International Wholesale goes digital
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International Wholesale goes digital

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Rolf Nafziger at Deutsche Telekom introduces the company’s new digital wholesale portfolio

What are the key trends in digital services in the wholesale market?

Patterns of customer demand are changing due to digitalisation and globalisation. As a result of such trends, wholesale products consumed by other telcos, aggregators and hyperscalers are becoming increasingly interesting to enterprise customers. Customers are also seeking access to simple, high- quality connectivity that’s scalable, context-aware and personalised, meeting needs of specific use cases exactly when required.

Advances in technology, with 5G networks becoming cloud- and API- native, ease the integration of partners and provide access to wholesale services in a much simpler and more effective way.

The first network application programming interfaces [APIs] allow access to capabilities like differentiated connectivity, device status and location, security and quality-on-demand services. This is just the start. More APIs are under development and undergoing technical standardisation in the CAMARA Alliance, an open-source project with the Linux Foundation to define, develop and test APIs, and align requirements within the industry.

On the flip side, as network APIs are specific to the respective operators, this means a greater need for one-stop- shop-type offerings by wholesalers to help customers more easily use these functions. Such platforms for aggregating network APIs are not really there yet.

What are the main challenges that carriers need to solve?

One of the key challenges is changing the company mindset and skill set to be able to accommodate these services.

Network APIs and many other digital wholesale services are in the realm of software. But at this stage, carriers are not yet software businesses. They’re very much on a learning curve, and need to invest in the missing capabilities and build trusted relations with developers.

Furthermore, in many respects, communications providers of today are truly global, especially since the advent of 5G and with the ever-growing traction of IoT. This is, however, not the case right now with network APIs – for which each operator has their own offering limited to their network in a particular country.

Developers wanting, for instance, to integrate quality-on-demand [QoD] APIs across a country would have to integrate all the QoD APIs of all that country’s networks. What’s missing is a common API marketplace through which developers can access all network APIs from all operators.

Part of the obstacle here is the lack of standardisation. Many efforts are, however, in motion to harmonise network APIs technically and commercially, with standardisation taking place through the likes of the CAMARA Alliance and the GSMA Open Gateway project.

How can designing a centralised platform provide better access to digital wholesale services?

It means that in the near future all digital services can be easily found in a single portal with a single sign-in and point of access. It can provide a more uniform customer experience, going part way to addressing the need for consistency while standards await further development. In terms of one-stop-shop experience, carriers can learn from hyperscalers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google, or from CPaaS aggregators like Twilio, Infobip and Vonage.

At Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier, the new Digital Wholesale Portfolio is going to be bundled in one Services Portal. This approach will enable customers to better discover, manage and use digital services in a way that maximises their potential.

Our plan is that customers will in turn have the opportunity to harness the platform to create their own white-label portals for their users depending on their own individual needs, managing them via APIs that they can integrate in their own applications.

What are the key digital services in your new portfolio?

A key digital service is the Numbers Universe Portal that we launched last year. Covering more than 140 countries, this comprises a management tool that provides one-stop access to all our numbering products.

Our digital portfolio also comprises network APIs and wholesale communications-platform-as-a-service [CPaaS] capabilities, as well as edge functions. The CPaaS functions allow customers to add real-time communications capabilities such as messaging, voice and video to business applications via APIs.

Telekom Edge Cloud is another product in our portfolio. This kind of decentralised Cloud Computing moves the processing power closer to the customer location to provide the lowest possible latency, data locality, security and scalability for a variety of use cases. Those include the likes of AR, VR, automotive applications and video analytics.

All of this together will substantially boost the customer experience, with high-quality services being made more accessible on-demand. Our digital portfolio will also help improve scalability, giving customers the type of access that helps them more effectively combine their local strength with the global reach of our digital wholesale services.

What we’ve done so far is just the beginning and the potential of our digital portfolio is huge, helping adjust to the evolving realities of the global wholesale market in a more software- centric world.

How do you perceive the role for digital wholesale platforms?

Digital wholesale service platforms will be build to create marketplaces for digital wholesale services. Such platforms and marketplaces will have the purpose of aggregation layers.

A good example for an aggregation layer in a different industry is the wholesale booking platform of the Amadeus IT Group. Amadeus is providing a booking platform for flights in the airline industry. Airlines provide their flight inventory to Amadeus, which aggregates all the information. This makes it attractive for travel sales channels like Skyscanner and Expedia, which have access to a full portfolio of flights for end customers.

The ‘Amadeus’ of digital wholesale API platforms could look similar. In such a model, telcos would expose their inventory, such as communications and network APIs, and edge sites, to a middleware layer. That, in turn, would be accessible to different sales channels such as hyperscalers, other aggregators and developers.

Industry associations like the GSMA or GLF could build and manage such an aggregation platform as a commercial product that they could offer to mobile operators.

Where do you see the global wholesale telecoms industry heading with all these services in the age of 5G and AI?

Telcos are increasingly turning into connectivity platforms. They are only just starting on the journey of properly exposing their capabilities using APIs. However, the transforming landscape being brought about by the likes of 5G and AI will open up exciting opportunities that will create new demands and really inspire network APIs to come into their own.

For example, we expect network slicing enabled by 5G standalone infrastructure to become a major driver of growth and demand for network APIs. Slicing will create different virtualised, independent networks for the specific needs of applications, use cases and customers requiring different levels of service quality in a wide range of industries and services from smart transportation to mobile healthcare, smart agriculture and live streaming.

How well positioned are telcos in this market for the future if they adopt the right platforms?

Carriers are on a learning curve when it comes to exposing their own capabilities via APIs and doing things like monetising them and building developer relations. Carriers can sell access and transport services, but selling APIs means selling IT services and integration to developers as a totally new group of carrier customers.

But the upside is huge: if telcos can position their services well, they have a unique selling proposition for combining their offerings. Network APIs can, for example, be combined with communications APIs to offer guaranteed quality-of-service for a video call or an AR application. Growing requirements for low-latency services, as well as the need for compute power closer to devices as AI takes off will also fuel edge networks – again meaning an increased need for APIs.

Only telcos can offer particular combinations of services. As the industry moves into the future, market players will be capable of offering exactly the type of context-aware connectivity demanded to meet needs for specific applications.

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