With the demand for constant connectivity, secure collaboration and immersive experience growing at an ever-faster pace, networks and operators are being pushed to their limits. They must make the most of their infrastructure to optimise their operations and drive down costs, while also developing new and innovative services.
These infrastructures have traditionally consisted of physical hardware. However, the development of the cloud means that this model is currently undergoing a significant shift, suggests Rainer Kellerhals, managing director of media and communications for the EMEA region at Microsoft.
“Historically, these services were implemented in hardware, but these days service providers are migrating to software-based network services using standard hardware or cloud platforms. This drives significant economic benefits, with lower costs and better utilisation of resources,” says Kellerhals. “Perhaps even more importantly, moving to the cloud gives telecommunication companies the opportunity to move away from their hardware-based, fixed-infrastructure operating model to a software-defined, scalable and agile operating model. This will be key for companies to keep up with network innovation and stay competitive.”
One partner making use of Microsoft technology to offer a new service is Verizon. Through its relationship with Microsoft, Verizon is offering businesses an on-premises, private edge compute solution that enables real-time applications. The solution leverages Verizon 5G Edge with Microsoft Azure Stack Edge to bring compute and storage services to the customer’s premises, providing increased efficiencies, higher levels of security and the low lag and high bandwidth needed for applications involving computer vision, augmented and virtual reality, and machine learning.
“Our partnership with Microsoft brings 5G Edge to enterprises, dropping latency at the edge, helping critical, performance-impacting applications to respond more quickly and efficiently,” said Sampath Sowmyanarayan, chief revenue officer of Verizon Business. “5G is ushering in next-generation business applications, from core connectivity to real-time edge compute and new applications and solutions that take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) transforming nearly every industry.”
Meanwhile, German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom and Microsoft have expanded their partnership to help accelerate customers’ cloud transformation initiatives. Telekom will offer its customers direct access to the Microsoft cloud through Azure ExpressRoute, which provides faster connectivity through a private connection. Furthermore, its enterprise customer unit T-Systems is providing the capability to migrate large-scale applications and critical enterprise workloads to the Azure cloud, allowing organisations to access the global scale, advanced security and innovations of cloud infrastructure without needing to manage its installation and maintenance.
“This is probably the most important advantage for telecommunications networks,” says Kellerhals. “Leveraging the cloud gives network operators the opportunity to create new services and revenue streams by combining voice and data communications services with cloud-based services like team collaboration, data processing and analytics, AI and the internet of things to create integrated, differentiated business-to-business and business-to-consumer offerings.”
AI is another important technology in the journey towards next-generation networks. By automating elements of network operations like congestion management, providing predictive maintenance and improving energy efficiency, AI can help to significantly improve existing network infrastructures.
For example, behavioural analytics models can be built to identify abnormal behaviour in an element of a network that could indicate a compromised component. An automated process could then sandbox the suspect element for further analysis and repair, or even roll back to the last known working configuration.
“Applying AI in network operations management can improve the customer experience, enable more agility, reduce costs and make telecommunications more sustainable,” says Kellerhals. “For example, Microsoft partner Nokia is offering a complete AI-as-a-service platform for telecommunication companies, combining Nokia’s telecommunication industry expertise and operations experience with Microsoft’s world-class cloud and AI capabilities.”
By leveraging the cloud and AI, network operators will be able to develop a range of new services and capabilities that could lead to significant benefits for the consumer. According to Rick Lievano, chief technology officer for worldwide telecommunications industry at Microsoft, this will precipitate a shift for telecommunication companies to a business model that is much more focused on technology.
“The convergence of the cloud and the network will help operators realise new opportunities and accelerate their transformation from traditional service providers into technology-driven telecommunications companies,” says Lievano. “This transformation will enable them to significantly boost the speed at which they can respond to the changing demands of their customers and easily take advantage of new opportunities. By leveraging analytics, automation and AI – key capabilities provided by the cloud – technology-driven telecommunications companies will support entirely new services while transforming their existing voice services for the 21st century.”
To help achieve the telecommunications industry achieve this transformation, Microsoft is taking a focused, collaborative approach, Kellerhals explains.
“In our experience, developing these new capabilities will require us to collaborate closely with partners across three areas,” he says. “Firstly, putting the foundations in place by migrating IT workloads to the hybrid cloud and upskilling telecommunications employees. Secondly, co-creating solutions which combine the organisations existing communications services with Microsoft’s existing cloud services and jointly taking them to market. Thirdly, co-innovating by leveraging the organisation’s future communications services roadmap and Microsoft’s cloud services and devices roadmaps.”
An example of this approach is Microsoft’s strategic alliance with AT&T, which began with an agreement for AT&T to migrate its non-network workloads to the Azure cloud and work with Microsoft to bring integrated industry solutions to market. In June 2021, the alliance was expanded, with AT&T moving its 5G mobile network to the cloud, providing a path for all of its traffic to be managed using Azure technologies. By using Microsoft’s hybrid and hyperscale infrastructure, AT&T can substantially reduce engineering and development costs, as well as gaining early access to Microsoft’s cloud, AI and edge technology.
“Cloud transformation of the network doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a journey which we take along with our partners,” says Lievano. “We recognise the enormous investment and significant legacy that exists across carrier networks, which is why we take an inclusive approach to ensure existing network capabilities move to cloud-native technologies in their own terms and timelines, meeting each operator where they are. We are working closely with standards organisations like GSMA, 3GPP, OpenInfra Foundation, O-Ran Alliance, and others to make the carrier-grade cloud a reality and help operators thrive in the new digital era.”
We asked a selection of organisations how the next generation of communications networks and services is being realised. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 135 of the digital edition of the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record.
Natalie Bell, business development director at Akari Solutions, said: “Akari Solutions work with globally dispersed organisations such as; BBC, DAZN and Channel 4 to better improve the quality of communications and interactions through the use of custom development applications on current power platform and M365 investments.”
Gijs Geurts, CEO of Anywhere365, said: “Anywhere365 is fully ready for the future to help organisations effortlessly automate customer dialogues with any artificial intelligence-enabled bot technology. We are integrated with best-in-class AI and internet of things technologies, supporting a wide variety of external self- service interface.”
Aaron Boasman Patel, vice president of AI, customer experience and data at TM Forum, said: “Cloud, AI and machine learning will empower communication service providers to digitally transform and handle today’s complex and constantly evolving networks.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.