MWC24: The rise of network APIs

Telefónica shows an Open Gateway demo at MWC24.

Telefónica shows an Open Gateway demo at MWC24.

  • Telcos continue to look for ways to innovate and attract new revenue growth
  • Many are now boldly testing the waters with network APIs
  • Use cases were demonstrated at MWC 2024
  • Now, operators must choose between being a low-cost utility or a true digital services and API provider, according to industry analyst

Network application programming interfaces (APIs) took a significant, yet overshadowed, role at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024, with major operators increasingly eager to develop and expose a growing number of APIs as a means to monetise their 5G networks.

Admittedly, AI dominated nearly every aspect of the four-day event held last week in Barcelona, but multiple demonstrations signalled that there is room for other types of innovation within the sector too.

Major telcos, including Telefónica, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, used the show floor to demonstrate new possibilities through the development of network APIs, providing developers with universal access to operator networks, under the GSMA-led Open Gateway initiative.

In one such demonstration, Telefónica allowed visitors to immerse themselves in a multi-camera sports event using a virtual reality (VR) headset. The capabilities of Open Gateway APIs, according to the telco, made it possible for attendees to experience the event with 180-degree and 360-degree views “with the best quality of service”, and with no interruptions (see image above and a video demonstration captured by our team here).

Other demonstrations showed how APIs can be used for high-quality telepresence and to support fraud prevention.

The rise in importance of APIs was one of the key topics mentioned by keynote speakers, including Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, and José María Álvarez-Pallete, chairman and CEO of Telefónica. According to figures from the GSMA, nearly 50 mobile operator groups, representing some 65% of global connections, have now signed up to the Open Gateway initiative.

In a blog covering the event, CCS Insight’s director of consumer and connectivity, Kester Mann, cited additional figures, suggesting that operators have now made a combined 94 APIs commercially available to enterprise developers in a total of 21 markets across Asia Pacific, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.

“An important focus for Open Gateway has been tackling online crime, and this has led to coordinated launches by operators in markets, such as Brazil, Spain and Sri Lanka”, noted Mann.

John Abraham, principal analyst for BSS and digital enablement systems at Appledore Research, also noticed how “high profile” the topic of APIs was at MWC24, explaining that they offer “a new route to 5G network monetisation”.

His peer, Appledore consulting analyst Robert Curran, concurred, telling TelecomTV that both telcos and network vendors seem to be aligned on the notion that 5G monetisation through APIs and network exposure is “incredibly important”.

The bigger picture – opportunities and risks

The increased willingness of telcos to open up their networks to developers for the delivery of new and more innovative services should not come as a surprise, as there is potentially a lot to be gained. In fact, a recent study from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, found that the network API market could unlock between $100bn and $300bn in connectivity and edge computing-related revenues for operators in the next five to seven years.

However, the company cautions in its report that telcos won’t be the only ones “vying for this lucrative pool”. Considering the current market structure, the firm estimates that telcos “would cede as much as two-thirds of the value creation to other players in the ecosystem, such as cloud providers and API aggregators – repeating the industry’s frustrating experience of the past two decades”.

And this is why Curran stressed the importance of telcos figuring out what they want to be. “The good news is that the tech is there for them to be whatever they want – low-cost utility or true digital services provider or API provider. The bad news is that they still have to make that choice,” the analyst added.

That choice, according to Curran, will depend on each telco provider’s market context, which includes a range of factors such as whether they are a challenger in their market and if they operate in a mature market overall.

As a takeaway from the various demonstrations at the MWC stands, Curran suggested that the range of technologies on offer “is probably wider than it has ever been”, meaning that “all the tools are in play now to do amazing things.”

And while a lot of operators appear to be starting to embrace the change in the landscape, he believes the shape of telcos in five years’ time will be quite different.

“By that stage, telcos will really have made that choice, decided what they want to be. They don’t all have to be the same thing, which I think is the fun part,” the Appledore Research analyst noted.

With these changes, according to Curran, telcos will be able to really differentiate themselves with the services they offer, and this is where leveraging customer data and the ability to scale will play a big role.

Catch up with the rest of our reporting from MWC2024 in Barcelona here, including exclusive interviews, daily video coverage (The Slice) and much more.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

Email Newsletters

Sign up to receive TelecomTV's top news and videos, plus exclusive subscriber-only content direct to your inbox.