Microsoft buys Affirmed Networks to provide cloudy services for 5G network operators

Vodafone, Orange, AT&T, and Softbank are already users, will soon have Azure option

Microsoft has become the latest company to have a crack at helping telcos prepare for 5G by acquiring network specialist Affirmed Networks.

Affirmed's big product, UnityCloud, provides tools for managing wireless carrier networks, such as increasing and decreasing capacity on demand. The platform can also network slice, a flagship feature of 5G tech which allows providers to prioritise certain kinds of traffic on their networks.

The Massachusetts company already has more than 100 carriers as customers, including big players such as Vodafone, Orange, AT&T, and Softbank.

The deal allows Microsoft to integrate Affirmed's network tech directly into Azure, enabling telcos to operate and manage their 5G networks on the cloud instead of through traditional hardware. Azure already has a $2bn cloud contract with AT&T, as well as several other carriers.

"As we’ve seen with other technology transformations, we believe that software can play an important role in helping advance 5G and deliver new network solutions that offer step-change advancements in speed, cost and security," Microsoft's veep of Azure Networking, Yousef Khalidi, wrote in a blog post.

"There is a significant opportunity for both incumbents and new players across the industry to innovate, collaborate and create new markets, serving the networking and edge computing needs of our mutual customers."

Microsoft's push into 5G reflects the telecoms industry's move away from tightly-coupled proprietary systems. 5G is instead is built on more open, cloud-native platforms.

Several other enterprise-focused companies have tried to get in on the action. Earlier this month, HPE unveiled its 5G Core Stack, a collection of software building blocks for developing fifth-generation networks. Google recently made similar moves with its Anthos for Telecom and Global Mobile Edge Cloud platforms. Amazon has AWS Wavelength, which provides storage and compute power to 5G networks. VMware - unsurprisingly - offers virtual networks in a just-for-carriers cut of its NSX product.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but given Affirmed's recent $155m in fund raising, it was likely a hefty sum. ®

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