T-Mobile may have finally picked its cloud
Verizon, the largest carrier in the US by number of customers, has made a number of major announcements with cloud computing vendor Amazon Web Services (AWS) over the years, including constructing almost two dozen AWS edge computing sites around the country. Meanwhile, AT&T has been deepening its own cloud relationship with Microsoft to include a major agreement to put some of its network operations into Microsoft's Azure for Operators cloud service.
And now T-Mobile may have found its own cloud partner: Google Cloud.
Google Cloud this week is hosting its annual Next trade conference. On Tuesday, the company announced a wide range of new cloud services and offerings alongside a list of more than a dozen major new or expanded customer agreements. Those customers include the US Forest Service, Coinbase, Rite Aid, Snap and T-Mobile.
"At T-Mobile, creating frictionless, simplified, and personalized experiences is key to our relationship with customers," said Marcus East, T-Mobile's EVP and chief digital officer, in a Google Cloud release. "We're thrilled to work with Google Cloud to address trends in consumer behavior, drive deeper relationships, and evaluate our customer-first approach."
Testing the waters
To be clear, T-Mobile said it will mainly use Google Cloud services to better understand its customers' needs. For example, T-Mobile said it would use Google Cloud's BigQuery and BigQuery ML to "better predict usage trends, identify and respond to consumer sentiment, and accelerate its analytics of consumer and product data to drive new business outcomes."
Added T-Mobile: "Google Cloud's Dialogflow and Contact Center AI offer natural interactions that redefine the possibilities of AI-powered conversation. This enables faster customer engagements and faster issue resolution."
Thus, T-Mobile's new deal with Google Cloud doesn't involve a core networking component like Verizon's work with AWS on distributed computing or AT&T's deal with Microsoft for core network operations.
Nonetheless, T-Mobile's use of Google Cloud could portend a deepening of the relationship between the 5G network operator and the public cloud vendor. And that's important because a number of telecom industry observers believe hyperscalers like Google Cloud may play a large role in the future of telecom network operations.
Already a wide range of industries – from media to government to financial services – have put much of their core digital infrastructure into the cloud. And in the telecom industry, network operators have been working to move significant portions of their systems – from customer service programs to IT operations – into the cloud.
But now, AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud are working to convince network operators to put their newly virtualized, software-defined network functions into the cloud, too.
Along those lines, each of the big hyperscalers has created telecom-specific business units, staffed by a large number of well-known telecom veterans, and have been sending phalanxes of executives to the telecom industry's biggest trade shows.
Timidity and reticence
For its part, T-Mobile officials have voiced some hesitancy about moving the company's core networking services into a public cloud environment.
"The phone isn't going to ring, the data session is not going to happen unless that core service is up and running," T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray said late last year at an investor event. "I'm not at the point yet where I would put that in the hands of a third party."
Other telecom executives have expressed similar feelings.
"Still want to put your network core into the public cloud? #suckers," tweeted Neil McRae, chief architect of the UK's BT, following one of AWS' outages.
But some longtime networking executives are spending a significant amount of time and energy on the intersection of telecom and hyperscale. For example, 5G equipment vendor Ericsson has a small team dedicated to that area, with the understanding that Ericsson's customers are curious about how they might run Ericsson's software in a hyperscale cloud environment.
One final element that's undoubtedly at play in T-Mobile's expanding relationship with Google Cloud: The potential for an alternative. For example, AT&T hasn't limited its cloud work to Microsoft's Azure; the company has also made cloud announcements with the likes of Google Cloud and AWS. Verizon, similarly, boasts of a cloud-agnostic approach to the market.
Even Dish Network – which has put all of its core networking operations into the AWS cloud – has indicated that it could move to a different vendor at any time.
Thus, Google Cloud will likely be working hard to keep T-Mobile happy, lest the company begin eyeing other cloud partners.
- Microsoft opens up about AT&T's 5G core
- T-Mobile's Neville Ray remains wary of moving around in the cloud
- Dish is not wedded to AWS after all
— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano