Unpacking The Differences: How CPaaS And Network APIs Drive Distinct Innovations

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Everything these days has an API. Whether it's a new means of making a voice or video call, sending a message, controlling factory temperature, or changing the bandwidth on a network, it can be said: "There's an API for that" (to borrow from a popular app-related phrase). And if there isn't an API for it, there soon will be. Across the connected solution landscape, innovation has led to the proliferation of devices and applications. It is also driving exponential growth of APIs, especially in the advanced (or programmable) networking market space.

Initially, APIs for any technology — like databases — resemble the Wild West, with no common form, standard, or consistency. Each vendor creates unique interfaces for their products, seeking competitive advantages. Over time, communities emerge to drive efficiency and productivity, leading to the establishment of standards or common conventions. This evolution is currently visible in the wireless industry with the CAMARA alliance for 5G networks.

However, standards can sometimes become too broad, watered down, or deviate from their original intent, causing confusion, slowing market adoption, and potentially causing economic harm. In the context of 5G and wireless networks, we are seeing such confusion emerge between two distinct sets of APIs:

  • Communications APIs (CPaaS): Supported by Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS), these APIs relate to domains such as telephony, messaging, unified communications, contact centers, customer experience, numbering, and marketing campaign management. 
  • Network APIs (AEP): These APIs are supported either directly from network equipment or through platforms like Shabodi's network-aware Application Enablement Platform (AEP). They span fixed and mobile connectivity domains and provide visibility and control over physical network elements, managing functions such as throughput, latency, and deterministic pathways.

These two sets of APIs serve different functions, markets, and problems. CPaaS developers focus on enhancing user experiences for communication-oriented interactions, like sending an SMS for a one-time passcode. AEP developers aim to optimize experiences by changing the underlying network, often working with automation, AI control systems, and IoT devices. These are distinct problem domains requiring different thought processes and programming skills.

The confusion around these APIs arises from the belief that because both work on "networking things," they can be served from the same platform. By adding new network APIs to a CPaaS, the networking and communications problems can be solved – "killing two birds with one platform," if you will. Northbound – aka, application interface – they appear similar: both use REST APIs, both use oAuth for authentication, both have publish/subscription models, and both use token-based registration methods. But Southbound – that is, facing the network or communications systems – they are extremely different, with very distinct authentication, interface, security, and transaction processing models.

Communications APIs (CPaaS): Revolutionizing Communication  

Since its inception around 2010, CPaaS has driven the telecom industry's evolution towards open systems. By exposing previously hidden telecom functions through open APIs, CPaaS enables greater monetization of telecom assets. These APIs disaggregate primary telecom functions — such as voice calls, video calls, messaging, and subscription management — allowing third-party applications to create new communication-enabled user experiences.

Operating at the application layer, CPaaS has no knowledge of the underlying network, focusing solely on creating communication experiences. CPaaS uses SDKs, RESTful APIs, and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)[1] to establish communication sessions, working with call servers, session managers, and Session Border Controllers (SBCs) interconnected by SIP protocol. CPaaS sessions range from short-lived messaging to complex multi-channel video interactions, requiring end-user clients on smart devices and SDKs to manage the network and OS complexities.

Common CPaaS Characteristics:

  • Developers: Focus on end-user experience, with little to no network knowledge.
  • Market: Adjacent to Call Center as a Service (CCaaS) and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), targeting B2B and B2B2C markets across multiple verticals.
  • Services: Messaging (SMS, SIP, Web) APIs, CCaaS APIs, Voice Calling APIs, Number Management APIs, Video & WebRTC APIs, CRM integration, UCaaS integration, Chatbots/AI/ML APIs

Network APIs: Enhancing Network Performance

Conversely, network APIs operate at a deeper network level, providing controls that make the network programmable. An AEP, such as developed by Shabodi, understands complex multi-network environments, allowing applications to control the network to enhance user experience, operations, or network sustainability. It connects applications into networks, providing them the ability to adapt the network to meet the ever-changing needs of the network to achieve the optimum user (or system) experience.

This level of network control is especially critical when dealing with Operations Technology (OT) systems, like would be found in high performing factories and mines. The AEP also provides a strong security bridge, separating the application world from the network world while safeguarding the integrity and throughput of the network. Network APIs and the supporting AEP are crucial for frameworks like Industry 4.0, Construction 4.0 , and Mining 4.0, integrating tightly with control mechanisms to manage data flows across high-performing networks.

Network-aware AEP and Network API characteristics:

  • Developers: Focus on end-user experience via AI-enabled automation, network monitoring, OT/IT applications, and IoT integrations.
  • Market: Emerging since 2020, spanning all network types, gaining prominence through initiatives like 3GPP 5G, GSMA's Open Gateway, and CAMARA.
  • Services: Network function abstraction for controlling network elements, managing transmission quality, and providing insights on network performance

Synergies: complement, not converge

While some synergies exist between CPaaS and network APIs, such as identity management and fraud detection, the platforms should not converge. CPaaS can leverage network insights from AEP, promoting a cohesive coexistence strategy. Despite their common use of REST APIs and oAuth for authentication, the underlying technologies and purposes of these APIs are significantly different.

It's important to understand that despite the API sets having a common presentation to applications – that being the use of modern REST (representational state transfer) APIs (or RESTful APIs), what lies under the hood is significantly different. Despite this difference, we can expect to see API marketplaces in the future that allow for the purchase and potential direct use of APIs. The marketplace will be an effective means of publishing APIs that reside on these distinct platforms, enabling a strong global commercial model for APIs to evolve while having strong, secure, and focused implementations on the related platforms.

Conclusion

APIs are vital tools in software development, system integration, and automation. Despite their similarities, communication (CPaaS) and network (AEP) APIs serve distinct purposes and commercial outcomes. Both types of APIs will continue to transform the communications and networking industries, supporting advanced enterprise applications and operations automation.

To learn more about Shabodi's AEP and network APIs, please visit our website and download our whitepaper here.




Edited by Greg Tavarez
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