AT&T hacks through API problems

I was impressed with the AT&T Developer Hackathon that ran [early January] - 400 developers with about 470 attendees in total, 74 apps created, lots of innovative uses of the Call Management API powered by Tropo from Voxeo Labs and Ericsson's WebRTC Development Platform, including using mood (measures brainwaves) on whether a call goes through, the app was called 'Good Time' and won the best app prize of $30,000 (€22,448).
 
The Hackathon reminded me of some of the Android and Sales Force Dot Com events. It was the best by far of any telco developer events I've attended.
 
RIM had an alpha of their Blackberry 10 operating system available for developers, which was nice. iOS, Android and now BB10 feel very samey these days, its subtle things that differentiate. For example, to see which apps are running on the BB10 is just a swipe not a double click of the button. But BB10 and Windows 8 still suffer from the lack of apps compared to iOS and Android, which is a critical issue for customers.
 
[B]ack to the Hackathon. GM, Axeda, ArcGIS, SFDC, Microsoft, Nokia, HTC, Voxeo Labs and many more were there helping the developers over the whole of the weekend. [I]t was a lucrative event for many developers, with $125,000 in prizes on offer, including a Chevy Volt [worth] $40,000.
 
The Hackathon…had developers from the likes of Zappos, to what looked like local high school kids; though they could be in their twenties, I'm just getting old. Zappos ported their app onto BB10 over the weekend. Others built tracking apps that use calling for alerts, lots of apps built for the GM in-car platform, cute voice control apps and games, mHealth applications, fun M2M applications, life recording, social apps, meet-up apps, all built over the weekend and all demonstrating an interesting aspect of using the devices, platforms and APIs offered by AT&T and its partners.
 
It is a template for the industry on how to foster innovation in the long tail. Finally a telco is getting it right on APIs and engaging the developer community, and not one mention of OneAPI.
 
 
On the Monday was the Developer Conference, with 2700 attendees. Most of the developers had gone back to their day jobs or were sleeping off the weekend's activities, so it was more full of familiar faces and operators like Vodafone and Etisalat who were seeing for themselves what is possible with APIs and engaging the long tail. There are now 31,000 AT&T developers, new APIs in speech, advertising, and customer profile are coming in 2013. But what impressed me the most is an API alpha program, where any API can be brought in, no standards required. AT&T gets it - no standards, just do what creates value.
 
AT&T announced at the conference the AT&T Call Management API powered by Tropo from Voxeo Labs. [T]he AT&T Call Management API will soon be generally available, the AT&T WebRTC API is in alpha and powered by Ericsson and Phono from Voxeo Labs. Note I'm inferring this from the developers I talked to who where using the WebRTC API and said they were using Phono.
 
Now the first question a developer will ask is why use the AT&T Call Management API rather than Tropo? Here's my view on why, but please let me know what you think.
  • Currently it’s free. A short-term incentive, but free is free and AT&T can easily undercut the over the top providers on termination rates to/from real phones;
  • It uses the customer's existing number, no new numbers;
  • For enterprise customers, where AT&T’s brand matters;
  • Distribution potential of AT&T is not only across the US, but across its global operations;
  • Ease of access and mash-up with other AT&T APIs;
  • Mash-up with other AT&T network services and applications; and
  • The move to cross-carrier APIs means it will work with every carrier in time.
At the AT&T Hackathon over the weekend many of the apps were using AT&T's Call Management API, the mood control one 'Good Time' - as mentioned previously -, but many others showed the power of embedding communications into what we do every day, from alerting through voice control to easier to use services such as Mya Number, Hear Here, and Talk To You Now. Joyride won a $10,000 prize for using both the AT&T Call Management and WebRTC APIs; it's like a party line for your car to deliver services from music, calling and conferencing, to voice control of web services.
 
 
AT&T has broken through the barriers on how to think about APIs that has limited telecom APIs to date: no standards, more APIs are better, let the ecosystem define the APIs, work with the best, engage developers on their terms, and dare to fail. It is creating a platform upon which others can now innovate. [T]he challenge will be now to start to demonstrate the business benefit.
 
Further change will be required, such as using the APIs to innovate internally. From the AT&T Foundry Zia Syed demo’d at the conference in real time creating services with WebRTC, it was very powerful. Every product marketing or management group in AT&T needs a Zia to experiment, innovate and meet the customers' varying needs at a fraction of the cost at which they do today.
 
AT&T with its Call Management API and WebRTC API powered by Tropo and Ericsson/Phono from Voxeo Labs is heralding a change in how we deliver the service that built the industry, voice and more broadly communications. It will lower costs by several orders of magnitude, it will enable new services in minutes not years, it will move the focus from technology to the infinite variety of customer needs. Perhaps the telecom industry can survive the onslaught from the VC-funded Bay Area?
 
Alan Quayle has 22 years experience in the telecommunication industry, focused on developing profitable new businesses in service providers, suppliers and start-ups. For more information, visit www.alanquayle.com/

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