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Microsoft makes 5G play with AT&T Cloud stack

AT&T is moving its Network Cloud to Microsoft, in a deal that will eventually see all of the wireless carrier’s 5G traffic managed using Microsoft Azure.

The move represents major strategic shift for the world’s largest telecommunications company, and a huge endorsement of Microsoft’s evolving Azure offering for telcos. Not so long ago, AT&T earned significant praise for becoming one of the first operators to virtualise its core network, but in this rapidly evolving landscape, the IP will now go to Microsoft as the operator looks to reduce cost and complexity.

For Microsoft, which has been building out its own cloud-native mobile network solutions, the deal is a major win. The second-largest provider of cloud computing software will now be able to sell AT&T’s intellectual property and technical expertise to other operators to help grow its own telecom offering, Azure for Operators.

Using AT&T’s IP, which Microsoft will take over as part of the transaction, Azure for Operators will be able to better compete with the offerings of other hyperscale cloud companies which are increasingly sucking up mobile network providers and offering their own next generation services. Only last month, Microsoft’s closest competitor Google Cloud announced a partnership with Ericsson to jointly develop 5G and edge cloud solutions.

Elsewhere, the early summer of 2021 has seen several other big telco-cloud developments. Switzerland-based telco Swisscom named AWS as its preferred public cloud partner in June, and Orange announced it would be taking the road less traveled and launching project PiKEO — an experimental cloud network that uses AI to deliver advanced 5G features.

“This transaction is another step forward for Microsoft as it evolves its cloud offering for telcos. We are really excited by this move which looks very much like an irreversible shift of the core telco functionality into a hyperscale cloud environment. With infrastructure increasingly owned in AssetCos and the core network moving into the cloud, our view is that this will inevitably lead to lower barriers to entry for new operators and more competition for consumers.”

MARCUS ALLCHURCH | Managing Partner
Acuity Advisors

Marcus joined Acuity in 2014, before which he held senior leadership and corporate finance positions with some of the UK’s most successful advisory and telecoms businesses. Roles with EE, KPMG Corporate Finance and BDO Corporate Finance have seen Marcus work in the UK and across the globe with successful entrepreneurs seeking exit, and at board level with multi-national corporates looking for growth through organic and inorganic investment.

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