Learn about Programmable Telecom
We are pleased to provide a transcript of interview with leading industry expert, Alan Quayle about Programmable Telecom.
What follows are Questions and Answers between Mind Commerce (MC) and Alan Quayle (AQ):
MC: How long have you been working in Telecom APIs / Programmable Telecoms
AQ: In 1998 (20 years ago) a consortium was founded called Parlay, comprising BT and a dozens other vendors and telcos. I was involved in some of BT’s (British Telecom) standardization work at the time. Parlay’s objective was to create standard APIs for accessing the PSTN (telephone network).
In 1998 I moved to Lucent to help them with their 3G solution development and was explaining the role APIs would play in the future of telecoms. APIs were part of the 3G solutions we were creating. Softswitch as all the rage back then, and we were integrating application servers and media functions to deliver not only 3G radio access but a complete solution including new services using APIs.
Unfortunately the work of Parlay was 10 years too early. Its a theme of my career. I was working on broadband passive optical network specifications over 10 years ahead of deployment 🙂 My start up Teltier, focused on mobile network presence APIs founded in 2001 was 10 years too early as well.
MC: Why do you use the term Programmable Telecoms?
AQ: Programmable Telecoms is simply all the telecom services that are now programmable, accessible through APIs (Application Programming Interface). The fancy acronym used for the providers of telecom APIs is CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service).
Programmable Telecoms also includes acronyms such UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service), CCaaS (Call Center as a Service), UC&CaaS (Unified Communications and Collaboration aaS), CPaaS-enabled services, instant authentication, bots, 2FA (Two Factor Authentication), MobileID (info associated with a phone number), open source TAS (Telecom App Server), WebRTC (Web Real Time Communications), etc. It can cover on-premise, hosted, or in the cloud. And creates lots of new value when mashed up with IoT (Internet of Things), Ethereum, IT platforms, and the Web. Just look at the hundreds of hacks created at TADHack over the years, your imagination is the limit.
I also use Programmable Telecoms as it avoids yet another acronym. It does cover loads of acronyms, but my aim is to have a label that is broad and inclusive. I also purposefully use the T-word: Telecoms. It existed long before the Telcos / Carriers came into existence. But because people do not even want to even sound like a telco, they use the word communications. I proudly use the T-word and reclaim it for all the people taking advantage of the democratization of telecoms thanks to Programmable Telecoms to solve problems that matter to them.
MC: Why aren’t the carriers assuming a bigger role?
AQ: Digging into history, shows the closure of telco CPaaS initiatives such as Verizon Developer Community (VDC), Telefonica’s BlueVia, Deutsche Telekom’s Developer Garden. Are these proof-points telcos can not be successful in Telecom APIs? No, as it ignores successful telco CPaaS programs like IdeaMart, and the many public and private APIs telcos offer today. A little bit of CPaaS history will help us understand the current situation better.
During the ‘00s, BT/O2 were active over that decade launching then closing developer API programs. The problem was ‘it takes time’ to build the CPaaS business. Telco budget approval processes generally require impossible promises to be made to afford the expensive telco-buyer approved vendor solutions.
The CPaaS business would fail to meet year 1 targets, have an even greater miss in year 2, and be closed sometime in year 3 with the CPaaS leader relegated to the equivalent of Telco-Siberia. When Twilio was raising cash in 2007/2008, many investors were incredulous given previous attempts at telecom APIs.
In 2010 a group of telcos founded WAC (Wholesale Application Community) which ended up trying to implement a world-wide OneAPI platform for telcos. OneAPI is an updated version of the Parlay API that was no longer needed. Needless to say ‘designed by committee’ did not work. By 2012 WAC and the GSMA ‘joined forces’ and Apigee took over the ‘business’. And proceeded to sell to telcos around the world API management not a CPaaS Enabler. Which telcos used for internal integration projects.
In 2014 TEF Digital closed down and with it BlueVia, DT Developer Garden scaled back its plans, the same happened with VDC. CPaaS was perceived as too small and specialized an opportunity for telcos to chase. Even though at this point Twilio was getting into its stride, and Nexmo was now considered the #2 CPaaS.
Telcos’ missteps were to believe in their self-focused standards rather than market needs, and not to look under the hood of what API Management really meant with respect to CPaaS. I wrote a weblog about this issue in 2012.
However, some telcos did not throw in the towel, IdeaMart continued on and has achieved significant CPaaS success. They do many things right, one in particular are templates: simple web forms you or I can use to create services rather just offering APIs to developers. I remain shocked and saddened that the IdeaMart model has not been more widely adopted. But this seems to be a common theme in history, missed opportunities.
All telcos are involved in the wholesale side of the CPaaS business, origination and termination of voice calls and SMS. Many do offer APIs to partners and large customers, large enterprises these days are asking telcos to provide their services through APIs. And a few telcos have achieved success in CPaaS. The CPaaS business is now undergoing rapid evolution and growth that will present a significant threat to the telcos’ legacy enterprise telecoms business.
MC: What’s happening in CPaaS Today?
AQ: The CPaaS business is today much more than voice, messaging, and phone number APIs. Only reselling telephony APIs is a precarious proposition, it’s a business surviving between two price points over which they have little control. It’s certainly not a viable business to bring to IPO and justify the current valuations.
CPaaS has evolved rapidly and in a number of directions over the past 10 years. Across SIP trunking, IP communications including WebRTC and IP Communications platforms like Viber, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, LINE. But its the focus on enterprise telecom services and enablers has been the most dramatic.
Two layers have emerged in the CPaaS stack:
- Value Added Services: examples include IVR (press 1 for service) or call redirection (after pressing one the call is redirected to an agent) or anonymous calling (like with Uber when the driver is trying to find you after they arrive at the destination and an anonymous call is set up between you and the driver). Generally these building blocks are available from the FreeSWITCH community or are relatively easy to build. This is table stakes for any CPaaS provider today.
- Enterprise Enablers and Services: the difference between these two is more a business decision than technology. It can range from pre-packaged services delivered directly to enterprises or through channels (e.g. the services in VoIP Innovations Showroom, or Kazoo by 2600Hz), or enabling partners to build their own version of an enterprise service (e.g. Twilio Flex for Call Centers)
What initially appeared to be a simple business of 3 APIs for voice, messaging and phone numbers is now, much more complex. Why the focus on all this other stuff? Simply, it vastly increases the addressable market.
If we look at the basic messaging, voice and phone number CPaaS market its about $8B in 2021 (according to IDC). However, add-in UCaaS, CCaaS, MFA, video, SIP trunking and IoT and the number jumps to about $100B. It’s this big number that justifies Twilio’s valuation.
MC: Where are the opportunities for CPaaS?
AQ: The underlying programmable telecoms technologies continue to rapidly evolve, the solutions and global networks being created by CPaaS providers are amazing. But this is ‘just’ technology, its the services being enabled, the price points at which those services can be provided, and the flexibility with which those services can be delivered is what matters.
Businesses want solutions to business problems, or to spend less doing that they do today
CPaaS is the enabler of an enterprise telecoms revolution. Businesses are no longer tied to traditional vendors / providers; a new cadre of providers with lower price points, bundling enterprise IT and telecoms, and local support from someone they know in their city. SMB can now afford a ‘call center’, with the flexibility to meet their specific needs, all bundled up through their preferred, trusted channel.
We’re already starting to see this shift today. In France OVH (which began as a website hoster) have moved into the UC market quite successfully, with a broad ICT bundle, all managed through the same console. Enterprise telecoms is becoming just like IT, thanks to CPaaS providers removing the complexity and supporting a range of delivery models. Telecoms is no longer scary-complex.
As history shows, well-entrenched legacy businesses struggle to adapt to new market realities, they often get disrupted. But given enterprises do not move quickly, unlike consumers, this enterprise telecoms revolution is unlikely to be a rapid change, some legacy businesses will adapt.
You’ll notice I’ve not brought up AI (Artificial Intelligence), bots, sentiment analysis, blockchain, etc. They are part of some of the solutions discussed above. It’s just there’s a much bigger picture enabled by CPaaS, the revolution in enterprise telecoms.
At TADHack Global on the 13-14 Oct people around the world can experience CPaaS, CPaaS enablers, chat bots, Ethereum, and much more. TADHack is for Everyone, whether you’re a coded or non-coder, it doesn’t matter. We want you to learn about some great technologies, share your experiences with others, and create something over a weekend that could change the world. Seriously, companies have been founded from TADHack, new services created and later launched, people have found amazing jobs working with world-leading teams.
At TADSummit 13-14 November you’ll meet the people leading the Programmable Telecom revolution as well as the channels delivering the revolution to enterprises large and small around the world. You’ll see what’s possible before the rest of the market because TADSummit is the thought-leadership event in programmable telecoms, now entering its 6th year.
It’s all about the enterprise services!
You can read more from Alan in the “The Enterprise Telecoms Revolution” eBook from VoIP Innovations.
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