The Open Network: Why Setting Developers Loose on Network-Hosted Resources Is Great

B. Washburn
B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • App developers are business rainmakers; big carriers are consolidating and expanding network-side APIs to recruit them.
  • Upcoming APIs such as network-layer control and call control (including collaboration) will raise the recruitment drive ante.

It’s finally happening: Carriers have long supported open networks, but they are now truly ‘opening’ these networks wide for customers to incorporate with their software.  This is not new to M2M players, or for customers that use carrier e-bonding.  Carriers give M2M developers access to software hooks that let them push data around via SMS, MMS, and even WAP; operators also can provide network-side location-based services.  E-bonding is at the other end of the scale, providing complex, automated connectivity to a carrier’s management interfaces.

Two major industry transformations are now ushering in a fundamental change in the relationships between carriers and software developers.  The first is the well-established applications explosion around smartphones (and now tablets), which continues to show off the power of network-attached mobile computing.  The second shift is that ‘the cloud’ blended the worlds of enterprise computing and network-based services.  Amazon Web Services, OpenStack, and VMware (with vCloud) each have software development kits (SDKs) that tie developed software with calls into the network that tap hosted services.

Both of these changes promote the role of developers as business rainmakers; thus, attracting them is vital.  Therefore, carriers have pushed to incorporate software hooks to their services and make them as accessible as possible.  That means compatibility with Java, .NET, and PHP software developer kits (SDKs) that plug into popular integrated development environments (IDEs) such as the Eclipse Foundation’s Eclipse and Microsoft Visual Studio; clear documentation for the applications programming interfaces (APIs); and tutorials and code samples.  Just as important is making content and support freely accessible, because a great new app could come out of the offices of a multi-million dollar ISV… or from a developer at home who spares some time to fiddle with a particular business problem.

Getting developers excited about incorporating network-side services is what programs such as the AT&T Developer Program and Verizon Developer Community are all about.  Facilities such as AT&T Foundry sites in Plano, TX; Palo Alto, CA; and Tel Aviv, Israel; Verizon Innovation Centers in San Francisco, CA and Waltham, MA; and Sprint’s M2M Collaboration Center in Burlingame, CA intend to help developers test and on-board with carriers’ networks and services.  This developer innovation is mostly focused around mobile devices today, but it is also extending into adjacent areas such as identity authorization and handling turnkey e-commerce/point-of-sale transactions.

The shift in opening up to software control also eventually leads back to wireline.  In April, Verizon announced that it was testing out OpenFlow with vendor partners, trialing the open, standardized control interface for in-network switches and routers.  About a half-dozen other carriers also participate in OpenFlow’s development, which could make rapid, automated bandwidth-on-demand feasible across multiple vendors’ network gear.  Network control and call routing control, including collaboration, are just two more groups of functions that can make their way into carriers’ upcoming API upgrades.  Carriers can shift from open networks with closed interfaces, to open entities that support openly available development of business software applications, which directly tap into their network-based resources.

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