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Developing network APIs

How making network APIs available to developers worldwide will power innovation and accelerate industry growth

Developing Network APIs

Peter Arbitter, SVP Magenta API Capability Exposure at Deutsche Telekom

The first SMS was sent in 1992, but SMS application programming interfaces (APIs) only started to be widely adopted in the 2010s, unlocking crucial functions like two-factor authentication and public safety notifications. However, enterprises can’t wait another 25 years for this to happen. Now, industries sit on the cusp of an entirely new generation of connectivity, with the capabilities of 5G waiting to be unlocked by developers. With direct access to 5G network capabilities through expanding APIs, developers can reach the immediate benefit of connectivity for a digitalized future.

An API is a building block – a connection between two software or application interfaces. Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) is a cloud-based model that allows developers to embed real-time communications capabilities, like voice, video and messaging, into a company’s business applications, workflows and systems. It does this by utilizing communications APIs.

Building on the CPaaS model, network APIs allow new and existing sectors to utilize the unique abilities of communications networks, such as quality on demand and network slicing. According to communications service provider Deutsche Telekom:
"Developers knead their software so that it fits like a plug into the API socket. Then they can build, test and deliver helpful applications for our network. For example, data packets that need to be transmitted particularly quickly, for car manufacturers to develop self-parking cars.”

The digitalization of society includes everything from utilities and transport to manufacturing and learning. This will require not only reliable connectivity, but differentiated connectivity in two ways.

Firstly, in performance, where some apps require low latency, and some rely on high bandwidth.

The second is in who should pay for that connectivity, whether it’s employers, consumers, application service providers, governments and so on.

Developers will need network APIs to build apps that capitalize on powerful networks, segmenting networks to get the most out of them for different services and users. Selecting the appropriate performance level for an app will be up to the app developer based on the service provider’s offering.

Developers will be able to select from a diverse range of mobile network capabilities for different needs through a global platform. APIs will facilitate this access.

Network APIs animation

Opening up telco

Web technologies are democratized. This means two things. Firstly, they’re very easy to learn about and use. Secondly, when you use web technologies, you have global access instantly and your customer base can be anywhere. This is why innovation has come so rapidly to the web, and also why the telecom industry hasn’t benefitted from the same pace of innovation. 

Telecom technologies are complex and don’t offer global access. Let’s say you have a brilliant idea that requires an asset or functionality from a 5G network. Firstly, you’ll have a hard time finding developers who are experienced with 5G networks. Then, you’ll have the uphill struggle of integrating your solution with hundreds of service providers worldwide, both technically and commercially. This would need to happen one by one. 

Thankfully, things are changing.

“When you put these new network capabilities into the hands of developers, some will look at this and see a startup they can build or a new product for their customers. We’ll see great innovation. That's the power of network APIs.“

– Richard Sueselbeck, Head of Developer Experience & Developer Relations at Vonage

Richard Sueselbeck speaks about network APIs

Giving developers first access to 5G

Vonage has democratized communications services, making it easy for developers to pick up communication APIs in a plug-and-play environment. Without any need to learn how to use telecom technology or negotiate communications access in a heavily segmented market, users have immediate, simple and international access.

Now Vonage, a part of Ericsson, is building on its CPaaS leadership and using 5G technologies to enable millions of developers to play around with potential new capabilities, find new uses, build apps, and drive progress. With its cloud-native architecture and API-first mindset, 5G is perfect for this. 

Network APIs include quality on demand, which enables application developers to prioritize their app traffic over the mobile network or provide business-critical event notifications in an enterprise logistics process, such as track-and-trace. Network APIs have security at their core; for example, SIM Swap will check that a SIM has not been swapped in a device over a certain number of days, prompting additional authentication measures if it has. There is far more to discover and unlock, but to do that, developers need network access.

Secondary use cases

Working with Ericsson 

Today, Ericsson is live with 5G in more than 60 countries, powering more than 150 commercial live networks across five continents. This means working with Ericsson offers developers infrastructure, hardware and software capabilities they haven't previously been able to access. Building out network APIs that are powered by the Ericsson network and supported by service provider infrastructure will give developers an acute head start with access to a variety of different capabilities that will target different types of audiences. 

Numerous service providers have made attempts to expose new APIs from their networks, but commercial success hasn’t come easily. The primary reason is a lack of cross-service-provider API aggregation. Developers need one technical integration, one commercial agreement, and one support agreement. This not only simplifies the process, but also makes it much more economically viable for them.

With eyes firmly set on the future and applications yet to even be dreamed of, the combination of existing CPaaS functions with new 5G network API technologies hosted on an accessible platform opens up a whole new scope of opportunity. 

simplified flow with aggregation

What’s already possible? 

Software company Carbyne utilizes Vonage communication APIs to deliver critical caller information to emergency call agents, including device-based location and even enabling video calling and messaging directly with a responder. This system has reduced the number of first responders needing to be dispatched and is saving thousands of lives each year.

Now, with network APIs, location-based services can allow location identification using cellular network positioning. Device On/Off can check the status of a mobile phone and quickly get an indication of someone’s status by detecting if they still have access to their device. In the future, network API geofencing could even quickly link those in distress with specific emergency services, perhaps when they are near a dangerous body of water or nature park linked to specific wardens and responders. 

Reenergizing the ecosystem

At the center of this newly energized ecosystem are developers, who can take advantage of the investment and changes in the telecom industry happening right now. Developers will not only innovate and create new use cases with new network APIs, but also offer valuable feedback. Ericsson has unique 5G competence and R&D bases around the world, and Vonage boasts a developer community of over one million, so both can then take this feedback to encourage the industry to expose even more APIs. In this way, developer insights can be converted into 3GPP standards and exposable features in radio and core networks.

“A researcher needs to be able to reach a developer – distances in the ecosystem must be much shorter with continuous feedback loops.“

-Jan Höller, Research Fellow at Ericsson 

Jan Höller speaks about network APIs

Developers have always been crucial to what are now considered foundational telecom functions. It is believed that the idea of an SMS one-time password emerged during a hackathon. This idea was responsible for the viral growth of SMS APIs in the early days. It just takes one good idea and a thriving ecosystem.

This synergy between developers and networks gives developers direct control over the future of network APIs. This fosters further advancement, attracting an even larger developer community. Furthermore, the more innovation we see in the telco space, the more demand there will be for high-performing networks – which means even more capabilities to build on.

Peter Arbitter, SVP Magenta API Capability Exposure at Deutsche Telekom

Democratizing technology

The network API business is still in its early stages, but as evidenced by the ongoing innovation in communications APIs, as well as the unexplored opportunity 5G offers, the potential is truly limitless.

Börje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson, has a vision of the wider implications of global network API access:

"Making network APIs globally available will allow innovators and entrepreneurs to develop new applications wherever they are on the planet, as long as they have access to the digital infrastructure. This can democratize the creation of new companies and make it less centered on established technology hubs like the American west coast."

This kind of disruption has happened before – the India Stack is the world’s largest open API, a digital infrastructure framework that enables Indian citizens to digitally access services such as identification, electronic payments and document verification. The India Stack has completely transformed the lives of millions of Indians, and next, it’s going global. 

With network APIs capable of giving developers a whole new generation of functionalities built on 5G, just imagine what new applications are waiting to be developed and explored, changing life as we know it.

What will it mean for our digital futures when all developers worldwide have direct access to advanced network capabilities through network APIs?

Explore our network API journey here.

Dive into the Vonage Developer Hub to learn, test and develop.


Richard Sueselbeck

Head of Developer Experience & Developer Relations at Vonage

Christer Boberg

Head of GNP Technology and Strategy at Ericsson

George Kakhadze

Head of Portfolio Management & Business at Ericsson

With special thanks to:

Jo Ann TizannoTaimur LodhiJan Holler