Microsoft does private wireless with Intelsat; updates Azure Cloud for AT&T

Microsoft had a couple of telecom announcements to insert itself into the conversations this week around MWC 2022 in Barcelona. 

Microsoft said it worked with Intelsat to demonstrate a private wireless network. Intelsat provided its integrated satellite and terrestrial networks, while Microsoft contributed various Azure technologies.

The demonstration was held at Intelsat’s office in McLean, Virginia. It established a reference architecture for deploying private LTE and 5G networks over satellite to enterprise locations around the world.

For the demonstration, the two companies created a private LTE service using Azure Private 5G Core deployed on an Azure Stack Edge device. Connectivity to the internet and Azure services was enabled by Intelsat’s FlexEnterprise, which is the company’s satellite-based global connectivity service.

Users of the private cellular network would be able to access local enterprise resources via SIM-authenticated connections to the Azure Stack Edge. And they could access remote resources through the FlexEnterprise connection. Additionally, the LTE network powers a Wi-Fi access point and IoT applications.

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“At Microsoft, we are committed to enabling an ecosystem of satellite operators through collaborations such as this one with Intelsat,” said Tom Keane, corporate vice president of Mission Engineering at Microsoft, in a statement.

New Azure for Operators

In 2020 Microsoft unveiled its Azure for Operators to help service providers evolve their own networks.

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Yesterday, Microsoft announced the next wave of Azure for Operators. It's creating the updates based, at least in part, on its work with AT&T.

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In the summer of 2021, AT&T said it was shifting its mobile network traffic over to be managed by Microsoft Azure. In turn, Microsoft got AT&T’s carrier-grade network cloud platform technology, which is what AT&T’s 5G core network runs on. 

“We’ve taken the acquisition of this technology, moved the engineering and program organization from AT&T’s Network Cloud organization into Azure for Operators, and directly integrated the intellectual property into a new Azure offering,” wrote Jason Zander, Microsoft EVP of Strategic Missions and Technologies, in a blog posting yesterday,

The updated Azure offering includes the new Azure Operator Distributed Services, which combines the enhanced version of the acquired AT&T technology with Azure features, including security, monitoring, analytics, AI and machine learning.

Azure Operator Distributed Services will enable operators to run all their workloads — such as RAN, mobile and voice core, OSS and BSS — on a single carrier-grade hybrid platform. 

Azure Operator Distributed Services is designed to support the AT&T mobile core network that today spans more than 60 containerized network functions and virtual network functions from 15 different vendors, which currently are deployed and running on the AT&T Network Cloud platform. 

AT&T and Microsoft are collaborating on the deployment of Azure Operator Distributed Services with initial testing stages planned for later this year.

“We designed the Azure Operator Distributed Services for use by all operators while maintaining security and without losing differentiation,” wrote Zander. He added that in terms of security and privacy, operators using Azure Operator Distributed Services will continue to hold access to their customer data. Microsoft cannot access or see it.