By Cassidy Shield, Vice-President, Global Software Solutions Marketing, Alcatel-Lucent
In just about every industry people are obsessed with the next BIG thing and in our industry – telecommunications – it’s no different. Over the years, our success has been driven by mass market services – for a long time it was voice, then came SMS, and now mobile broadband access is what everyone wants.
Each of these services share a common path to execution– they have required extensive engineering and development of large networks that have taken years to build out, requiring a business case that was predicated on a long-term horizon, and requiring heavy capital investment. But that is no longer the only path to game-changing innovation.
Technology has progressed at such a speed that it has redefined what it means to innovate as well as shortening the timelines associated with innovation. What this means to our industry is that while we should continue to strive to define the next big thing, or more specifically, the next killer app ourselves, we should also be looking to enable others to do the same. I believe that the way to do it is with APIs and further, that APIs that are the next killer app for the telecommunications industry.
I assume that many of the readers of this blog will know what an API is, but for those who don’t, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are snippets of code that make discrete and valuable chunks of data or functionality within the network easily accessible to developers so that they can be combined with other compatible chunks to be transformed relatively quickly into applications that in turn can be offered to customers as services. In this way APIs are the means to turn networks into platforms for innovation.
To make my point I’m going to use communication services as an example. It is more than a little ironic that communications is one of the most controversial topics I deal with today. There are zealots on both sides of the topic. On the one side are those who believe the telecommunications industry will dominate and somehow return to the days when voice/SMS revenues were growing and on the other side are those who believe the industry should stop providing communication services altogether and leave it up to the Skypes, Vibers, Whatsapp, Tango, and Fring’s etc of the world. The silent majority believe that the answer lies somewhere in between.
The difference between the Alcatel-Lucent story and most on Telco APIs is that instead of just writing about it – we continue to do something about it. We are releasing the most detailed set of network APIs on the market today for communication services. The list includes LTE HD audio and video calling and conferencing, IP-based messaging, interactive voice and fine grain call control. Yes – similar capabilities exist today in OTT services and enterprise IP-PBXs – but now these services will leverage the network to deliver a level of quality that doesn’t exist today.
With our new APIs, the developers who embed communications as a feature in their application and who have had to rely on best effort networks will now be able to build new services with a new level of functionality and quality which translates into more satisfied customers. In fact, our partners who are beta testing our APIs have commented that they haven’t seen the depth of functionality packaged into such easy to use APIs before. This is very encouraging feedback.
Ultimately success in this area will be based on our industry’s ability to collaborate and maintain open mindedness about new business models. In my view this is without question a bigger hurdle than technology, but we see evidence every day of this change taking place throughout the industry and I want to encourage that change.
Aside from the doubt and skepticism I encounter, I get two frequent questions from customers and analysts: 1) “Why now?” and 2) “How do I start?”.
Here are the short versions of my answers:
Why now? LTE is driving the business case for migration to All-IP Communication Networks. Ensuring you have an API strategy to open new opportunities is critical to the decision making process. The industry isn’t the early adopter of APIs, but rather the fast follower. Examples of what is possible exist both in terms of applications consumers’ desire and with companies like Twilio and Voxeo who are leading the way with developers wanting to use communications to build a better service. Innovation programs are becoming a priority in our industry – providing a venue for exploring tomorrow’s new business models. Our goal is to help our customers explore what is next.
So how do we start? Avoid the skeptics and find those who believe. Provide the tools and freedom to innovate. APIs lower the cost to innovate – so empower those who believe in trying something new. Reach out and engage your small to large enterprise customers; spend time making their business better. The cost to experiment is minimal – so experiment with your current customers. Last, engage those who are already engaging developers. We have made the technology easy to use – so engage the Twilios, Voxeos, and Microsofts of the world on ways to collaborate and make each other’s businesses more valuable. It’s not always about competing – it’s sometimes about leveraging what already exists and bringing capabilities that can make what exists better.
I’ll wrap up with a challenge: if the telecommunication industry wants to transform, to move beyond a utility, being a part of re-thinking how the world is communicating is a great place to start. It’s the heritage of the industry and at present the industry isn’t very engaged in the discussion of what is possible in the future. It’s time we jump into the discussion. APIs are not the end all and be all but they are an excellent means to ignite the conversation that will illuminate our path forward.