Microsoft targets 5G arena with Affirmed Networks acquisition

IT giant turns sights on telecoms opportunities, bringing expertise of virtualised, cloud-native network software provider into Azure fold

Microsoft has signed a definitive agreement to acquire mobile network solutions provider Affirmed Networks, aiming to deliver what it claims will be new opportunities for a global 5G ecosystem.

Launched in 2010, Affirmed Networks offers virtualised, cloud-native network software for the mobile industry. Its flagship Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) is designed to enable communication service providers to scale their networks and offer differentiated web-scale mobile services, so they can keep up with the demands for mobile services while dramatically reducing capital expediture (capex) and operational expenditure (opex).

Microsoft says the acquisition will allow it to evolve its work with the telecoms industry, building on a secure and trusted cloud platform for operators. With Affirmed Networks, it says it will be able to offer innovative solutions tailored to operators’ needs, including managing network workloads in the cloud.

Microsoft’s vision is that where previous generations of wireless networks have been based on purpose-built hardware, future innovations in software and making use of broadly available cloud computing platforms such as Azure will enable operators to deploy and maintain 5G networks and services more efficiently, cost-effectively, rapidly and securely.

“As we have seen with other technology transformations, we believe that software can play an important role in helping advance 5G and deliver new network solutions that offer step-change advancements in speed, cost and security,” said Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice-president of Azure Networking.

“There is a significant opportunity for both incumbents and new players across the industry to innovate, collaborate and create new markets, serving the networking and edge computing needs of our mutual customers. We look forward to building on the great work by Affirmed Networks with its leadership in virtualised mobile networks.

“Bringing this technology and team of experts into Microsoft allows us to extend our cloud offering to operators everywhere as they increasingly look to run their networks in a hybrid environment. We are excited about our future together where carriers will be able to better leverage Microsoft’s cloud to improve overall profitability and create new revenue streams.”

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Research firm CCS Insight described Microsoft’s acquisition as the biggest statement yet by a hyper-scaler into 5G and telco transformation opportunities, following moves by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud into the telco space over the past year. It said the acquisition gives Microsoft much-needed telco DNA to help telcos build cloud capabilities, which is important as the markets for low-latency edge computing driven by 5G unfold over the next few years.

Nick McQuire, vice-president, enterprise research at CCS Insight, said: “With this move, Microsoft is ensuring not only that Azure is the best cloud to help telcos transform, but that it is also a front-runner against AWS and Google Cloud in the race to the edge. What we are seeing now is the convergence of the cloud, the network edge and 5G all happening in real time and the hyper-scalers are jockeying for position in this next shift in the cloud market.

“The acquisition is a major marker down against the other cloud providers as well, who will no doubt be feeling the pressure to generate similar capabilities around their own clouds in the future.”

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