Microsoft adds more 5G-centric services to its Azure-for-telcos lineup

Microsoft is continuing its strategy to make Azure the best cloud for telecommunications companies and their partners with new hybrid and edge services.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

This week, Microsoft's new product announcements at Mobile World Congress (MWC) are focused on its telecommunications customers. Microsoft is taking the wraps off four new families of Azure services that span its hybrid-operator and edge-computing platforms on February 27.

Microsoft first unveiled plans to create a "telco-grade cloud" with its September 2020 announcement of its Azure for Operators initiative. Earlier that same year, Microsoft had acquired two other 5G-centric companies, Metaswitch Networks and Affirmed Networks, both of which became part of its Azure for Operators strategy. Microsoft officials said they had no intentions for Microsoft to become a telco; instead, they wanted to make Azure the best place for telcos and telecommunications-focused partners to operate.

Last year, Microsoft announced Azure private multi-access edge compute (MEC), aimed specifically at operators and system integrators focused on the enterprise 5G space. Around the same time, Microsoft acquired AT&T's Network Cloud platform technology and engineering team. The Network Cloud Platform is what AT&T has used to run its 5G technology since 2018.

At MWC, Microsoft is announcing a new offering, Azure Operator Distributed Services, which builds on top of the AT&T Network Cloud technology. This new platform supports 5G mobile and voice networks.

Officials said Azure Operator Distributed Services will combine Azure security, Azure Arc management, monitoring, analytics, AI, machine learning and other Azure services. Customers can run this platform on the Azure public cloud or at AT&T on-premises. Azure Operator Distributed Services was designed to support the AT&T mobile core network, which includes more than 60 cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and virtual network functions (VNFs) from 15 different vendors which are currently deployed and running on the A&T Network Cloud platform.

 AT&T and Microsoft are working together on Azure Operator Distributed Services, with initial testing stages planned for later this year, Microsoft officials said. As part of today's announcements, Microsoft said a private preview of the Azure Operator 5G Core, which deploys on the Azure Operator Distributed Services platform, is now available.

Microsoft is also making a public preview of the Azure Private 5G Core, a 5G packet-core-as-a-service for the aforementioned Azure private MEC solution. The Azure Private 5G Core is meant to give operators and system integrators a way to deploy private 4G and 5G networks at the edge on products like Azure Stack Edge.

At MWC, Microsoft also announced Azure public MEC, which officials described as supporting high-performance, low-latency apps at the operator edge using operators' public 5G network connectivity. Using Azure public MEC, customers can analyze data closer to where it is captured from users and edge-enabled devices like industrial IoT devices, cars and smartphones. Microsoft is collaborating with a variety of operators and ISVs to deliver Azure public MEC, including AT&T, Singtel, Checkpoint, Couchbase and VMware.

Azure for Operators is one of four key, strategic businesses that Microsoft is cultivating as part of its Strategic Missions and Technologies team, which the company formed in November last year. Jason Zander is the Executive Vice President in charge of that team.

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