There’s a saying about how to innovate: “imagine the future and fill in the gaps”.
While the concept of 4G and 5G feature exposure is far from new, there has been little success in achieving consensus over how to fill the gaps. This holds especially true with regard to usability, standards, availability and support, not to mention prioritization of which aspects to evaluate first.
Yet with significant endorsement across the industry of GSMA’s latest approach, which suggests ways to resolve essential gaps and inconsistencies relating especially to 5G’s potential for partnership and innovation via feature exposure, it seems a breakthrough may be at hand.
Even before 5G’s inception, policy control has been a key focal point for success for many in our industry. Already in 4G, it controlled the “who, what, when, were and how” of devices and customer access to the network. However, as 5G became available, it often became referred to as the “brain of 5G”.
As we move towards an evolved 5G context, beyond smartphones, that includes additional currencies such as improvements to latency, speed, coverage, capacity, density, as well as slicing and security of data, this moniker becomes even more pertinent. Just think of vehicle-to-X (V2X), massive IoT (mIoT), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and the metaverse, amongst other emerging technologies.
GSMA’s “open gateway” is based on the CAMARA toolkit jointly launched in 2022 with the Linux foundation. But it was only recently at MWC 2023, where the organization announced its new application programming interface (API) library that could provide external points of access, offering consistency to a ready-made international community of developers and backed by service providers servicing as many as 3.9 billion subscribers. And while that number doesn’t even begin to express the potential opportunity for devices beyond smartphones, it does provide an indication of the scale of possibilities that lie ahead. As business (B2B2X) opportunities grow – within enterprise IoT as much as retail – so too will this potential.
To emphasize this point further, consider that 5G is cloud-based by definition and therefore involves hyperscalers from the outset. Add to this that this latest developer-focused initiative is supported by these hyperscalers – and by extension, their ecosystems of many thousands of developer partners – and it becomes clear that the size of this potential knows almost no boundaries.
Understandably, GSMA is focused on quality of service (or “quality on demand” as it is referred to) as one of its eight initial APIs (the specifications for the seven other services include: SIM swap, device status, edge site selection and routing, number verification, authentication, carrier billing or check out and device location). This essentially means a lot will depend on 5G policy, since it is already comprehensively responsible for access, quality of service, routing and location. As such, it will be central to at least three of the eight APIs already mentioned.
Figure: A future API landscape
Yet policy’s role becomes even more significant because of the nature of 5G. 5G’s functions – including policy – have more capability to interwork with other 5G functions, since both standard interfaces and functional interactions are already much more automated and data-driven than was the case with previous “G’s”. If policy control is a priority, then for many service providers it, in conjunction with exposure capability in itself, is likely to become a key lens by which to manage API initiatives into the future. As these providers are also striving to manage and prioritize a more capable but tightly coordinated set of functions and monetization capabilities, policy is a key lynchpin.
It is precisely for this reason that we have adopted an approach by which policy is tightly coupled with charging (in combination, known as PCC) and network exposure capabilities – especially the Network Exposure Function (NEF), as well as wider monetization capabilities – to provide combinational synergies and more effective returns from 5G.
With our renewed focus on 5G openness, in addition to earlier 4G exposure capabilities, this industry initiative has the potential to rebalance developer interest towards CSPs with consensus and support of hyperscalers. And while it’s still evolving, it remains sufficiently mature to drive widespread service adoption far beyond today’s 3.9 billion subscribers through improved interoperability between networks and with lower costs, thereby strongly positioning CSPs to accelerate innovation and drive business growth. With fewer gaps, the headline number of 3.9 billion may be just the beginning.
Defines and controls device and service characteristics on the 5G network, allowing effective service monetization and expansion into new markets.