The world’s leading cloud providers hastened their collective rise in mobile operator’s 5G networks and business models throughout 2020.
As software permeates every network layer and element and mobile network infrastructure increasingly evolves to adopt webscale architecture, hyperscalers are poised to soon become the most important vendors — and potential threats — for carriers at large.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and others made considerable gains in that regard this year, and 2021 is set to be even more consequential.
Hyperscalers’ Strategies Crystallize
The respective strategies for mobile edge computing and
5G among the hyperscalers crystallized throughout 2020. “As the 5G edge unfolds, we’ll start to see more of a marriage between the telcos and hyperscale clouds,” Nick McQuire, SVP at CCS Insight, said earlier this year.
There remains little trust between network operators and cloud providers, but there’s now widespread acknowledgement among carriers that the edge and core 5G functions will be tightly interwoven and fueled by public clouds.
As edge computing takes hold, operators will also be
determined to not repeat previous mistakes in the cloud. “They don’t want to do what they did in the past with cloud when they tried to compete with the cloud providers and failed,” Phil Marshall, chief research officer at Tolaga Research, told SDxCentral earlier this year.
Executives at cloud providers sidestep questions about the extent to which cloud providers are
poised to eat wireless network operators’ lunch, and operator executives largely describe the relationship as simpatico, but they all readily note that mobile network architecture is evolving to a model defined by cloud companies.
Mobile industry standards bodies that are developing common approaches to some of the interfaces and components of edge competing also have
little confidence that cloud providers will embrace common frameworks. The intent, with the backing of global operators and vendors, is there, but the astronomical rise and power of hyperscalers effectively makes those efforts moot.
Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all made moves during 2020 that underline their strength and clarify goals in mobile infrastructure.
AWS Clarifies Telco Vision
deploying its Wavelength edge compute service with Verizon 5G Edge and expects to reach 10 U.S. cities before the end of the year. Verizon is telling developers and enterprise customers to expect latency between 20 and 50 milliseconds.
Wavelength, Outposts, and Local Zones are the low-lying and more distributed clouds AWS is deploying to bring its compute,
storage, and infrastructure services to the aid of specialized use cases, businesses that require hybrid architecture, and connectivity delivered via wireless 5G networks.
AWS CEO Andy Jassy, during his keynote at AWS re:Invent 2020, tried to
create some daylight between these services and explain how they differentiate based on the unique requirements of various customers.
Outposts, which was announced in 2018 and
landed in late 2019, targets on-premises workloads and resources, and “effectively rolls in racks of AWS services,” Jassy said. Local Zones, which is live in three U.S. cities and AWS expects to bring to 12 more in 2021, focuses on end users and resources not on premises but allows developers to connect back to workloads running in AWS. Wavelength, which marries 5G networks to AWS’ edge compute service, got its start on Verizon’s 5G network and AWS will soon have similar deployments with KDDI, SK Telecom, and Vodafone.
AWS also earned wins for 5G network core virtualization in 2020, including a
deal it announced with Telefónica to begin developing network functions for key industries. Microsoft Glazes 5G Operator Strategy
Microsoft, in 2020, began mounting a more comprehensive effort to position multiple services, some developed internally and others brought in via acquisitions, for 5G operators. The company’s recently announced Azure for Operators platform is a realization of Microsoft’s vision for the market, including services for the cloud, edge computing,
IoT, network functions, and artificial intelligence (AI).
“You can’t get from the intelligent edge to the intelligent cloud without transiting with the carrier, so from our perspective the ability to work together to create an experience which is flexible, and resilient, and reliable, is dependent on our ability to partner closely with the operator community,” Shawn Hakl, a partner at Microsoft, told SDxCentral.
Microsoft’s 5G strategy links the
private Azure Edge Zones service it announced earlier this year, Azure IoT Central, virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC) software it gained by acquiring Affirmed Networks, and cloud-native network functions it brought onboard when it acquired Metaswitch Networks.
Combining those services under a broader portfolio allows Microsoft to “deliver virtualized and/or containerized network functions as a service on top of a cloud platform that meets the operators where they are, in a model that is accretive to their business,” said Hakl, the former longtime Verizon executive.
Microsoft’s vision is split into two parts: the Azure Edge Zones, which effectively extends the cloud to a private edge environment, and the various pieces of software that Microsoft has assembled for network operators. A large pool of operators have partnered with Microsoft on these efforts, including AT&T, NTT, SK Telecom, Telefónica, Verizon, and Vodafone.
Google Cloud Careens Into 5G Landscape
Google also this year made an
all-out push to extend its cloud platform to support mobile network operators and announced an expansive agreement with AT&T and other networking giants as part of that effort.
No. 3 cloud provider detailed a three-part strategy for carriers, including driving revenues from 5G business services, data-driven experiences, and improving operations in core network infrastructure. “Rapid technology advancements are impacting the telecommunications industry, whether it’s the rise of 5G and network-centric business models or new connected devices and applications,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said in a prepared statement.
In a bid to boost enterprise services delivered by 5G, Google Cloud has created the Global Mobile Edge Cloud, an open cloud platform for it and network operators to jointly develop applications and a distributed edge.
AT&T and Google Cloud are uniting some resources under that platform to create and deliver 5G edge computing services. Those applications will ride on the AT&T Network Edge and make use of Google Cloud’s capabilities in Kubernetes, AI, machine learning, data, and analytics.
Google Cloud today also announced Anthos for Telecom, an effort to bring its
Anthos cloud platform to the network edge. Based on Kubernetes, Anthos for Telecom is being positioned as a platform for network-centric applications.
“What we’re offering with mobile edge cloud is the ability for a telecommunications company to build a set of virtualized network functions (VNF) and cloud-native functions for your packet core, for your evolved packet core (EPC), and for your radio access network (RAN),
on top of Google’s cloud,” Kurian said during his keynote at Google Cloud’s virtual Next2020 event. IBM Hoists Umbrella Cloud for 5G Operators
Finally IBM, the world’s fourth-largest cloud provider,
hoisted a new umbrella for its open, hybrid cloud technology targeting 5G network operators in November.
IBM Cloud for Telecommunications organizes and repackages multiple IBM services — Red Hat OpenShift, IBM Cloud, IBM Edge Application Manager, and IBM Telco Network Cloud Manager — into what IBM describes as a more “holistic hybrid cloud offering” for mobile carriers.
The company also extended the reach of its enlarged platform with pre-integrated support for almost 40 third-party vendors. The group of vendors on board at launch deliver services for 5G access, 5G mobile core, telco edge,
SDN, compute, network equipment hardware, security, operations support systems (OSS), and business support systems (BSS).
Howard Boville, SVP of hybrid cloud at IBM, described the framework assembled by IBM and buoyed by other vendors’ software and technology as one that enables “mission critical workloads to be managed consistently from the network core to the edge so telecom providers can extract more value from their data while they drive innovation for their customers.”
The reconstruction of IBM’s telco cloud and its many arms also follows a recent decision by IBM CEO Arvind Krishna to
remake IBM into a hybrid cloud powerhouse by ditching its lagging legacy business units into a separate company.