Microsoft updates Azure for Operators, adds private 5G

Azure Operator Distributed Services designed to let telcos run workloads on a single carrier-grade hybrid platform

Microsoft has updated its Azure for Operators portfolio aimed at telecoms providers, with Azure Operator Distributed Services enabling those customers to run workloads on a single carrier-grade hybrid platform.

Redmond unveiled Azure for Operators in September 2020 with the intent to add capabilities to its cloud infrastructure to support carrier-grade network operations such as low-latency connectivity and network slicing in a bid to draw telcos to Azure.

This was given a boost last year when AT&T decided to migrate its 5G mobile network to Azure, and Microsoft gained AT&T's carrier-grade Network Cloud platform as part of the deal.

To coincide with Mobile World Congress (MWC), Microsoft has now lifted the lid on Azure Operator Distributed Services, which it says provides an enhanced version of the AT&T platform combined with technology from Azure, singling out security, monitoring, analytics, and machine learning for telcos seeking a carrier-grade cloud.

Azure Operator Distributed Services will enable telecoms operators to run all their workloads on a single carrier-grade hybrid platform, including the core functions, RAN, mobile and voice core, operations support systems (OSS), and business support systems (BSS). Microsoft claimed this will allow telecoms operators to streamline business operations, with the Azure cloud platform providing them with management, policy, and automation services.

Naturally, Microsoft and AT&T are working together on the deployment of Azure Operator Distributed Services, with initial testing stages planned for later this year.

In a statement, Andre Fuetsch, AT&T EVP and CTO of Network Services, said his firm was pleased with Microsoft's efforts to integrate its Network Cloud with Azure technologies to create a hybrid telco-grade platform.

"This will enable AT&T and other operators to host network functions on clouds spanning telco premises and public cloud and will help us realise the many benefits of the cloud-native approach and Azure innovation including additional speed, resiliency, security, cost, and operational improvements," he commented.

AT&T's mobile core network already operates more than 60 containerized network functions (CNFs) and virtual network functions (VNFs) from 15 different vendors, which are deployed and running on the AT&T Network Cloud platform.

Microsoft also announced a couple of preview releases within the Azure for Operators portfolio: a private preview of Azure Operator 5G Core, and a public preview of Azure Private 5G Core.

These sound similar, but should not be confused: Azure Operator 5G Core deploys on Azure Operator Distributed Services and is aimed at telecoms operators, and thus designed to scale to hundreds of millions of subscribers and devices. It is being trialled by a select number of partners and customers.

Azure Operator 5G Core is built on a distributed architecture and includes cloud management, service automation, life cycle management, network slicing, and integrated analytics functions. When used alongside the broader Azure ecosystems, it will enable operators to achieve greater value by creating new solutions such as gaming or smart cities, Microsoft said.

Azure Private 5G Core allows operators and system integrators to deliver private 4G and 5G networks for enterprise customers. It is available as part of the Azure private multi-access edge compute (MEC) platform. Microsoft partners delivering such a service will be able to use Azure to manage multiple, globally distributed private networks.

According to Microsoft, MEC was created with mobile operators to enable enterprises and developers to deliver applications at the operator edge that call for high-performance and low-latency, using the operator's public 5G network infrastructure.

Microsoft's intention is for applications that run on Azure public MEC to offer customers the ability to analyse data closer to where it is being captured, from users and edge-enabled devices such as connected cars and smartphones. ®

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