Telcos have regularly sought out Nokia as a provider of network goodies. In more recent years, they have also looked to Google for its expertise in the cloud and all things related. Now they can buy the entire package in one go after the Finnish equipment maker and the US Internet giant made a joint pitch to operators.
The alliance they have struck targets operators building 5G networks with the enterprise customer in mind. Businesses signing up to 5G services will, of course, need a service provider equipped with the full array of core network, device management and charging tools provided by network vendors. Many also need applications to be hosted at locations that are close to the user, allowing them to reduce "latency" – the time it takes the data signal to make a roundtrip on the network – and improve performance. For that, they need platforms built by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
Under the partnership announced today, Nokia is to supply various core network products, including its system for remote management of devices, along with charging software. To all that, Google will add the Anthos for Telecom platform it unveiled in March last year. That means service providers will be able to provide support for different services from a range of different locations – at the edge of the carrier network, on business premises or in Google's own public cloud.
No edge ambition
The tie-up suggests Nokia harbors no ambitions to build and sell its own Anthos-like platform and comes several months after Swedish rival Ericsson gave up on Edge Gravity, an edge cloud network that had failed to make any headway against Internet companies and edge specialists. A recognition that network vendors cannot compete in this market seals off a potential avenue of sales growth.
The partnership also comes while major telcos are moving ahead with the rollout of 5G-based edge services. The UK's Vodafone, notably, has plans to launch a commercial service in the spring that promises at least a fivefold reduction in latency (cutting journey times to less than 10 milliseconds). Its German sibling aims to provide a similar service this year. Vodafone has named Amazon as its platform partner and is hosting the Internet firm's Wavelength technology on application servers at appropriate facilities.
In the case of Nokia and Google, the question is why service providers could not simply buy from them separately. The companies are probably banking on desire for the convenience of a one-stop shop, but this might not be enough to attract customers unless discounts are also a part of the offer. Even then, some operators will undoubtedly prefer to maintain discrete arrangements.
That said, Nokia and Google are promising to "co-innovate" on new 5G products, and customers may see advantages in running the Finnish vendor's core network products in conjunction with the Internet firm's platform. BT and Deutsche Telekom, two major European operators, have already responded positively to the announcement, suggesting they are prospective customers.
"We are … excited to see two innovative organizations like Nokia and Google Cloud joining forces to accelerate ecosystem innovation across critical areas," said Alex Choi, Deutsche Telekom's senior vice president of strategy and technology innovation, in the official statement. Neil McRae, the chief architect at BT, chipped in with his own endorsement. "BT is excited that Google and Nokia are innovating together to help accelerate new, on-demand edge and convergence solutions, creating new possibilities for consumers and enterprises."
BT last year named Ericsson its main 5G core network partner as a replacement for Huawei, a Chinese vendor now deemed too big a security risk by government authorities to be allowed anywhere near either the 5G core or radio access network. Owing to similar security concerns, Deutsche Telekom has said it is replacing Huawei in its own core network but not publicly divulged details of new vendors.
The latest partnership between Nokia and Google comes a few months after they announced a deal under which the Finnish vendor will move its IT systems into the public cloud. The five-year contract means Nokia will jettison its own data centers and servers – along, presumably, with the staff who manage them – and run IT systems and various software applications through Google Cloud. It anticipates "meaningful operational cost savings and efficiencies" as it cuts back on real estate, energy costs and hardware spending.
The Internet giants have continued their advance into the telecom sector in the last year, striking deals with equipment vendors and service providers alike. After Ericsson dropped Edge Gravity, today's news only increases the likelihood that Amazon, Google and Microsoft will become the dominant players in 5G edge computing.
- Vodafone touts UK's first 5G 'edge' service with AWS
- Loss-making Nokia turns to Google Cloud in latest savings move
- What went wrong at Edge Gravity?
- Nokia CEO lays out 5G turnaround plan as shares tank
- As Nokia bolsters 5G spend, other R&D is suffering
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading