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Network APIs provide fast route to 5G application success • The Register

Network APIs provide fast route to 5G application success • The Register

Sponsored Feature The traditional role of the telco has been to give customers voice and data connectivity options without offering too much information about what was going on under the network hood.

But the advent of software-based networking standards like 5G has opened up the wealth of new capabilities which are now embedded within telecommunications infrastructure. And these can be harnessed both by telcos looking to further monetise the products and services they offer, and software developers keen to add value and improved user experience to their own applications by getting access to underlying network functions via APIs and software tools.

Mikko Jarva, head of portfolio and architecture at Nokia CNS, believes that as telcos are moving ahead to introduce new services which use these capabilities, they have recognised that opening up their 5G networks to third party application developers presents an additional channel to market.

“These are application developers with expertise in various industry vertical markets and network openness is key to enabling them to introduce a new generation of use-cases and capabilities to these industries,” he stated. “As these CSPs and application developers come together into this ecosystem based upon network openness, there will be joint dependency between the networks and the applications with each requiring high levels of performance, availability and reliability from the other. The commercial relationships between and among them will likely be based upon revenue share arrangements.”

Developer controlled approach to connectivity

The scale of the potential commercial opportunity is apparent to both parties. The challenge is to establish the framework and processes which will help both sides work better alongside each together in pursuit of a similar, but subtly different, aim.

While that’s easier said than done, it starts with accepting that compelling industrial use-cases, for example, are likely to demand an approach to connectivity which is more developer-controlled.

Third-party IT developers are typically not savvy to the intricacies of telecoms networks though, so they need a layer of facility to access and incorporate network capabilities into their applications. That means APIs must be easy to use and implement before developers can build network capabilities into their applications. This is where Nokia’s Network as Code platform and developer portal is positioned within the 5G monetisation paradigm.

Introduced in December 2023, Nokia’s Network as Code platform is designed to enable application developers, CSPs and other 5G ecosystem partners to accelerate the work of producing software applications for emergent enterprise, industrial, and consumer use-cases. At the same time, it can help energise a monetisation model for 5G network assets that extends beyond the basic connectivity to which customers have traditionally had access.

The platform offers developers open APIs, Software Development Kits and code development support to access what Nokia calls ‘deep network functionality’ alongside data that enables new applications and services supported by 5G and other connectivity environments. There’s also a ‘sandbox’ to create software code for use-case simulation and testing, plus ‘snippets’ (small blocks of re-usable source code) that can be added to applications, along with developer analytics to track usage.

“Nokia’s Network as Code is based on standards from industry initiatives such as the GSM Association Open Gateway – a framework of APIs that provides universal access to operator networks for developers – and the Linux Foundation CAMARA project, which similarly aims to expose telco network capabilities through APIs,” states Jarva. “It’s a shared aim of such initiatives to produce application APIs that can be commonly deployed across different telco networks without necessary modification.”

Announced in February 2023, the GSMA Open Gateway is supported by 35 companies, including 21 of the world’s biggest mobile network operators. More APIs are due for release in 2024.

Support of 5G features is critical

To meet the challenges that application developers inevitably face in building and distributing applications and services for new, software defined 5G networks, providing a portal where multidisciplinary expertise can intersect is also key, Jarva states: “IT professionals understand how to buy into standard enterprise cloud services. Although Network as Code has some broad similarities with the cloud-hosted concept, there are significant differences. Being invited to leverage the inner workings of a telco’s network is a novel experience for them – they don’t know what they can take advantage of – so as telecoms specialists we’re there to help them along their learning curve, and translate processes from ‘telecom-ese’ to ‘programmer-ese’.”

Most importantly, perhaps, developers need to know that their outputs can bring assured ROI by being easily and widely deployable across different telcos’ networks via single points of access, and that their applications/services APIs will not have to be reconfigured, causing prohibitive costs and deployment lags.

Coding for 5G deployment does demand that developers from more conventional backgrounds acquire new skills. For example, integration network features are core to Industry 4.0 application software, so that developers can couple the specific properties of a 5G network, like dynamically variable Quality of Service and device location reporting, to the needs of specific use-cases.

This constitutes another step change in the relationship between CSP and customers – traditionally, customers have consumed connectivity services on a best-efforts SLA model. Generally speaking they haven’t been offered dynamic bandwidth allocation to a given application. Such features are usually possible only by special arrangement with their CSP, made in advance.

“One sought-after attribute an API-open telco network could offer is Quality on Demand – QoD. Loosely defined, that’s the ability for the application to ‘ask’ the network for a dynamic upgrade or downgrade in service quality – think available bandwidth – instantaneously, as required by the application,” states Jarva. “We envisage multiple use-cases, such as in-flight drones and autonomous vehicles, where dynamic QoD would prove super-useful in order to adjust to changing operating experiences.”

“Used in combination with other network features, like device status and device location, would result in very powerful solutions – helping coders to see potential combinations is one of the aims of the Network as Code developer portal.”

Using Network as Code, developers can leverage network access to control directly how the network supports applications by using the processing power of the cloud and delivering performance quality tailored to user needs. Their applications and services can run across distributed networks and make use of specific properties of the network to meet varying user experience expectations.

CSPs share the value

Ecosystems are commonly founded on shared values and shared value. While application developers are benefiting, CSPs also need a return on their substantial investments in telecommunications infrastructure and connectivity. But a profit share-based usage model is needed for this, which again is often a shift from the traditional billing models which some telcos have relied on with previous mobile communications networks (3G, 4G), which are essentially calculated on a usage model.

“CSPs need a way of providing developers with the common set of APIs without at the same time having the value of those APIs stripped away from them by a third-party aggregator,” states Jarva. “The Network as Code platform and developer portal accelerate the conceptualisation and production of software applications for new enterprise, industrial and consumer use-cases, and monetising 5G/4G network assets beyond basic connectivity.”

So simply put, Network as Code is Nokia’s concept to enable applications to dynamically change the network to optimise performance and user experience.

“It shifts emphasis from the traditional network infrastructure point-of-view, and instead lets us consider the digital ecosystem from the perspective of the applications developer looking for ways to enable 5G capabilities to make applications perform better,” states Jarva. For instance, apps developers that participate in service chains can bundle specialised network capabilities into their code from libraries.

It’s four years since Forbes first flagged the ‘API economy’ as one of its next big things. Now it seems that economy is at last getting the currency injection it needs – courtesy of 5G.

Sponsored by Nokia.

The article was first published here

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