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With Twilio’s help, AT&T opens up SMS, voice to developers

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In the past carriers haven’t exactly made the best development partners, but AT&T(s t) is hoping to change that perception. Working with cloud communications provider Twilio, AT&T is opening up its SMS and voice application programming interfaces (APIs) to enterprise developers, allowing them to design business and productivity apps with built-in calling and messaging over Ma Bell’s network.

Called Advanced Communications Suite (ACS), the platform is both a developer tool as well as an enterprise app store of sorts. AT&T is populating ACS with bunch of business communications apps already built by Twilio customers. They range from appointment reminder services; mobile polling and surveying software; ad hoc workgroup communications clients and geo-tagged messaging apps. What they all have in common is they tap into AT&T’s network APIs.

AT&T business customers can buy those apps through the ACS portal, but more tech-savvy customers can build their own using Twilio’s tools. For instance a large enterprise developing its own internal sales force collaboration tool could use the APIs to allow work group members to immediately initiate voice calls to each other with a touch of a button. Or a corporate calendar app could generate automated company-wide SMS alerts for important events.

The biggest problem with these carrier network API programs is fragmentation. AT&T’s APIs and policies could be completely different than Verizon’s, making cross-carrier development difficult if not impossible. By targeting the enterprise, AT&T greases the wheels a bit for developers since many businesses select a single or small subset of carriers to work with.

AT&T also solves the cross-carrier problem in part by working with Twilio, which has built its business model on developing a common development platform bridging all carriers’ networks. To get its SMS services to work, Twilio hooked into the SMS APIs of more 1000 operators in 150 different countries.

AT&T claims ACS will be network neutral. “ACS will offer cross-carrier enablement, meaning apps from the ACS portfolio are free to run on virtually any network,” AT&T said in its announcement. It didn’t offer more details, but that could mean Ma Bell and Twilio are striking up deals with other operators. Or it could have a far more revolutionary implication: AT&T could become an over-the-top provider on its competitors’ networks. There’s certainly a precedent for this. T-Mobile offers its own VoIP service, Bobsled, to anyone with a smartphone.

AT&T also plans to make more APIs available through ACS, starting with video. It’s already started offering access to its Watson voice recognition APIs through a separate program. If voice commands and natural language understanding become part of the ACS toolkit, developers could build some very powerful apps.

The company has been promoting Watson’s capabilities heavily in recent months as it tries to draw interest away from speech-recognition titan Nuance Communications(s nuan). On Wednesday AT&T also launched its iPhone and iPad(s aapl) remote control app, which uses voice commands to search for programs and channels as well control basic set-top box and DVR functions.

Image courtesy Flickr user Horia Varlan.

4 Responses to “With Twilio’s help, AT&T opens up SMS, voice to developers”

  1. Houssam Larab

    I read this article with quite a bit of interest and in follow-up research I haven’t been able to find any enduring reference by either Twilio or AT&T to a partnership let alone a reseller arrangement between the two.

    In fact a week ago AT&T took down their ACS description with Twilio only to repost yesterday a complete rewrite that does away with any reference to a Twilio partnership. In light of this, your article seems entirely confusing at best, purposely misleading at worst. Even Twilio re-wrote their blogpost on the subject ( I would be grateful if you could publish an update that would shed some light on the mystery of this partnership that never was since, clearly, something is not right.

  2. Tsahi Levent-Levi

    This is rather interesting.
    It seems like the carriers themselves aren’t happy with their own slow standardization efforts such as WAC and OneAPI and are now resorting to adopting successful startup API aggregators to achieve the same end state.
    Funny how the proprietary is becoming the new standard.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hi Tsahi.

      Well you could also argue that the carriers are responsible for that failure of standards. Sure, the operators were pissed that WAC was moving so slow, but ultimately it was a carrier initiative. If they cooperated they could have sped up the process.

  3. Stephen Blum

    There is a fragmentation between carriers and providers for simple development with SMS and Voice. Twilio has defragmented the complexity, making telephony programming approachable. I feel that we will begin to see a concentration on cross-carrier platforms like PubNub (Global Cross-Carrier Signaling) and Twilio (Telephony) with big Telcos like AT&T, Verizon and more. The China Government has two completely separate Internets; and it is hard to bridge communication between thew two Internets unless you are using tech like PubNub which can target all devices anywhere on Earth as long as it has a TCP/IP address. Traditionally large companies like AT&T have kept secret their technologies for internal use only. The trend here is in exposing the capabilities of AT&T to businesses for simple integration opportunities. Check out a leading VoIP article speaking about Cloud Infrastructure bringing real-time presence functionality to everyone, everywhere, on any device and any provider network.