There are close to 15,000 APIs available globally, up from a total of less than 400 that were available in 2006 and 40 new APIs are made public every week.
This is according to a recent report from global mobile telecoms grouping The GSM association (GSMA) that looks at mobile network operator (MNO) API use in emerging markets and the impact that they can have on revenue for MNOs and startups.
You can download the GSMA Report – APIs: A bridge between mobile operators and start-ups in emerging markets here
An API (Application Programming Interface) is a software protocol that allows different programs to communicate with each other creating seamless integration between related services.
MNOs have APIs for core services like mobile money, SMS, and billing and when they open up these APIs to developers they enable third party service providers with various solutions to tie these in with their networks. These services can be anything from payment solutions for utilities and e-commerce startups, to USSD enabled account management for online health and agricultural solutions.
MNOs and startups benefit from API access
In its report, GSMA notes operators like Dialog Axiata in Sri Lanka which is now generating 2% of its revenue through APIs opened up to third party services as well as specific cases of API integration from African operators like MTN, Safaricom, Orange, and Airtel.
These MNOs opened up specific APIs between 2015 and 2016 as a way of encouraging startup participation in providing solutions for subscribers while offering them expanded service bouquets that included solutions that were also accessible to mobile phones without internet access.
GSMA also highlights services that generate a huge percentage of their revenues via API integration like Salesforce (50%), Expedia (90%) and eBay (60%) suggesting opportunities for revenue creation and growth for startup services.
While the benefits of API access have been highlighted repeatedly, mobile operators in emerging markets where access to technology is led by the mobile phone haven’t been quick to extend the service integration feature to developers.
In Zimbabwe, for example, access to a payment API for mobile money services like EcoCash took years with some startups bemoaning the denied access which they identified as a reason for impeded growth.
Mobile operators have, in the past, identified concerns such as security risk as the reason for delaying access to APIs.
Organisations like GSMA are however trying to shift this mindset. Its report also encourages MNOs to adopt APIs strategies which are startup friendly. With some luck such an outcome from various MNOs would help create opportunities for startups and enable MNOs to create revenue channels in the process.