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Service Provider Cloud

That time public cloud hyperscalers invaded MWC LA

LOS ANGELES – MWC LA – After almost two years of mostly at-home virtual events, a significant chunk of the US wireless industry gathered this week in Los Angeles for in-person meetings, serendipitous hallway encounters and boozy, after-hours socializing. Pants are no longer optional.

Some attendees sported new coronavirus beards. Others boasted of being able to squeeze into their old, pre-pandemic clothing. "We're a little rusty," acknowledged Carlos Bosch, the GSMA's head of technology, amid audio problems between virtual and in-person speakers during one MWC panel discussion.

But there was one glaring, new development at this year's event: The public cloud hyperscalers have officially entered the US wireless networking industry.

Enter Big Tech

Google, Microsoft and Amazon each fielded a number of top executives at the show. For example, almost two dozen Amazon cloud managers traversed the show floor. Many of those are veteran telecom executives, with decades of experience at wireless equipment vendors or network operators. Some are only a few weeks into their new jobs.

"The goal here is to work with the carriers," explained Sunay Tripathi, Google's new director and head of products for telecom and the "distributed cloud edge."

Tripathi, who spoke at a 5G Future Forum event here, typified the new trend: He cut his teeth at Sun Microsystems before helping to found software-defined networking company Pluribus Networks. For the past three years, he was the CTO of Deutsche Telekom's MobiledgeX. According to his LinkedIn profile, he joined Google in July. "We are rearchitecting a lot of the underlying network, and that creates a lot of opportunity," Tripathi explained.

Google, Microsoft and Amazon have long played in the telecom industry as software, IT and cloud suppliers. And like most modern enterprises across all industries, mobile network operators have increasingly pushed their IT operations into the public cloud.

But during the past two years, Google, Microsoft and Amazon have all begun developing cloud computing products specifically designed to host wireless providers' network functions. Whether it's Microsoft's Azure for Operators or Google's Anthos for Telecom, it's intended to get network operators to put their crown jewels – their core network functions – into a hyperscale cloud.

And it's something all three cloud companies are serious about, judging from their telecom hiring sprees or their acquisitions in the space. Microsoft, for example, last year spent an estimated $1.8 billion buying longtime telecom vendors Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks.

New ideas and new disruption

According to analysts, the entry of the public cloud hyperscalers represents a major new strategic turn in the industry, considering network operators have historically retained tight control over their networking systems. And though most have been moving toward cloud technologies they own and operate, few have agreed to run their networking software in a public cloud operated by a hyperscaler.

"In outsourcing the infrastructure to cloud providers, telcos risk losing control of different aspects of their network and technology roadmap over the long term," warned analyst Frank Rayal of Xona Partners in a post to his website titled "How telcos outsourced their brains."

Nonetheless, there are increasing indications that operators around the world are more than open to the idea. "The technologies that we will build [with the cloud] will let others consume our network," explained Luciano Ramos, SVP of network development, planning and engineering for Rogers Comunications in Canada.

Indeed, AT&T recently announced it would transition its 5G core network operations into Microsoft's cloud over the next three years. And Dish Network plans to run all of its network operations in the Amazon Web Services cloud.

According to Rakuten's outspoken mobile chief, Tareq Amin, it's ultimately necessary. He said he designed Rakuten's mobile network in Japan to natively run in the cloud, and that it required a major shift in his team's thinking. "I wanted to pick the right mentality" when staffing up Rakuten Mobile, he said. "It was easier to deploy cloud because the Rakuten people wanted to be open to new ideas," he said. "They were open to new ideas and new disruption."

Amin made his comments during a keynote address at the MWC LA show here. He made sure to point out that Rakuten Mobile in Japan now counts around 5 million customers, and boasts leading network metrics. It was essentially Amin's victory lap after announcing his plan to build such a network just a few years ago, at the MWC Barcelona show in 2019.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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