TM Forum Open APIs as an enabler of Telco Digital Transformation by Kiril Enimitev

Over the past few years the telecommunication industry has been facing major challenges and profound transformations. The demand of traditional connectivity services along with data traffic and speed is growing exponentially, increasing the investments and operational costs, while the revenues of telecom operators/ Communication Service Providers (CSP’s) are failing to follow up with the growing trends.

The pandemic crisis has accelerated the growing “hunger” for connectivity and data, broad digitization of our societies has already started, new 5G network has been commercially launched in many markets opening plethora of new range of use cases, especially in B2B markets.

CSP’s traditional BSS landscapes is generally build over a long period of time in the past decades and includes monolith software components from multiple vendors and inhouse development having proprietary interfaces and data models. The operations framework is highly complex and upgrades, replacement, introduction of the new systems, scaling and migrations are facing major integration challenges having to integrate non-standardized protocols in the multi-vendor environments where bespoke integration services are usually mandatory to be built on top. As a result, CSP’s are trapped in the tailor made, highly customized and vendor locked architecture where upgrades are difficult and expensive, so they upgrade infrequently, usually when they have to upgrade the hardware. CSP’s often struggle to balance quick fix changes to meet short-term business requirements driven by business units, which only increase the technical debt. Addressing these challenges is so slow that some studies predict that by 2025 technical debts will consume more than 40% of operators’ current IT budgets.

Network management is becoming more and more an IT matter. New networks are rolling out across the markets worldwide bringing the new operational requirements and needs for integration standardization. Many examples of automated new software-defined networks are arising around the world. 5G which is now becoming reality in many markets is the most obvious example of this trend. If CSP’s have an ambition to take full advantage of this new technology, they need to bring together network and IT as they both have similar challenges and have to share the same common cloud services.

On the other side, there are emerging digital service players, “cloud-native” businesses that are born and grown in the digital age, relying on the open architectures and digital ecosystem primarily by exposing APIs to the third parties. They are connecting end users and sellers of various digital products and services, utilizing their own and third-party APIs thus offering superior customer experience and satisfaction. So called “API Economy” was already forecasted as emerging norm few years ago by Gartner. This is the major differentiating factor between leading digital-native companies and traditional telecom operators/CSPs.

Open Digital Architecture initiative of TM Forum

In order to cope with the new demands and challenges telco industry needs to evolve from closed and highly customized IT architecture to the open platform architecture through openly available and standardized APIs. This is the purpose of the Open Digital Architecture (ODA) initiative of TM Forum that is based on a modular and cloud native architecture with software components enabling IT and network capabilities. Over time it is expected to open the possibility to embrace a natively digital approach that will enable telco’s to deliver fast and intelligent operations through exposing OpenAPI, fit for the 5G network and IoT era leveraging artificial intelligence.

Brief history

The initiative of introducing standard Telco APIs begun in December 2013 in San Francisco where 150 developers gathered to deliver a proof of concept of standard interface specification. The showcase was based on three common RESTful APIs - Product Catalog API, Product Ordering API and Trouble Ticket Management API, to demonstrate how standard interfaces could dramatically decrease the integration efforts between the internal systems, and even to expose the APIs to external partners. The Open API program has been officially launched in 2016 with limited set of standardized API’s and set of principles and commitments sublimated in the Open API manifesto. Since then the TMForum OpenAPI repository is growing, continuously bringing improvements of the API resources and methods. Today the suite contains 60+ APIs specifications collaboratively developed by TM Forum members, and slowly becoming de facto a telco integration standard.

Open API Program today and beyond

On March, 2022 TMForum announced a significant milestone of adopting the standard by reaching more then 500K downloads of OpenAPI specification, showing that it is not only one of the many buzzwords, but truly valuable framework and critical enabler of telco digital transformation for CSP’s and vendors. OpenAPI is already one of the integral components of the well-established TM Frameworx of Telecom process map (Business Process Framework - eTOM), information/data reference model (Information Framework - SID) and telecom application map (Application Framework - TAM). By May 2022 Open API manifesto has been signed by 132 leading CSP’s and telco suppliers and the contribution to the program continues to grow as the participants recognize its importance to the journey of creating and operating platform based business model.

The evolving OpenAPI framework APIs are categorized in accordance of eTOM and SID domains and exposed as RESTful Swagger 2.0 specification.

  • Customer - APIs that CSPs use to interact with their customers (for example, customer management, shopping cart and bill management APIs
  • Product - APIs that CSPs use to manage the products they offer (for example, product catalog management and product inventory management)
  • Service - APIs that CSPs use to manage their logical services (for example, service catalog management, service inventory management, and service activation and configuration APIs)
  • Resource - APIs that CSPs use to manage their physical resources (for example, resource catalog management, resource inventory management and alarm APIs)
  • Engaged Party – APIs that CSPs use to interact with partners to deliver services (for example, privacy management, party interaction and partnership management APIs)
  • Customer Engaged Party - APIs that are common to Customer and Engaged Party relationships (for example, product ordering, service level agreement management and payment management APIs)
  • Common - APIs that fit into all the groups described above (for example, trouble ticket, usage management, performance management and geographic location management APIs)

There is an OpenAPI conformance program where the organizations are certifying their API implementations. So far 41 organizations have certified 402 Open APIs. The following chart are the most popular APIs being certified by the contributors.

According the survey conducted by TMForum of CSP’s and their suppliers and integrators, the top reasons for adopting the Open APIs are reducing the cost of integration, reducing complexity and cloudification.

Suppliers report that it is common for recent RFP’s to include OpenAPI support. However, according the survey the perception on the CSP’s is that only 7% of the suppliers are strongly committed to Open APIs requirements and over 81% believing vendors are mostly only paying lip service to Open APIs.

If we take a look on the TMForum’s Open API Certification leaderboard it is obvious that new players are emerging on the top giving the most contribution to the journey, while the traditional telco suppliers like Amdocs, Ericson, Oracle, and Netcracker, that have the highest market share, are left behind. It could be assumed they are not so interested in open architectures as they have a business model based on professional services as main source of revenue, upgrading and managing changes in “old way”.

The real winner of the open architectures should be the CSP’s themselves, as it enables to shape their own future. Traditional telco business is declining and there is an urgent need for new sources of revenue by partnering and integration with digital service players to become a marketplace of sell CSP’s own as well as third party products. CSP’s vision to transform their business and to become a digital service provider has a huge potential to change the game trough adoption of OpenAPIs.

By Kiril Enimitev, Senior Project Manager, Telecom