3GPP starts investigating standards for northbound APIs

northbound APIs
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The 3GPP announced that it has initiated work to develop a common framework for northbound APIs as it looks to provide standards for integration with a growing range of vertical business sectors.

According to a blog post from 3GPP TSG SA Chairman Erik Guttman, while 3GPP has developed a number of interfaces – between the mobile device and the RAN, the RAN and the packet core, within the core itself, management and orchestration, etc – to support a broad range of functionality and services, an area where 3GPP has not actively developed standards is at the northbound API level, since the Open Service Architecture (OSA) API work was transferred to the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) in 2008.

Consequently, the 3GPP approved a new study on Common API Framework for 3GPP Northbound APIs at its March 2017 Plenary meeting (SA#75), and now the SA6 Working Group – responsible for application layer functional elements and interfaces – has started investigating the topic.

A northbound API is an interface between an application server (either in a mobile operator’s network or outside of it, operated by a third party) and the 3GPP system via specified functions in a mobile operator’s network. To realize standardized integration of services with diverse service providers, northbound APIs provide for interaction at the application layer. This makes it possible for mobile network operators to offer a wide range of services beyond prevalent teleservices – voice calls, SMS and data service. Those services can be exposed within the operator network or to third parties in other networks.

The interest in standardizing northbound APIs is driven by the 3GPP’s work to standardize services in the area of machine type communications (MTC), including IoT, Media Broadcast, V2X (Vehicle to Everything, including Vehicle to Vehicle and other use cases) and critical communications.

These activities, particularly those related to Broadcast and IoT, have increased interest in standardization of northbound APIs. In Release 14, the “eMBMS Delivery of Media and TV Services” feature provide broadcasters with the ability to directly integrate their services with mobile network operators over standardized interfaces to the 3GPP system. In Release 15, to correspond with OneM2M release 2, 3GPP will include functionality to directly expose Cellular IoT and MTC capabilities via northbound APIs.

This expanding activity across 3GPP has provided the impetus for this new Study on Common API Framework (FS_CAPIF), which has begun to consider common aspects of northbound APIs. The study will focus on architectural aspects such as registration, discovery and identity management that generally apply to all services. Common API Framework Functions could be achieved uniformly for such capabilities as Service API discovery, monitoring and charging.

FS_CAPIF aims to provide recommendations for specific architectural solutions that can subsequently be standardized. At this stage, requirements and issues have been identified and a gap analysis of existing solutions has begun.

While the scope of the study is general to all northbound APIs, Guttman said, it is important to support the specific needs of individual vertical service offerings as well. For example, work on Broadcast interfaces has benefited from the participation of 3GPP member organizations actively providing broadcasting services. Similarly, MTC-related service exposure is coordinated directly with OneM2M and involves a wide range of other participants.

Then there’s 5G, where 3GPP is currently focusing significant resources to develop standards. 5G aims to provide distinctive performance and capabilities to meet the needs of specific services. The 3GPP expects this to intensify the existing focus on integration with service providers in different service domains (i.e. vertical industries). One aspect of this may be a broadening range of northbound APIs designed to expose the capabilities and resources of 3GPP operator’s networks and the broad range of devices communicating over them.

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