Microsoft Azure is expanding its telco solutions

by Ana Lopez

New smartphones may be making the most headlines at MWC, but at its heart the annual trade show is still a telco event. So it comes as no surprise that the major cloud providers, all competing for the lucrative telecom market, also made some announcements ahead of the event. AWS jumped ahead of its competitors by its news a week early and today it’s Microsoft’s turn. The new features the company announced today for telcos using their Azure cloud services focus on four areas: network transformation, automation and AI, network-aware applications, and what Microsoft calls “ubiquitous computing from cloud to edge.”

“The future hyperscale cloud will look very different from the cloud we have today,” said Jason Zander, Microsoft’s EVP for Strategic Missions and Tech. “Our expectation is that it will expand; it will be a highly divided fabric; it goes from 5G to space. That future – this intelligent cloud, this intelligent edge – must be powered by a modern network infrastructure. And it’s going to enable a new type of application and for that we need a new connectivity paradigm. We call this modern connected applications. In short, we are on track to bring you applications that can be connected anywhere, anytime across the planet. That’s where we’re going and we want to make sure we’re part of that future. And it’s a natural extension of the cloud and also an opportunity for us to partner with the telecommunications industry.”

As he noted, Microsoft believes that a modern network infrastructure will lead to a lower total cost of ownership for its telecom partners, while also helping them modernize and monetize their existing infrastructure. To do this, Microsoft today launched Azure Operator Nexus, its next-gen hybrid cloud platform for communications service providers. It enables these companies to run their carrier-grade workloads both on-premises and on Azure.

“AT&T made the decision to adopt the Azure Operator Nexus platform over time with the expectation of lowering total cost of ownership, leveraging the power of AI to simplify operations, improve time to market and focusing on our core competency: building the world’s best 5G service,” said Igal Elbaz, Senior Vice President, Network CTO, AT&T.

However, it’s not just about software. Zander explained that when Microsoft first approached this space, the company thought it could just take the same technology it built for Azure and apply it to the telco space. But that didn’t work. “It’s a combination of hardware, hardware acceleration and the associated software,” explains Zander. “This is important because Microsoft has a set of edge cloud hardware, but it’s not built for it. If you see vendors talking about using the same thing to run an IT workload if they plan to run a telecom network, that’s not working and that’s exactly why we made this multi-year investment. ”

As part of today’s announcements, Microsoft is also launching Azure communication gatewayits service for connecting fixed and mobile networks with Teams, in general availability and it launches Azure Operator Voicemail, a service that allows operators to migrate their voicemail (remember voicemail?) services to Azure as a fully managed service.

In the field of AI, Microsoft is launching two new “AIOps” services: Azure Operator Insights and Azure Operator Service Manager. Operator Insights uses machine learning to help operators analyze the massive amounts of data they collect from their network operations and troubleshoot potential issues, while Service Manager helps operators generate insights about their network configurations.

With this announcement, Microsoft is also focusing on building network-aware applications. This is largely about managing quality of service for specific applications. That could be 5G data from self-driving cars or connecting next-generation flying vehicles like the Volocopter, a company Microsoft has worked together for a while, to the cloud. As Zander pointed out, this requires back-and-forth between the providers and developers – and since no developer is going to make a service that only works on one network, there needs to be some interoperability here. With the Linux Foundation Project Camera, Microsoft, Google Cloud, IBM, Ericsson, Intel and others have collaborated with carriers such as AT&T, Deutsche Telecom, Orange, T-Mobile US, Telefonica, TELUS and Vodafone to create an open API standard for part of this work. “They get it. They know they want to differentiate themselves, but they also know that if there’s a fragment in the app ecosystem, it will somehow get stuck,” says Zander.

Also new today is the general availability of the Azure Private 5G Core and that from Microsoft edge computing with multiple accesses (MEC) service.

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