AT&T's standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) operations run through Microsoft equipment, but now AT&T is shifting that traffic into Microsoft's new Azure Operator Nexus platform.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

February 27, 2024

3 Min Read
Abstract internet connection network with silhouette of business team
(Source: Federico Caputo/Alamy Stock Photo)

MWC24 – BARCELONA – AT&T officials said the company plans to begin shunting commercial traffic into Microsoft's Azure Operator Nexus platform starting later this year.

AT&T's Yigal Elbaz called the platform "remarkable."

"Things that took us weeks and months take us days now," he said here on the sidelines of the MWC Barcelona trade show. "We wanted to benefit from automation and APIs [application programming interfaces] and toolings that exist in Azure."


The move would cap years of work between the two giants. AT&T first announced in 2021 its landmark agreement with Microsoft, and since then the companies have been refining and clarifying the parameters of their complex deal. Basically AT&T sold its "Network Cloud" core operations and staff to Microsoft for an undisclosed amount. AT&T is leasing back that operation just as Microsoft is using the product to build out its new Azure Operator Nexus platform. Microsoft officials explained that Microsoft essentially wrapped its code, security and existing Microsoft framework around AT&T's "Network Cloud" core product in order to produce Azure Operator Nexus, which Microsoft is now selling to other network operators.

Thus, Azure Operator Nexus stems from the telecom technology Microsoft acquired from Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks, as well as AT&T. Emirati operator Etisalat emerged this week as Microsoft's second customer for Microsoft's Nexus platform, after AT&T.

But AT&T officials reiterated that this is not a move into the public cloud. Microsoft's Nexus platform is "running in our data centers, on our hardware, operated by us," Elbaz said.

From NSA to SA

AT&T's chief networking executive, Chris Sambar, said late last year that the operator is moving some customers to the standalone (SA) version of its 5G core. The move comes after years of delay.

"We continue to move thousands of customers every day," Sambar wrote of AT&T's standalone 5G efforts. "We also recently launched AT&T Internet Air home fixed wireless service, and from the start, this product rides on standalone 5G."

Like most operators, AT&T first launched 5G via a non standalone (NSA) core. Both AT&T's SA and NSA 5G operations currently run through Microsoft equipment based on the companies' 2021 agreement – but the change is that now AT&T's traffic will run through Microsoft's new Nexus platform.

Elbaz explained AT&T will continue to funnel more and more of its commercial traffic onto its SA 5G core, even as it shifts to Microsoft's Azure Operator Nexus platform. He said that traffic would include fixed wireless as well as smartphone operations.

"We're scaling it daily and weekly," he said, adding that AT&T's SMO (service management and orchestration) will run on the Nexus platform.

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About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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