Working with Telco Integrations

February 18, 2021

Over the past few years telco integrations have become more and more popular and it’s easy to see why.  They provide big businesses the ability to offer a new, and mostly frictionless purchasing route whilst using existing infrastructure.  Having worked closely on these I thought it was worth sharing my experiences.

What is a Telco integration?

Telco is an abbreviation of telecommunications, in short your mobile network provider.  In most cases your network provider already has a lot of ways to help you sign in or bill you, you can take the cost of a service and charge it to your existing airtime credit, add it to your monthly bill or debit a digital wallet. But billing isn't the only thing these integrations offer, they also contain single sign on information offering reduced steps to join a new service or even just earn extra rewards.

The benefits of Telco payments

As you might know, any service sold in the app stores is subject to Google and Apple taking up to a 30% cut, while this is seen as a cost of business for some it is a price too high to pay for others.  This is where 3rd party integrations can come in.  Telcos allow for a more flexible way to bill users, whilst working around the platform rules.

Telcos themselves can offer multiple ways to bill a user as well as different routes into an application.  Where an app might usually only be found via the app store instead users might see a subscription as an add on pack or be linked to it directly in an SMS, the marketing opportunities increase ten fold with minimal effort.

Of course it’s not just the users that benefit from an integrated solution, when users sign up via an existing account more secure and anonymous information about the user can be shared so analytics provide even more granular information, feeding into content recommendations and user behaviour, influencing new content or feature rollout.

What about the problems with Telcos?

It’s no surprise that there are issues when integrating telco systems, like anything using a 3rd party is, it's subject to maintaining good communications and exchanging clear documentation and this sometimes isn’t possible.  Whether it's due to distance, language barriers or ever fluctuating technologies.  Shared diagrams can be key in a sea of 100 page documents.

Following on from this is the lack of standardisation. Each telco provider will need to do something slightly which leads to not using a standard approach, this can be somewhat avoided by utilising the same foundations, such as token exchange or API authorization.

Finally comes one of the favourite topics of and redundancy.  The systems created shared key user data so extra effort and care must be put into securing the information as well as making sure users can always access or delete their information.  A requirement that should always have dedicated discussions to establish.

Simplestream and telcos, working well together

Let's be frank for a moment, anyone with an understanding of API’s and servers can attempt to integrate with a telco but providing these services is so much more than that:

Needing the full team - These integrations for all the user benefits are complicated so Simplestream provides all the resources required such as designers to provide frontend wireframes, architects to agree logical diagrams, engineers to build servers, project managers to maintain lines of communication and developers to implement the plan.

Including the rest of the suite - A new way to purchase and sign up to a service is great but what makes it even better is pairing it with existing features that compliment this work such as regional currencies, support for trial periods and multi-lingual support.  

Flexible services - Although there are standards for Single Sign On and purchasing methods, most of the time these are not used by telcos for numerous reasons, as such the system needs to be flexible to support multi-purchase options, one time passwords, in device validation and more.  No two telcos are the same and the service needs to work with any new requirements.

So why should we integrate Telcos

From the perspective of a technician it’s clear that these kinds of integrations allow for the use of a huge variety of technologies, a change to better standardise integrations and an opportunity to problem solve even the most legacy integrations.  For the telco and and the content provider, this type of integration offers further routes to market, bolstering the features set and better data gathering on the audience as a whole.  But the user is arguably the biggest beneficiary, the purchasing flow is quick and easy with no new requirements to put in payment details for the 1,000th time and the payment option is bespoke to their region or provider so every country can have it’s own offering, each with a feeling security and stability to use a company they trust to explore a new content offering.

Written by Ashley Horne, Simplestream's Head of Architecture, survivor of three African and two French telcos.