The MobiledgeX Guide to the new TIP Edge Application Developer Project Group

December 19th, 2018

Headshot for Sunay Tripathi

Sunay Tripathi

Chief Technology Officer & EVP of Engineering & Product

At the recent Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP) Summit held on October 16 2018 in London, a new working group called “The Edge Application Developer Project Group” was announced. Many questions have come up since the group was announced so we thought we’d explain a bit more about how and why it was created. (If you’re not familiar with TIP, you can find more information on the objectives of this collaborative community here.)

Why do we need “yet another open source” initiative in telecom?

There are many, many open source projects in telecom. Open source is the “new sexy” allowing new answers. Existing Edge projects have many things in common.

  • They emphasize infrastructure virtualization

  • They target more efficient transformations

  • The user of the open source is telecom themselves

The new Edge Application Developer Project Group is different

  • It emphasizes the 3rd party applications that will use the infrastructure that results from ongoing infrastructure transformations

  • It targets generating additional revenue streams into telecom

  • The user of the open source is the external developer

Telecom needs additional revenue streams to roll out and support 5G, especially in markets where subscriber and smartphone penetrations have maxed out and there is no further traditional room for growth.  5G standard and deployments support much higher bandwidths at much lower latency that can support a whole new class of valuable applications.

New scalable growth will come from

  1. Better applications on existing devices

  2. New applications on existing devices

  3. New applications on new devices

For networks to provide more than just connectivity, it must be as easy for developers to use them as it is to use the public cloud, and means providing well-architected and valuable API’s..

This is the sole focus of the new working group.

  1. Discover what is externally valuable

  2. Make it easily accessible

  3. Write high-quality code to enable the above

This has been tried before! Why will it work this time?

The Telco world has tried providing APIs and support for developers before but the attempts have suffered from “non developer friendly” definitions, a lack of commonality across operators and a lack of understanding of how developers deploy in a public cloud and the toolchains they use. Along with the combination of timing (of 5G and centralized cloud not being able to serve latency sensitive applications on mobile devices), there is a huge opportunity to come up with developer focused APIs that seamlessly allow a mobile client application to connect to its backend in Telecom network based on the user’s location and trusted identity. These APIs will also support location based grouping and swarming, location based object caching and many other things that are not possible in public clouds. At the same time, the developers will still get the deployment model of a central cloud without worrying about individual operators or the distributed nature of Edge.

The alternative is to settle for the status quo, where new revenue streams seem farther away than ever before, despite industry marketing and enthusiasm for the next G, similar to what was seen before 4G. Apple made LTE needed, cloud enabled the journey faster. LTE became connectivity. This is not sustainable, hence the belief in real change at the highest levels of telecom.

MobiledgeX has been created by Deutsche Telekom as an independent company to accelerate the creation of the much-needed APIs that are device, application and Operator independent with the opportunity for the whole industry to participate.  MobiledgeX can be seen as an industry initiative like GSMA except with very real business goals and writing very real software code while working with developers and application owners that want to benefit from mobility and 5G capabilities. South Korea Telecom has now been announced as a second industry investor and momentum is building.

We believe there are 5 factors that will lead to this initiative being successful, unlike its predecessors.

1. This is mainline business

Telecom operators failed at cloud. We believe the root cause of the failure was strategic. If in 2007, telecom positioned cloud as the platform to enable growth for Apple iPhones, the current market status would look very different. They instead created cloud initiatives focusing on enterprise markets as a fringe business to the core. Whenever subsequent investment decisions were needed, cloud was always secondary to LTE for iPhone.

Edge Cloud is the platform of growth for 5G and thus is core business.  It should be described as the 4G preparation phase to prove the need for 5G relevance and industrialization.

2. Operators come together in a single GTM, where needed

Developers need one simple interface and cannot work with separate, inconsistent interfaces from 800+ operators. MobiledgeX is staffed with Cloud and developer experts that speak developer APIs.  They can translate the telecom values into exposure that developers understand and can use in a very cloud-like and familiar manner. This approach also does not rule out individual operators taking exactly the same code and translations and using them directly for their enterprise customers, if and when it makes sense.  There is no shortage of customers unless you do not have the right tools that are easy to use.

3. Working code driven by lead customers

This initiative is not being driven as an academic exercise led by a committee. The focus is always to write working code based on the needs of real customers. Within 6 months of having an engineering team, MobiledgeX has demonstrated working code on real infrastructure in Germany, provided by Deutsche Telekom. This is the code that will be the nucleus of what is open sourced.  

4. Ability to attract needed talent

One reason we were able to so quickly create high-quality working code is that we can attract top industry talent. The kind of talent that normally would not work for telecom but is happy to work with the right team in a Silicon Valley style startup company. They are very excited to work for MobiledgeX and they like the mission to make a better internet, one they would want their children to grow up with. Without the right people, it is hard to do the right things even when you know what you want to do. With a capacity to recruit whole teams, one value we offer to companies investing in MobiledgeX is to fund a team purely working on their issues, a team they would not normally have access to.

5. Finally, the initiative is inclusive

Previous telecom initiatives incorrectly considered handset and cloud ecosystems as competition that needed to be replaced. These ecosystems have created tremendous value and are very appreciated by the developers and businesses who have leveraged them for their own benefit.  

“The investment of $1.7 trillion in mobile infrastructure over the last 10 years led to the creation of roughly $20 trillion in industry revenues and in the post cloud era in telecom, we expect similar levels of investment in the next decade, but the potential value created will grow 2-3x compared to the last decade,” says Chetan Sharma, CEO of Chetan Sharma Consulting.

We are moving into a world of abundance, not scarcity. A world where we believe everybody can get paid, benefit all others and accelerate the growth and the working internet ecosystem we would like to live in.

However, note, change requires change! The telecom industry needs to wake up to the reality that the modern software ecosystem effectively changes in 2 year sprints rather than 10 year Generational changes. The industry needs to have a sense of urgency to prepare for the next wave of growth, so when the tipping point arrives, all pieces are in place to enable seamless relevance for the benefit of all.

What are the key factors for success with this new project?

Open source is not an answer, it is a tool. And with any tool, its value is dependent on the skill of the people working with it. MobiledgeX intends to be a driving force in this new project group and has committed to open source all resulting source code, royalty free.  If we collectively solve the problem, it will be available for anybody to place into operation with complete freedom.

Two people from the MobiledgeX leadership team, that is Jason Hoffman and me, have been direct contributors and leaders in some of the most successful industry initiatives like creation of Containers, Virtual Switching, Software Defined Networks and the early commercialization in form of Cloud before public cloud came along. We were also heavily involved in open source projects that have shaped the Internet we all use today. Projects such as Ruby on Rails, WordPress, Node.js, and OpenSolaris.

Successful open source projects are not about happiness; they are about an open, strong debate that results in strong, well-designed, well-performing source code that has a very clear direction. Poor quality open source projects create large supporting SI businesses. High-quality open source projects enable repeatable large-scale change and create large product and platform businesses. For an excellent presentation of what not to do in opensource projects see here.  Note – credit to Openstack for allowing this keynote and self-reflection and thus allowing necessary action to take place.

The new project group shall run strong governance on contributed code by proven software leaders.

In summary, why is this new group different?

  • It is 100% focused on the external developer as the customer

  • It will build new revenue that will require 5G to industrialize and scale

  • It will approach the solution the same way any successful software company would, with focus on working code driven by known customer cases and led by experienced proven software experts