Carriers have devised a new way to insert themselves into the mobile apps value chain. They want to become the identity managers for mobile services that require user registration or authentication. Just as many apps today allow you to log in using your Facebook(s fb), LinkedIn(s lnkd) or Twitter credentials, carriers are hoping customers will start registering for services with their phone numbers.
To accomplish this the GSM Association launched a new initiative called the OneAPI Exchange at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The idea is to create an application programming interface (API) that any mobile app developer can use to authenticate new users against a carrier’s subscriber identity data. So far AT&T(s t), Orange(s fte), Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica(s tef) and Vodafone(s vod) have all signed on to the program, and together they represent a healthy chunk of the world’s mobile subscribers.
At first glance, the initiative seems like a nifty idea. If there is one thing every mobile subscriber in the world has it’s a phone number, making it ideal as a universal credential. But operators are also hoping to be more than just a username replacement. In a demo at Mobile World Congress, the GSMA showed off a bike rental app, in which carrier data was used not only to identify the user, but verify location and charge the rental to the customer’s mobile bill.
Obviously carriers are looking to make themselves relevant once again in the applications market and take a cut from any mobile transaction. This time they actually stand a chance of succeeding. Unlike previous API initiatives, the GSMA has actually figured out a way to make OneAPI near universal. Instead of tapping into separate APIs and crafting separate business agreements with every operator, developers just have to build to one API and strike one carrier deal, but the identity feature will work across all carriers’ networks.
The development house that built the OneAPI Exchange, Apigee, wasn’t able to eliminate the widespread fragmentation among carriers’ API platforms, but it rather ingeniously found a way around it. Apigee’s head of marketing, Dave Jordan, explained that the exchange acts as universal bridge between the operators’ disparate network interfaces.
A developer just picks a single operator to deal with and then builds to that operator’s API, Jordan said. If the app is downloaded on a different operator’s network the exchange will automatically map that carrier’s API onto the app, he said. For instance, if a developer were to pick AT&T’s API, any Orange or Telefónica customer could log in to the app using his carrier’s credentials, but AT&T would federate all of the transactions across those networks.