The increasing demand for always-on connectivity, immersive experiences, secure collaboration, and remote human relationships is pushing networks to their limits, while the market is driving down price. The network infrastructure must ensure operators are able to optimize costs and gain efficiencies, while enabling the development of personalized and differentiated services. To address the requirements of rolling out 5G, operators will face strong challenges, including high capital expenditure (CapEx) investments, an increased need for scale, automation, and secure management of the massive volume of data it will generate.
Today starts a new chapter in our close collaboration with the telecommunications industry to unlock the power of 5G and bring cloud and edge closer than ever. We’re building a carrier-grade cloud and bringing more Microsoft technology to the operator’s edge. This, in combination with our developer ecosystem, will help operators to future proof their networks, drive down costs, and create new services and business models.
In Microsoft, operators get a trusted partner who will empower them to unlock the potential of 5G. Enabling them to offer a range of new services such as ultra-reliable low-latency connectivity, mixed reality communications services, network slicing, and highly scalable IoT applications to transform entire industries and communities.
By harnessing the power of Microsoft Azure, on their edge, or in the cloud, operators can transition to a more flexible and scalable model, drive down infrastructure cost, use AI and machine learning (ML) to automate operations and create service differentiation. Furthermore, a hybrid and hyper-scale infrastructure will provide operators with the agility they need to rapidly innovate and experiment with new 5G services on a programmable network.
More specifically, we will further support operators as they evolve their infrastructure and operations using technologies such as software-defined networking, network function virtualization, and service-based architectures. We are bringing to market a carrier-grade platform for edge and cloud to support the operator’s goals to future proof their infrastructure with disaggregated, and containerized network architectures. Recognizing that not everything will move to the public cloud, we will meet operators where they are—whether at the enterprise edge, the network edge, or in the cloud.
Our approach is built on the acquisitions of industry leaders in cloud-native network functions—Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch and on the development of Azure Edge Zones. By bringing together hundreds of engineers with deep experience in the telecommunications space, we are ensuring that our product development process is catering to the most relevant networking needs of the operators. We will leverage the strengths of Microsoft to extend and enhance the current capabilities of industry-leading products such as Affirmed’s 5G core and Metaswitch’s UC portfolio. These capabilities, combined with Microsoft’s broad developer ecosystem and deep business to business partnership programs, provide Microsoft with a unique ability to support the operators as they seek to monetize the capabilities of their networks.
Your customer, your service, powered by our technology
As we build out our partnerships with different operators, it is clear to us that there will be different approaches to technology adoption based on business needs. Some operators may choose to adopt the Azure platform and select a varied mix of virtualized or containerized network function providers. We also have operators that have requested complete end-to-end services as components for their offers. As a part of these discussions, many operators have identified points of control that are important to them, for example:
Control over where a slice, network API, or function is presented to the customer.
Definition of where and how traffic enters and exits their network.
Visibility and control over where key functions are executed for a given customer scenario.
Configuration and performance parameters of core network functions.
As we build out Azure for Operators, we recognize the importance of ensuring operators have the control and visibility they require to manage their unique industry requirements. To that end, here is how our assets come together to provide operators with the platform they need.
It starts with the ability to interconnect deeply with the operator’s network around the globe. We have one of the largest networks that connect with operators at more than 170 points of presence and over 20,000 peering connections around the globe, putting direct connectivity within 25 miles of 85 percent of the world’s GDP. More than 200 operators have already chosen to integrate with the Azure network through our ExpressRoute service, enabling enterprises and partners to link their corporate networks privately and securely to Azure services. We also provide additional routes to connect to the service through options as varied as satellite connectivity and TV White Space spectrum.
This reach helps us to supply operators with cloud computing options that meet the customer wherever those capabilities are needed: at the enterprise edge, the network edge, the network core, or in the cloud. The various form factors, optimized to support the location in which they are deployed, are supported by the Azure platform—providing virtual machine and container services with a common management framework, DevOps support, and security control.
We believe in an open platform that leverages the strengths of our partners. Our solutions are a combination of virtualized and containerized services as composable functions, developed by us and by our Network Equipment Provider partners, to support operators’ services such as the Radio Access Network, Mobile Packet Core, Voice and Interconnect services, and other network functions.
Technology from Affirmed and Metaswitch Networks will provide services for Mobile Packet Core, Voice, and Interconnect services.
Cloud solutions and Azure IoT for operators
By exposing these services through the Azure platform, we can combine them with other Azure capabilities such as Azure Cognitive Services (used by more than 1 million developers processing more than 10 billion transaction per day), Azure Machine Learning, and Azure IoT, to bring the power of AI and automation to the delivery of network services. These capabilities, in concert with our partnerships with OSS and BSS providers, enables us to help operators streamline and simplify operations, create new services to monetize the network, and gain greater insights into customer behavior.
In IoT our primary focus is simplifying our solutions to accelerate what we can do together from the edge to the cloud. We’ve done so by creating a platform that provides simple and secure provisioning of applications and devices to Azure cloud solutions through Azure IoT Central, which is the fastest and easiest way to build IoT solutions at scale. IoT Central enables customers to provision an IoT app in seconds, customize it in hours, and go to production the same day. IoT Plug and Play dramatically simplifies all aspects of IoT device support and provides devices that “just work” with any solution and is the perfect complement to achieve speed and simplicity through IoT Central. Azure IoT Central also gives the Mobile Operator the opportunity to monetize more of the IoT solution and puts them in a position to be a re-seller of the IoT Central application platform through their own solutions. Learn more about using Azure IoT for operators here.
Cellular connectivity is increasingly important for IoT solutions and represents a vast and generational shift for mobile operators as the share of devices in market shifts towards the enterprise. We will continue our deep partnership with operators to enable fast and efficient app development and deployment, which is critical to success at the edge. This will help support scenarios such as asset tracking across industries, manufacturing and distribution of smart products, and responsive supply chains. It will also help support scenarios where things are geographically dispersed, such as smart city automation, utility monitoring, and precision agriculture.
Where we go next
Our early engagement with partners such as Telstra and Etisalat helped us shape this path. We joined the 5G Open Innovation Lab as the founding public cloud partner to accelerate enterprise startups and launch new innovations to foster new 5G use cases with even greater access to leading-edge networks. The Lab will create long-term, sustainable developer and commercial ecosystems that will accelerate the delivery of exciting new capabilities at the edge, including pervasive IoT intelligence and immersive mixed reality. And this is just the beginning. I invite you to learn more about our solutions and watch the series of videos we have curated for you.