Using TM Forum Open APIs to accelerate business: What have we learnt?

Historically, systems integration is an expensive process for telecommunications and service providers (telcos). By using non-standard interfaces, businesses condemn themselves to reinvent and reintegrate with every new innovation they take onboard. It’s a laborious process, requiring definition, design, agreement, and construction on both sides.

In the enterprise space, telcos are already supplying more than just communications – they’re typically branching out with Cloud solutions, Internet of Things (IoT) offerings, and on-site managed services. To do so, they are relying on buying products and services from multiple other wholesale providers, which requires them to continuously integrate further, to connect to each providers individual API. This is an immense amount of work. So much so, integrations often only happens when the volume is high enough to warrant the effort – leaving the Telco with a largely manual business still.

Enter Industry Open APIs. These standard APIs provide telcos with a well-defined standards based interface that is re-usable, future proofs IT investment and can be used to plug into a world of other opportunities and markets. Open APIs can, therefore, offer a wide range of benefits to telcos, including:

  • simplicity and ease of connection
  • a greater choice with which partners they take up new business,
  • how rapidly they are initiate these partnerships and access new services

This choice is in turn enabling the value of new, innovative players to be captured and added to the portfolio; partners who extend network reach as well as avoiding vendor lock-ins that often come with bespoke integrations.

These benefits are driving global networks to start to embrace Open APIs for the innovation they enable. As a result, more telcos are requesting Open API because of this greater choice, enabling them to differentiate their portfolio, and position as a more available and desirable service provider.

Despite this, the Australian domestic take up of TMF APIs in the wholesale B2B use case has been slow. With a small number of wholesalers dominating the market, and a DIY attitude to building customized solutions, there hasn’t been the drive to adopt alternatives. So, what will integration expectations be in the near future, and is there still benefit for individual telcos to start utilizing Open APIs if the local market is holding back?

5 observations from using TM Forum Open APIs

The TM Forum has defined process architecture information, data architectures and application architectures, to support telco businesses for over 30 years. The Open APIs program has added a standardized way for telcos to integrate, with a suite of approximately 60 different APIs. At DGIT, we have implemented 23 of these APIs which are relevant to the functionality of our software.

DGIT Systems has been active with the API program since 2014 and used the TM Forum Open API’s across three use cases:

Over the last 6 years (and multiple projects utilizing TM Forum Open APIs) we’ve been exposed to the benefits, limitations and possibilities that they offer. Based on our own experience, we’d like to share five observations around TM Forum Open APIs and what they could mean for telcos using or looking to use them.

1: A modern network can manage itself

There have been a range of industry trends in telco networking; networks have been moving into the cloud and onto generic computation platforms. Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) offer the advantages of being elastic, geographically agnostic and working on generic hardware. All these great attributes require the network to be significantly more intelligent than the networks of the past.

Our observation is that the main defining characteristic of a modern network is that it manages its own resource assignments – for example, the allocation of IP addresses and VLAN numbers. Once a network can manage such things itself, standardized integration with networks becomes more viable, as the intricacies of different network types don’t need to be directly managed by the IT systems. The TM forum NaaS suite of APIs provides a standardized way to integrate with new networks and allows telcos who adopt this architecture to break the “vertical stovepipe” integration that often exists within telco network and IT silos. Networks can then become reusable building blocks within the telco architecture and each network can plug in as a service using the very same APIs as other networks (Network As A Service).

2: Larger wholesalers have been slow adopters

Our observation in the market for intercarrier integration is that some large wholesalers have been sticking with (or even inventing) bespoke APIs – assuming their market power will force people to commit to a bespoke integration. It is taking some time to get to a critical mass of buyers wanting to plug in with standard APIs to push past this mindset, especially in smaller markets. In 2019, the TM Forum industry catalyst project proved that a fully plug-and-play outcome was possible. The potential in wholesale B2B or intercarrier is huge as shown in an award winning 2019 TM Forum project DGIT participated in with Oracle, Sigma Systems, Vodafone and Orange.

3: Developers and software vendors have differing needs

The needs of developers who might be integrating using the TM forum open APIs for the first time are at times seen as being at odds with the needs of software product vendors who are using the very same APIs. Developers who are using the API’s for a handful of functions prefer the APIs to be as simple as possible, and therefore to have less functionality. Meanwhile, the product vendors – particularly those that drive product functionality through a catalog and support dynamic user interfaces – require a broader range of functions. This has been tackled by the TM forum with new versions exhibiting better API structure so that in get-started use cases, functions that are not used can be ignored or templated.

For example: The TM forum open APIs are designed to carry dynamic payloads, with several guides and specifications to deal with this. However, those who don’t need to deal with dynamic payloads (i.e. those with simple get-started use cases who are integrating for a single version of a single product) can still hardcode the payload and treat some of the API specification as a ‘template’.

4: MEF vs TMF – which specification to choose?

Back in 2017, DGIT Systems worked with the MEF Forum and the TM Forum to prove the TM Forum APIs for MEF Carrier Ethernet services and the MEF Sonata API specification was born based on TM Forum.

There have been divided opinions amongst MEF members on whether the service payloads should be hard coded to the API specifications, or whether they should be dynamic and therefore driven by a catalog. One of the worthy causes of the MEF is to standardize the product and service definitions in global wholesale telecommunications. Carrier Ethernet has been highly successful, and the MEF SD WAN specification looks very promising.

Standardizing the product and service definitions then raises the question as to whether the need for dynamic payloads can be avoided. Experience gained with the service providers who use DGIT Telflow is that these standard service definitions account for around 30% of the product that CSPs buy and sell. Data center products, VoIP and layer three VPN’s are all product types where MEF standardization has yet to reach, and then there is the desires of product management who are often looking for non-price differentiation. These discussions to hard code or not to hard code are really in the noise, as the MEF and the TM Forum are closely aligned on API specification.

5. Adoption is quickly increasing

More than 50% of the RFP’s that DGIT responds to specify TM forum open APIs and this number has been growing steadily over the years. While most major Telco’s have committed, the long-life cycles of some of these telco systems make actual adoption progressive. This has been creeping up on us over the past five years, with a very steady adoption increase.

With TM Forum Open APIs, the outcomes speak for themself

Integration has been a slow an expensive process for telcos in the past. In our experience, we believe Open APIs can reduce time and money spent amalgamating systems and allow data and application architects to “plug and play” their systems with ease.

It’s clear telcos should be utilizing the benefits Open APIs offer more and, going forward, should be proactively building to the dependent value and opportunities they enable. With the right network capabilities and the willingness to adopt Open APIs, you can find a use for these valuable assets that suits your needs.

A movement is already underway whereby a new vendor’s offering is not measured by an industry promotional report, but by interoperability through their adherence to Open APIs.

At DGIT Systems, we’ve learnt a lot in our seven years using the TM Forum Open APIs, and won a number of key awards for the way we have utilised the TM Forum APIs. Connect with us today to discover how you can implement our dynamic systems to get your products to market, fast.