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NEC sends 5G to the cloud with Microsoft

There's been a striking new development in the "decades-long collaboration" between Japan's NEC and US software giant Microsoft.

The two companies have unveiled a "multi-year strategic partnership" that will see NEC adopt Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform provider. It not only means that NEC will use Azure to help deliver "digital workplaces" to its own enterprise customers, but also that NEC Group's employees – which number a sizable 11,000 worldwide – will migrate from an on-premises IT environment to Azure.

A case of very much walking the Azure talk, it seems, although NEC added that the "modernization" builds on its existing Microsoft 365 platform.

There's also mention in the official announcement of leveraging the assets of both companies. This includes pooling together Microsoft's "Intelligent Edge" solutions with NEC's private 5G networking tech. The idea here is that the two companies can work together to "help customers across industries transform."

They wheeled out an example from the retail sector to illustrate the point. By analyzing customer transaction data in real time using AI to better understand buying patterns, NEC and Microsoft reckon they can improve operational efficiency and identify new market opportunities.

Burnishing their cloud credentials

NEC is on a bit of a cloud roll. The company announced recently it had demonstrated its 4G and 5G Mobile Core Solution on Amazon Web Services for commercial offerings from "multiple" service providers in Japan. "Our core and its associated orchestration products allow us to provide sophisticated capabilities, such as end-to-end slicing, ultra-low latency and multi-cloud deployment options, which are key to realize the promises of 5G monetization," claimed Patrick Lopez, NEC's global VP of product management for 5G products.


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More spectacularly in terms of telco and public cloud convergence, however, is Microsoft getting its feet under the table with AT&T. At the end of last month, the US behemoth announced it will transition its 5G network operations into Microsoft's cloud over the next three years.

"It's the first time a Tier One operator has trusted their existing consumer subscriber base to hyperscaler technology," Microsoft's Shawn Hakl, VP of the company's 5G strategy, told Light Reading.

"It is a bold but pragmatic move," observed James Crawshaw, a principal analyst with Light Reading sister company Omdia. "There are still plenty of mobile network engineering activities that AT&T will retain and these still give it plenty of scope to differentiate from its competitors," he said. "They seem to be taking a view that running a telco cloud is not a source of differentiation and best left to someone with greater scale, like Microsoft."

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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