What’s up with… AT&T & Vonage, cross-carrier APIs, Vodafone & Cohere

  • Vonage adds AT&T to its list of network API collaborators
  • US telcos boast a significant network API breakthrough 
  • Vodafone puts spectrum multiplier specialist Cohere through its paces

In today’s industry news roundup: AT&T is next to join Vonage’s network API partner list; top-three US telcos, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, claim a regional first with trials of a cross-carrier, interoperable API; Vodafone partners with Cohere Technologies to test new tech that can help mobile operators make greater use of their spectrum; and much more!

AT&T is the latest telco to collaborate with Vonage, the cloud-based communications platform business that Ericsson acquired for $6.2bn in July 2022 and which is developing a global network API platform that the Swedish vendor believes is critical to its long-term future. Through its collaboration with Vonage, AT&T will “make user-friendly communications and network APIs available to a broad community of developers to drive scalability and business-case development together with enhanced security,” the partners noted in this announcement. AT&T has also published a blog all about its network API accelerator programme. Earlier this month, Vonage announced a network APIs agreement with another of the US market’s major operators, Verizon, while it is also one of the companies working with Spain’s major mobile operators to make network APIs available to application developers. The telco-as-a-platform topic is set to be one of the major talking points at the upcoming MWC24 show in Barcelona and will also be the subject of deep-dive analysis by industry experts during TelecomTV’s upcoming Telco as a Platform Summit.

The top-three mobile operators in the US – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – have completed what they claim to be the first cross-carrier, interoperable application programming interface (API) in North America, industry association the GSMA has announced. Each of the companies has carried out independent tests, in collaboration with developers at US drone manufacturer Inspired Flight Technologies (IFT), of drone connectivity and public safety. The achievement was part of the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative, which was launched last year to provide universal access to operator networks for developers, thereby bringing new 5G services and use cases to market faster. Once commercially available, it is hoped the API will, for example, enable connected drones, to maintain connectivity mid-flight and allow them to be re-contacted in the case of technical issues. Yigal Elbaz, SVP and network CTO at AT&T, described the move as “a great step forward in realising the value of APIs,” and added that open and reusable network APIs will be key to advancing 5G and future wireless technologies. “Wireless networks, or more accurately for this context ‘programmable networks’, are the next great frontier for developers,” said Karri Kuoppamaki, SVP of advanced and emerging technologies at T-Mobile. “The speed, low latency, and enhanced capacity of today’s networks create fresh clay to empower developers and increase operator value, and we’re just getting started.” And according to Srini Kalapala, SVP of technology and product development at Verizon, network APIs introduce “cutting-edge network capabilities” to both enterprises and developers, demonstrate “the massive potential of 5G technology,” and drive digital transformation, innovation, growth and profitability. “By collaborating across the industry to adhere to open standards for APIs, the adoption of these critical tools will be greatly accelerated,” he added. Currently, the GSMA Open Gateway initiative has 42 mobile operator members globally, representing nearly 240 mobile networks and 65% of global connections.

Another recent development in the open API field comes from Veon, the telco group with mobile networks across Asia, Europe and Africa, in the form of its Geolocation Gateway service. Co-developed by Veon, Nokia and Infobip, it could be used in proximity-based commercial services, to reduce fraud in financial services and to support location-based emergency responses. The offering builds on the GSMA Open Gateway framework that calls for universal, open APIs for enterprise developers, according to Veon. The gateway service has already been commercially implemented in Uzbekistan where a country-wide pizza restaurant chain is using precision-marketing based on the Geolocation Gateway APIs. Veon noted that the solution will be scaled to other markets in its portfolio and can also be licensed by other telcos. “Mobile operators are at the forefront when it comes to enabling economic growth through digitalisation, especially in the emerging economies in which Veon operates. With the Geolocation Gateway, we are bringing in the latest international standards to provide digitalisation at scale in our markets,” noted Kaan Terzioğlu, Veon Group CEO. Find out more.

Vodafone has completed a field test of the universal spectrum multiplier (USM) platform developed by specialist vendor Cohere Technologies, which believes its technology can help mobile operators make greater use of their spectrum in standard as well as Open RAN deployments. Cohere’s USM was put to the test in outdoor and indoor environments using Vodafone Spain’s 5G network in the city of Ciudad Real, 200km south of Madrid. “We continuously work to find the best-of-breed RAN innovations that will benefit Vodafone customers,” noted Vodafone Group’s head of Open RAN, Paco Martin. “We have been working with Cohere for a long time and we’re extremely pleased to see these promising early results obtained in a real-life urban network, which exceeded our expectations. Cohere’s unique USM software has the potential to improve capacity by up to 50% without the need for new devices or network hardware,” added Martin. Cohere’s CEO, Ray Dolan, added: “Thanks to Vodafone’s continued support, we have been able to test our USM software in the toughest of wireless network environments, demonstrating that we can improve network performance in all environments, from rural to the most densely populated urban areas. We are now focused on integrating the USM with partners to make these benefits available to operators globally,” he added. Vodafone has explained more about its tests and the potential of Cohere’s technology in this blog.   

Vodafone UK has replaced an existing radio unit at one of its Open RAN sites in the UK with a massive MIMO unit from NEC. “Massive MIMO is the cherry on top of any 5G installation,” noted Vodafone UK chief network officer Andrea Dona. “It dramatically improves the efficiency of the site and, as a result, provides an enhanced mobile experience for our customers. This is an exciting development because it proves the benefits of Open RAN. Here, we have replaced a component of a live mobile site with one from a different vendor, without operational complications, and it is running on software from Samsung. This is interchangeability and interoperability in action,” added Dona. 

The renowned BT Tower in London is destined for a completely new future. In a £275m deal, its owner BT Group has agreed to sell it to MCR Hotels, a US-based hotel owner-operator, which pledges to preserve the building as an “iconic hotel”. In a statement, the UK’s incumbent telco explained that its decision to sell BT Tower came as a result of digitalisation, leading to numerous network operations that were once provided from the BT Tower now being delivered via the company’s fixed and mobile networks instead. For example, the communication tower’s microwave aerials were removed more than a decade ago, as “they were no longer needed to carry telecommunications traffic from London to the rest of the country.” BT Group’s property director, Brent Mathews, explained that the company has owned the BT Tower since 1984, and that it has played a “vital role in carrying the nation’s calls, messages and TV signals, but increasingly we’re delivering content and communication via other means”. He added that the deal with the hotel management company will give a new purpose to the 189 metre tower. Under the terms of the deal, MCR Hotels will make payments over a number of years, as BT progressively moves its equipment out of the building, with final payment on completion of the purchase, the timeline for which has not been disclosed. The move does not come as a surprise, as the UK telco is aiming to cut costs by, among other things, reducing the number of its offices from more than 300 to around 30. Another significant deal saw it sell its former headquarters, a 10-storey office building on Newgate Street in the City of London, in July 2019 for £210m and move into a new head office in Aldgate Street, London in 2021. Ben Wood, chief analyst and CMO at CCS Insight, posted on LinkedIn that while the decision will be viewed as “the end of an era by many in the communications industry,” the tower is “likely a highly impractical building that requires a significant amount of upkeep and is probably of less strategic importance to BT now its consumer brand has transitioned to EE.” The public has not been able to access the BT Tower for years now, so it will be “exciting that such a fantastic landmark is being repurposed for leisure use,” he added.

The recent clearance of the Orange-MásMóvil merger in Spain by the European Commission is a notable step in the region’s telecoms landscape as it could set a precedent for similar moves from other players. According to Kester Mann, director of consumer and connectivity at CCS Insight, attention will now quickly turn to other potential mergers, notably the proposed collaboration between Vodafone and Three in the UK. “Here, both parties will hope that the news represents a shift in position from the region’s regulators as they seek approval to combine,” the analyst noted in a statement sent to TelecomTV. However, he warned that the two UK operators shouldn’t get their hopes up too soon because unlike the Orange-MásMóvil deal, the merger proposal in the UK needs to go through the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). And judging by the initial stubbornness to block the amalgamation of Microsoft and Activision Blizzard last year, the regulator “won’t be won over easily”, he added. Although Ofcom, the telecoms regulator in the UK, has recently softened its stance on mergers, the analyst suggested that Ofcom “will still want to see evidence that a combined Vodafone and Three will lead to better outcomes for customers in a mobile market it believes is currently functioning reasonably well.” Another thing to look out for in the case of Vodafone and Three is the imposition of conditions similar to the ones that require Orange and MásMóvil to divest spectrum and provide national roaming access to rival Digi. “If Vodafone and Three are required to do similar, they would be reliant on finding a willing third party to complete the deal. That may not be easy,” said Mann.

Meanwhile, Telefónica hasn’t wasted any time in lambasting the European Commission for giving the Orange-MásMóvil merger the green light, saying the lawmakers have “missed a great opportunity to adopt an investment-friendly approach that could contribute to Spain’s competitiveness challenge, free from regulatory intervention.” Read more

- The staff, TelecomTV

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