U.S. software giant Microsoft has announced plans to collaborate with telecommunications companies on the rollout of 5G networks with a view to making cloud and edge technologies more accessible via Microsoft’s Azure cloud service. In a blog post, Azure executive vice president Jason Zander said Microsoft intends to help operators unlock the potential of 5G by 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.”
The company said its approach is built on the recent acquisition of two 5G telecom software providers, Metaswitch Networks and Affirmed Networks, 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,” said Zander.
Separately, South Korean device manufacturer Samsung announced an agreement to collaborate with Microsoft on an end-to-end, cloud-based private 5G network solution. Samsung said the two companies plan to advance the virtualization of 5G solutions, including the deployment of Samsung’s virtualized RAN, virtualized core and Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) technologies on Microsoft Azure.
The aim is to achieve greater cost efficiencies in 5G deployments, lowering the barrier to entry for private 5G networks in businesses such as retail stores, smart factories and entertainment venues, said the company.
The benefits of 5G to a broad spectrum of different kinds of consumers, in the large-enterprise, SME and consumer spheres, are apparent, and the push to make them accessible to as many customers as possible is on. In order to make 5G’s potential a reality, partnerships between technology companies, software developers and telecom operators are key. Microsoft’s current initiatives appear to be promising, although they betoken both advantages and challenges for mobile operators.
On the plus side, Microsoft Azure’s acquisition of two 5G software providers should enable the company to offer a one-stop shop for MNOs that are looking to improve the quality of their 5G signal, to provide bespoke IoT applications and to bring MVNOs into their ecosystem by way of network slicing. For MNOs, partnering with Microsoft could provide access to a range of solutions that otherwise could be more costly in terms of R&D.
On the other hand, Microsoft’s partnership with Samsung presages something of a problem for MNOs. Combining the expertise and infrastructure of a software and cloud computing provider and a device and technology developer is intended to make 5G networks available to companies on a private basis. If retail store, factories and entertainment venues can specify the design of their own private 5G networks and implement them, MNOs would effectively be shut out, and precisely in the area of their core business. As this possibility looms on the horizon, major MNOs should certainly be thinking about how to position themselves to meet the special needs of such enterprises, even to the point of collaborating with them to create local networks for specific venues and purposes.