Microsoft's slow but seemingly inexorable entry into the 5G industry took one step further this week as the company announced it would begin selling global data traffic transport and routing services to 5G network operators under its new Azure for Operators business.
"Operators spend a lot of money to manage and maintain their networks and peering relationships, but so does Microsoft. The question then is, why are two massive industries doing the same thing? Because both parties move packets around, doesn't it make more sense for them to collaborate?" wrote Victor Bahl, a longtime Microsoft executive and CTO of the company's new Azure for Operators business, in a post to the company's website. "Here, the well-managed, reliable, and performant Azure network should be thought of as the backbone that operators trust. With this shift in thinking will come all the advantages of innovation that IT companies like Microsoft are rapidly bringing in."
Bahl said Microsoft is selling its services to large, established 5G network operators that already manage their own routing and transport operations, as well as newer entrants that may not have developed such systems. Under Microsoft's sales pitch, 5G operators can focus on erecting cell towers and central offices, but can rely on Microsoft's Internet backbone to carry their customers' traffic from those locations across the US and the world.
"We have developed a fast-forwarding mechanism to build a 5G overlay on our existing WAN [wide area network], thereby supporting a variety of 5G network slices with different wired transport properties, while avoiding interference with the operation of the underlying enterprise cloud network," Bahl wrote. He explained that Microsoft is also offering related services, including network verification, DDoS protection, firewalls, traffic accelerators, connection analytics, load balancers and rate limiters.
Ultimately, Bahl wrote, Microsoft has already developed a global transport and routing network that sports "significant capacity" across 175,000 miles of lit fiber and undersea cable systems, spanning 200 network points of presence (PoPs) in over 140 countries. That network already supports the company's booming Azure cloud computing service.
Now, though, Microsoft is selling the "well-managed, reliable, and performant" transport and routing network that underpins Azure to 5G network operators. The company said its network operator customers could expect cheaper, faster and more reliable routing and transport services as a result.
The effort by Microsoft builds on the company's other major steps into the telecom industry. Last year the company acquired major telecom vendors Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks, and subsequently introduced its Azure for Operators to "provide operators with the agility they need to rapidly innovate and experiment with new 5G services on a programmable network." The company earlier this year doubled down on the opportunity with the purchase of AT&T's Network Cloud operation, a move that positions AT&T to shift its 5G core network operations into Microsoft's cloud over the next three years.
More broadly, Microsoft is one of a trio of massive cloud computing companies that are hoping to generate sales among telecom companies, including 5G network operators. Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft are all now selling various products and services into the telecom space.
And a growing number of telecom companies – from Canada's Telus to Germany's Deutsche Telekom – are jumping at the prospect of teaming with a cloud computing vendor. Perhaps the most visible example of the trend is Dish Network's massive new deal with AWS, whereby it plans to run all of its network software in the Amazon cloud.
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