A Brief History of Telco APIs and the Long Tail

Previous weblog articles have discussed the importance of Telco APIs across the whole tail, not just the long tail.  I find myself repeating the following too often for my liking, “Do not focus on the API, that’s just a piece of technology, an enabler, the key is understanding the value contained within a telco and being prepared to take the risk in exposing that value to internal groups, partners, customers and independent innovators to see what may happen, given the business strategy of the company.  It’s all about business not the API.”

I thought it worth-while to review a brief history of Telco APIs to date, as urgent action is required.

1998: Parlay is founded to standardize Telco APIs.  Parlay focused on 5 APIs: calling, messaging, location, profile and payment.

1998-2008: (The wilderness years) Suppliers attempt to sell Parlay Gateways based on those 5 APIs with limited success.

2008: Operators finally start launching API programs but targeting only long tail developers to create a class of “Telco Developers.”  Calling and payment APIs were considered too difficult or sensitive, so the API programs focused on the internally easier to get out the door messaging, location, and profile APIs.  The Telco API pitch to the long tail was: “Come use (pay for) our APIs to make your apps cool and sell them through our app store.”  Apologies to BlueVia for the gross generalization as you did say something different, “we will pay you to use our messaging API.”

2008-2012: iPhone and Android happened.  Telco app stores became increasingly irrelevant to developers (especially long tail ones); location, messaging and profile became commoditized.  Twilio showed OneAPI is too complex and telco-focused for many developers, and that Telcos cannot meaningfully engage developers on Telco APIs.  Just compare the websites and the case studies to see for yourself the difference on developer engagement  between operators and Twilio.  The focus of Twilio’s how-tos is not on the API but what you can do with it, e.g. call tracking, build your own call center or IVR, etc.  Technocom and Loc-aid have also done good work here, but they are more focused on packing the APIs up into business solutions for enterprise customers, so I categorize as telco partners.

2012: The Telco API pitch to the long tail has now become “Come use (pay for) APIs limited to our network, with no clear business model, no significant channel to market, and a ton of content standards to comply with.”

The boat has sailed, the opportunity has been missed, the world has moved on.  Telco APIs will not create a cadre of Telco Developers.  However, Telco APIs remain relevant to its customers, its partners, internal groups, and developers (thanks to Twilio).  Let’s get refocused on the business value, and realize API standards are only a starting point, to remain relevant an API needs to evolve fast.  Come-on BlueVia copy Twilio’s APIs!

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