November 7th, 2013

The Software-Defined Telco

Software Defined TelcoBack in 2011, Marc Andreessen famously stated that “software is eating the world” and predicted that – over the subsequent decade – almost every major industry would be disrupted and transformed by software and the innovations of Silicon Valley. Just over two years later, it’s pretty clear he was right on the money. In order to remain relevant, many industrial behemoths need to transform themselves and they are looking at the software revolution as a way to enable a fresh wave of innovation and development.

This revolution has never been more important to the telco world, where it must start at the very core of the organization. Every layer – from network, to infrastructure, to application – should be considered a service enabler, be defined in software and be driven by APIs. A new wave of thought leadership and investment around “network functions virtualization” (NFV) is acting as a catalyst for this transformation and telcos can finally start to eschew the limitations of legacy networks and allow operators to more easily keep pace with Silicon Valley.

Finally then, APIs and API platforms can regain their intended utility in the telecommunications sector, emerging from a meandering journey through failed open developer ecosystems and misguided monetization strategies. APIs are meant to be at the very core of product development, they are supposed to be the foundation of a product or service and not tacked on the side afterwards. APIs enable an architectural paradigm that is essential to the software-defined network and they provide a scalable, documented and secure way of integrating systems and clients.

Layer 7 will be presenting a vision for the future of APIs in the software-defined telco at the Telecom APIs event in London (Nov 11 – 13) and the Telecom Application Developer Summit in Bangkok (Nov 21 – 22).

April 10th, 2013

It’s All Over-the-Top with Amdocs

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Category Mobile Access, Telco
 

Layer 7 and AmdocsOver-the-top (OTT) applications have long been seen as a threat to telco service providers, who are obliged to deliver on insatiable bandwidth demands without realizing any commercial benefit from either the consumer/enterprise or the third-party app. This needn’t be the case and the limited participation from service providers in recent years really stems from a shortsighted view of partnerships.

Arguing about “who owns the customer” or that “our customers expect a certain level of service” is so far behind the curve it’s laughable and service providers simply can’t derail innovation by imposing expensive and exhausting procedures. But to be clear, this is a competitive market and service providers will lose more ground unless a contemporary model for collaboration is adopted.

The Amdocs OTT Monetization Solution allows service providers to leverage network assets to create value for OTT providers and monetize service collaborations. Layer 7’s API Management Suite of products defines a new methodology for telco APIs, bringing interface, identity and developer management together in a cohesive platform that can serve mobile, enterprise and internal applications equally. Layer 7 and Amdocs will be working together to deliver a best-of-breed solution, addressing the full lifecycle of telco API needs.

This new approach will yield great results. We have already seen Spotify implement a flat-rate service with T-Mobile Germany. Also, network-enhanced enterprise tools (e.g. AT&T Business Services) are becoming commonplace as LTE networks expand. APIs are the fabric that ensures these collaborations are possible and can be brought to market quickly and efficiently.

April 1st, 2013

Apigee Announced an API Exchange Friday – Somewhere a UN Agency Shed a Tear

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Apigee API ExchangeA decade ago, during the first wave of Internet innovation, countless business plans began with the breathless promise of becoming the UN of this or that information exchange. ECommerce and communications would be transformed through the mediation of a neutral “man in the middle”. Here’s what happened: the communitarian exchanges failed; businesses that went direct to consumers succeeded; the hope for communal mediation was left to overreaching consortia grasping after fading relevance.

Why did  the “disintermediated” direct-to-buyer model win? Simple: it was simplicity. The problem with multilateral exchanges is complexity. They require members to buy in completely and never hedge with alternative paths to consumers; they require the exchanges to always be subservient to the members; and they require 100% participation and 100% consensus. That’s why they keep failing despite the best efforts of organizations like GSMA, the UN, OASIS and others. They require a rigid web of multilateral agreements, subjugation of individual corporate needs to ephemeral collective goals and universality. Just because the broker is a for-profit entity like Apigee doesn’t change anything so long as success or failure depends on universal cooperation and comity. To repeat an oft-used metaphor: putting lipstick on failed efforts like WAC and OneAPI won’t make them any more attractive. They will never have the agility and directness of an over-the-top direct-to-buyer/consumer/developer service. That’s why giant operators keep getting beat by three-person Y Combinator start-ups.

Does this mean aggregation is dead? Of course not! Aggregation models can work but only if the “broker” has the independence and freedom to go off and negotiate unilateral agreements as needed. The aggregator must have the freedom to be run like a self-interested business where the wishes and hopes of the underlying providers don’t factor in. As evidence look at the growing disparity between Netflix and Hulu. The latter emerged as a deliberately-crippled response to the growing power of Netflix. However, the need to accommodate multilateral interests has made it irrelevant. ISIS is fairing no better in the payments arena.

For operators, there is a similar lesson. Be the broker or sell to the broker. Each model has clear economics and places success or failure in the hands of the operator. If an operator wants to offer non-geo-specific services to buyers, it should partner with over-the-top providers or get the capacity from other operators one-to-one. If an operator would rather wholesale its services, be promiscuous and enable every broker/aggregator to consume its services, fine. Then let them be your buyers. The beauty of both models is that they are non-exclusive and don’t require consensus, universality or other impracticalities.

I give Apigee credit, the API Exchange is an improvement over the failed WAC. However the problem was never just technology. Some business models just don’t work in practice.

March 6th, 2013

New Layer 7 eBook: 5 Ways Every Telco Can Benefit from APIs

Telco eBookThe recent Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona reminded us about the growing importance of APIs to the telecommunications sector. Telco was actually one of the first sectors to show an interest in APIs but most carriers have still not taken full advantage of the opportunities presented by APIs and some have got their fingers burned trying to court the long tail of third-party app developers.

Still, with Web and mobile technologies creating competition from outside the telco sector, carriers need ways to quickly adapt to technological change – and APIs provide the perfect solution. APIs allow telcos to open up their services for efficient repurposing by internal developers and partner organizations, creating opportunities for being quick to market with innovative new offerings.

Layer 7’s latest eBook 5 Ways Every Telco Can Benefit from APIs provides an overview of how carriers can realize these opportunities. If you visited the Layer 7 booth at MWC, you might have picked up the print version of this handsome document. If not, don’t hesitate to download the electronic version.

February 22nd, 2013

The Internet of (Interesting) Things

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IoT at MWCRight now, a lot of companies are gearing up for Mobile World Congress – and Layer 7 is no exception. I’m attending MWC and I’ll be interested to see how the Internet of Things (IoT) and M2M play out at the conference. IoT has been getting a lot of attention recently, so – in preparation for MWC – let’s take a look at some of the most interesting things that have been said and done in the last couple of months.

I’m particularly excited about a very ambitious EU-funded project to map an IoT reference architecture. Whether it will really become the reference architecture or simply a collection of best practices is subject to debate but I think the simple fact of trying to pull together all the different knowledge domains into one set of documents is bound to be interesting.

Forbes recently published an article by Alex Brisbourne called The Internet of Things Isn’t as New as It Seems. The article offers some really fascinating insights into the renewal rates for built-in 3G services in iPads and OnStar. Reflecting upon my own positive experiences with a 3G Kindle, I have to agree with Alex that, for connected devices to really reach their potential, connectivity must be simply built-in without requiring a separate subscription.

Another indication of this trend is the fact that car manufacturers are apparently switching from built-in mobile connectivity (requiring the owner to carry a subscription) to tethering off the driver’s existing smart phone. This highlights the challenges telco providers are facing – as summarized in a recent blog post on telco2.net.

Alex Bassi has provided another look at the way IoT is affecting business models, making the point that technology is enabling us to use things without having to own them. In my humble opinion, we’ll see this service-based model, which we normally associate with SaaS and the cloud, extending more and more into the domain of physical “smart” things. We can already see this usage pattern emerging in the automotive sector: car sharing a la Zipcar; limo service from Uber; electric car solutions from Better Place. FastCompany calls this the new “self-service” economy in an article that explores these issues in depth.

To get a good overview of the Internet of Things, I suggest heading over to ZDnet, which regularly posts articles on IoT and M2M. Postscapes, meanwhile, is completely dedicated to tracking IoT – I particularly like this site’s (currently incomplete) directory of companies in the space. There’s also a good collection of relevant essays gathered together on Bundlr.

Finally, here are a couple of links for the technically inclined. First here’s a presentation on the impressive set of open source building blocks developed as part of the m2m.eclipse.org project. Second is a piece that touches upon some technical aspects of the semantic Web that have a good deal of relevance to IoT. This is an area I’m personally very interested in and it might be a good topic to explore in a future post.

In any case, I expect to have plenty of interesting things to report on after Mobile World Congress. If you’re attending the show, be sure to stop by the Layer 7 booth for a chat. We’ll be at booth  #8.1A47 in the App Planet zone.