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Microsoft Positions Itself as the Platform of Choice for 5G

As telecom companies begin rolling out 5G services, Microsoft is touting its 5G bona fides, namely Azure support for software-defined networking and its 2020 acquisitions of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks.

The idea, according to an announcement Monday, is that telcos can use Microsoft's more flexible software-defined networking technologies to provide services, rather than build out their own existing telco networks, which may be more rigid. Microsoft described its offerings as "a carrier-grade platform":

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.

Microsoft and its partners provide network functions support for "Radio Access Network, Mobile Packet Core, Voice and Interconnect services," the announcement explained. Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks specifically are providing the services for the last three functions.

In addition, Microsoft is leveraging its Azure Edge Zones, introduced at preview in April, to support telcos. Azure Edge Zones are smaller Azure networks, distant from Azure regions but near population areas, that can be used to support carrier operations. They may get used to reduce network latency by processing data more locally. They also can be used for "real-time IoT and artificial intelligence" analytics.

Microsoft is also promoting other services, such as Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Machine Learning, to deliver artificial intelligence (AI) support to mobile operators. It also offers Internet of Things (IoT) support via the Azure IoT service, with Azure IoT Central used to more easily build scalable services.

"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," Microsoft's announcement suggested.

Microsoft claims to have 170 points of presence with more than 20,000 peering connections around the globe. These points of presence support "putting direct connectivity within 25 miles of 85 percent of the world's GDP," the announcement added. In addition, Microsoft's ExpressRoute private Internet connection service is hosted by "more than 200 operators."

As if to demonstrate its telco support, Microsoft this week announced details of its continuing work with Australian telco Telstra. Microsoft is serving as Telstra's "preferred cloud provider."

The two companies are working on 5G initiatives. They are working on "IoT, Edge, AI and digital twin" capabilities that will be used for things like "asset tracking, supply chain management, telematics and smart spaces." The digital twins technology collaboration involves mapping Telstra's own buildings, which will be used for planning purposes. The Telstra Purple service provider is also using digital twins technology for its customer Downer Group, which is mapping asphalt plants to enable real-time safety monitoring.

Telstra is also using Microsoft Business Voice for its SMB customers. It collaborated with Microsoft on a Telstra Data Hub, which is used "to help industries better manage their data securely." The Telstra Data Hub is "designed to facilitate complex data sharing" via a many-to-many architecture.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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