developer community on their networks, according to Chappell, and to assess what effects this would have when a growing number of developers tap into the network capabilities. “The capabilities that we’re talking about for things like 5G-Advanced are actually quite expensive to put in place,” and would involve additional investments “on top of the billions that are being invested in rolling out 5G networks,” the analyst cautioned.

“In order to maximise the monetisation opportunity and to minimise the potential for disintermediation,” operators need to cooperate “in the right way.” And the potential for disintermediation “is still there – we saw it with CPaaS, we don’t want it to happen with Network as Code, but it could still happen,” she added.

She also recommended that telcos think seriously about which APIs they want to open up, how they should be doing so and how they might reap the rewards for doing so. “It’s a big learning journey at the moment. A lot of education needs to go on in the market, a lot of research… but I think there’s a massive opportunity there and I think they can take heart from the fact that developers are very keen to work with them, but they just have to have very good strategies for working with those developers as well.”

The TelecomTV event, Unlock your Network’s Value with Network as Code, is available now to watch on demand. 

– Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV