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4/1/2013
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Apigee Reveals Cross-Carrier Mobile API Platform

Apigee API Exchange sets up a neutral playing field for mobile apps to function -- and split revenue -- across carriers.

Apigee has launched the API Exchange, which allows a smartphone mobile app provided for one telecommunications company to connect with the services of another telco.

In effect, through the exchange, an application originally designed for one provider can be used in a different service area to deliver the same functions through another supplier. For example, if you regularly use an AT&T app to move photos in its home territory of New Jersey, you can do the same thing in London, even though the nearest AT&T tower is far over the horizon.

An API exchange has the effect of extending the reach of mobile applications across service suppliers without requiring application developers to know the specific APIs of each one. The API provides a controlled gateway into a set of services sought by consumers.

The smartphone or mobile device application providing the service is often developed by an independent third party, familiar with one or a few providers' API programs. That's been a barrier in the past, as developers have been forced to select the carriers of their most likely customers and then design exclusively for them.

In addition, Apigee API Exchange includes billing services so that both the telco that has originated the customer and the company supplying the actual service share in the revenue generated. That business enabler makes the API Exchange something like the Visa payment service: one neutral clearinghouse for consumers who wish to use many different restaurants and retailers, Apigee officials said.

[ Learn how an API helped Walgreens build its consumer photo business. See Walgreens' Prescription For Photo Profits: Public API. ]

Such an API exchange will potentially have a long-range effect on Android and other mobile application systems, though it will leave the sizeable iPhone customer base largely unchanged. iPhone users will still go through an Apple-controlled API set for iPhone and iPad application services.

The Apigee API Exchange seeks to allow developers to develop once, and then let the Apigee exchange select the correct API for the service sought through a target telco.

"We believe that in the app economy, data is the currency. We want to make sure data flows among API providers without any problem," said Bala Kasiviswanathan, head of product management for the exchange.

The exchange is still more potential than reality. There are literally hundreds of wireless carriers that could participate -- and should to make it work as advertised. Apigee has started with AT&T, Vodaphone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Telefonica, and many other wireless carriers are watching the exchange's launch.

Apigee is already building on some hard experience. Its GSMA OneAPI Exchange, launched in February based on the Apigee API Exchange, is the successor to the failed Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) initiative, an attempt to create a neutral API platform among wireless carriers. It addition to getting something that works for telcos, the exchange must offer the tools and technologies favored by independent developers so that application builders will use it. The WAC failed to gain traction in the latter group.

WAC resources were sold to Apigee last July, and soon after, it received $20 million in venture capital to build out a cross-company API exchange, although the telecommunications industry wasn't named at the time as its initial target vertical industry. Others will follow, said Chet Kapoor, CEO of Apigee, with healthcare and travel likely follow-up candidates.

An API management platform is offered by several companies, including Mashery, WSO2 and Layer 7. But Apigee has ignored distractions and aimed for the cross-company platform, hoping to steal a march on the competition and capture key telecom players as its customers. It announced the OneAPI Exchange on March 28, after a period of intense development.

It was a period that left some observers wondering why the firm seemed so inaccessible. Forrester Research released its first Forrester Wave report on API managers on Feb. 5, covering the previously mentioned firms, plus Intel, IBM, Vordel and 3 Scale, but not Apigee. The report's author noted, "Apigee declined to take part in this Wave due to a stated lack of company resources, although it otherwise met the evaluation criteria."

Its March 28 announcement included a statement of support from AT&T VP of innovation Abhi Ingle. He said the exchange "will empower developers to easily integrate AT&T network services and intelligence into their apps more quickly ... The exchange delivers important API interoperability that we believe will extend network innovation and reach for operators worldwide."

The GSMA is an industry trade group that originated in Europe, and sponsors the annual Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona. GSMA set out to create a cross-provider API platform that would serve all carriers in Europe. The initial attempt failed but was renewed with U.S. participants as the WAC platform assets moved into Apigee. Apigee includes a number of Microsoft veterans, including Kasiviswanathan, who have experience in dealing with the programmer community. Michael O'Hara, CMO of the GSMA, said the group plans to continue working with Apigee on the exchange.

In preparation for the March 28 launch, Apigee added offices in Bangalore, London, Detroit, and Austin, Texas.

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