Azure for Operators CTO states the service’s case for low-latency 5G services
Microsoft Azure can help operators with 5G Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC). That’s the message from Victor Bahl, Microsoft technical fellow and chief technology officer, Azure for Operators.
Microsoft wants operators to consider Azure to be a reliable backbone worldwide WAN service to complement their infrastructure, said Bahl.
“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?
“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,” said Bahl.
5G low latency challenges
Microsoft’s global Azure Wide Area Network (WAN) comprises almost 200 points of presence over 60 regions, across 140 countries, and is connected using over 175,000 miles (ca. 281,635 km) of fiber and undersea cable, said Bahl.
He also pointed to Azure’s massive reserve capacity as an important advantage: “This combination of redundant capacity to handle failures, dark capacity for significant growth, and research advancements being made in increasing transmission speeds means that we have a massive amount of spare capacity to serve 5G traffic to a broad array of new operators.”
Microsoft has optimized network traffic orchestration away from Internet protocols and towards 5G requirements, said Bahl.
“Our orchestrator takes control away from classic Internet protocols and instead moves that control into software that we build and control for 5G traffic. We place the 5G flows that demand high performance on low-latency, high bandwidth paths to and from the Internet. Network flows that are cost-sensitive are instead routed through cheaper paths.
“In effect, we have developed a fast-forwarding mechanism to build a 5G overlay on our existing WAN, 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.”
Extending the olive branch
Microsoft has repeatedly emphasized its desire to partner, not compete, with operators on 5G since announcing Azure for Operators in 2020. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out the foundational principles for Azure for Operators at the time: partnerships, ecosystem development and infrastructure monetization.
“We want to partner with you to bring the power of the cloud and edge to your network,” using Azure’s real-time operating system to continue to support IoT device connectivity and management while extending automation out of the core to the nascent network edge,” Nadella said. “Second, we want to take an ecosystem-wide approach bringing the scale of our developer and partner ecosystem to you.”
Combining enhanced mobile broadband with ultra reliable, low latency communications and massive IoT “will unlock new use cases that increase in value as they’re incorporated into developer applications,” Nadella continued. “Third, we want to help you create additional value by helping you reduce cost and increase revenue.”
Given the approximately $1 trillion that will go into upgrading networks to 5G, “There is a critical need to reduce total cost of ownership and monetize these investments,” according to Nadella. “We will enable you to deliver these existing services…as well as value-added services with greater cost efficiency and lower capital investment than ever. These three principles guide our work together.”
Hyperscalers like Microsoft, AWS, and Google represent a long-term existential threat to operators. Telcos view their relationship with hyperscalers as imbalanced, with hyperscalers ready to profit from infrastructure work the operators pay for. Seventy-four percent of the highest performing CSPs agreed in a recent poll that partnering with web-scale companies, including hyperscalers, for 5G-enabled edge computing would mostly benefit the strategic interests of hyperscalers.
Nonetheless, operators forging ahead with partnerships with Microsoft Azure and other hyperscale services. Verizon, for example, partnered with Microsoft Azure for edge compute services for On Site 5G, its private 5G mmWave service for enterprise and public sector agencies. And Nokia has established partnerships with Microsoft, Google and Amazon alike to accelerate vertical 5G solutions for enterprise.