Exclusives : Guest Post: Telecoms Needs to Embrace APIs to be 6G-Ready

Guest Post: Telecoms Needs to Embrace APIs to be 6G-Ready

Kenneth Hardat, Carrier Strategy Lead, BICS.

‘Digital transformation,’ a phrase that’s been around since the start of this century, has become a bit of a stale buzzword. Most sectors have digitised to some extent – use of the internet, software, and the cloud is common practice. Job done, right?

Digital transformation has become unhelpful as a concept because it doesn’t capture just how much of a sliding scale it is. It’s also never-ending. Companies will likely be ‘digitally transforming’ from now until the end of time, we just might start calling it something else at some point down the line.

The telecoms industry, perhaps more than any, is an industry that needs to digitally transform heavily in the next ten years. Of course, the industry that delivers the internet is not analogue by any means. But currently, it’s stuck between true digitalisation and still being a ‘pipe’ – a utility that delivers connectivity like you would water or electricity.

But this next phase of transformation will fundamentally change how telecoms operates as an industry, shifting business and operating models and making it a more accessible and pluggable part of the digital economy.

The softwarisation of telecoms

But why is this transformation needed? If we look at 5G, it’s the first mobile generation to really stutter and in many eyes, fail to deliver. Operators have struggled to monetise it more than any previous generation. That’s got nothing to do with the tech itself and everything to do with how it is (or isn’t) being used. Part of this is that 5G (and likely any subsequent generations) opens far more doors for businesses than it does for consumers.

So, this shift is not about changing what telecom operators deliver, but how. Telcos need to transform their existing infrastructure and become more digitised and software-based. It’s about making traditional and brand-new telecom-based services more accessible and easier to integrate. That means making communication services in all their shapes and sizes, whether it’s on-demand connectivity, user authentication or location-based services, more software- and cloud-friendly

The way to do this? For telecoms to embrace API-based services (Application Programming Interface). Compared to the more expensive, complex and fairly manual integration of telecom services, APIs can be integrated by enterprises or application developers with relative ease. We’re talking about something akin to an ‘app store’ for telecoms services, which are scalable and can be effortlessly integrated into the software environment of any company by copying over ready-to-go code.

Setting the standards

That sounds great, but let’s make no mistake – we’re not there yet. Telecoms has been talking about APIs for a long time but it has never truly materialised en masse. However many believe that the time is now.

Achieving this level of transformation at such a scale requires a streamlined approach and a joint commitment between telcos. Thankfully, these are exactly the types of initiatives that are in full flight today. Not only is 3GPP natively defining APIs as part of the 5G system, but global associations like the TM Forum are working to standardise open APIs to make them consistent across telcos and suppliers.

Similarly, initiatives like the Open Gateway under the GSMA and CAMARA under the Linux Foundation are making significant strides in the standardisation of commercial APIs and products. These organisations are working together to build uniform protocols and interfaces that will allow smoother integration across the industry and companies looking to implement these new API-based services.

This work is crucial. The whole point of having an API-driven telecoms industry is to offer a vast array of services that are easier to deploy, scalable, and highly flexible – but if APIs are built and integrated inconsistently, this simply won’t work. We can look at the internet as an example here. TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is the communication protocol used to connect devices on the internet, standardising how data should be packetised, transmitted and received – it’s the building block of the internet as we know it today.

Looking to the future

As we look ahead, operator appetite for 6G is currently mixed. This is largely down to two factors: one, that 5G has not been the profit driver that many hoped it would, and two, the thought of needing to ‘rip and replace’ network hardware—both push telecoms towards a digital and software-driven future.

Obviously, exactly what 6G looks like is yet to be determined, but the boundaries between physical and digital will continue to blur. Even the process of upgrading to 6G will likely be largely software, maintaining 5G hardware like radios.

APIs will be crucial in this landscape where different technologies and services merge and blend more than ever. In this environment, AI will reach new levels, working with the 6G system and API-driven services to augment and enrich reality. We are looking at a future where existing capabilities will be significantly enhanced by sensing technologies and AI.

Augmented reality and virtual reality will likely be major consumers of the 6G network, relying on APIs to deliver the on-demand connectivity required. We’ll also see more and more machines consuming from the network as the IoT continues to expand. Moving forward this will depend heavily on software-based onboarding facilitated by APIs.

In this environment we’re moving towards, which could be upon us as early as 2030, Telecom operators will be a far cry from the ‘utility pipes’ that they once were. It might sound like more of a ‘pipe dream’ but it’s where we’re going. International mobile roaming and the internet both would have seemed far-fetched at one point in time, but with consistent standards and collaboration, here we are.

By embracing further digital transformation telcos can enhance current operations, but more importantly, lay the groundwork for a more interconnected and digitised world. As we look to 6G and beyond, APIs will be more critical than ever – allowing operators and companies to innovate and enable new use cases that could redefine how we interact with technology and the digital world.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay




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