Qualcomm, Microsoft team on private 5G play

Qualcomm is teaming up with Microsoft on an end-to-end private 5G offering for enterprises, leveraging the chipmaker’s 5G platforms and Microsoft Azure capabilities.

The partnership, announced Monday during an MWC 2022 press conference in Barcelona, is touting a chip-to-cloud solution that also leverages Qualcomm’s new 5G Private Network Partner Ecosystem Program.

It speaks to Qualcomm’s strengthen push in the infrastructure space as well as Microsoft’s ambitions on 5G for telcos and business.

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The enterprise opportunity for 5G, particularly around industry and network transformation, is one of the growth areas beyond smartphones that Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon highlighted Monday.

In disclosing the Microsoft partnership, Amon said it offers pre-integrated 5G private network solutions for vertical use cases that also leverage the Microsoft Azure ecosystem. It will combine Qualcomm 5G private network RAN automation and hardware ecosystem with Azure private MEC, including private 5G Core and Azure Stack Edge.

“It’s an easy way to help enterprises scale their 5G ambitions and edge computing ambitions as well,” Amon said of the new Microsoft pairing. Using Microsoft’s cloud presence in the enterprise will help continue to build 5G opportunities, not only for the 5G-connected enterprise in industrial IoT, but also for the 5G-connected PC, according to Amon.

During a press briefing, Mike Roberts, VP of global product marketing for Qualcomm, noted that private networks are an important part of the digital transformation of industries, with new deployments for enterprise, factories and cities. Roberts said over 70% of operators offer private networks today, and Qualcomm expects that to grow in the future.

Enabling private 5G adoption

Part of the aim for is to solve the technology adoption problem for enterprises, to enable private networks on a global scale.

Enterprises such as manufacturing facilities are among those eying 5G for private networks for increased bandwidth, security and reliability – and to support new applications that could increase efficiencies and lower operational expenses while supporting and working alongside technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

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Together with Microsoft, Qualcomm hopes to substantially shorten the timeline it takes for businesses and other organizations to adopt 5G private networks, a process which the chipmaker said today can take several months to deploy.

“By reducing barriers like time, money, and resources, we are confident that our joint end-to-end offering will accelerate the global adoption of companies integrating private networks into their practices,” said Durga Malladi, SVP and general manager, 5G, mobile broadband and infrastructure, at Qualcomm, in a statement.

One component of the collaboration is Qualcomm’s newly introduced a private network RAN automation platform. It’s a cloud-based product to help streamline the planning, deployment and monitoring of networks while providing automated RAN operations. The platform is built to reduce deployment and management time down to minutes and simplify the process with less need for expert input. It features streamlined, repeatable processes for cost estimation, RF planning for optimized network coverage and capacity, and zero-touch provisioning. Once the RAN Automation platform is deployed, users can tweak it to their specific requirements based on pre-built profiles and project templates tailored by vertical industry and use case.

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Another component of the Microsoft partnership is 5G devices and pre-validated RAN ecosystem products, based on Qualcomm’s FSM100 5G RAN platform, to make integrations easier and provide flexibility with a variety of radio vendors and devices to customize to enterprise needs.

It comes as Microsoft unveiled its next phase of Azure for Operators, including a preview of the Azure private 5G core – a packet core as-a-service that’s part of Azure private MEC solution for high performance applications at the edge.

Last year Microsoft took over AT&T’s cloud network deployment as part of a multi-year deal that included the acquisition of AT&T’s Network Cloud platform technology that runs the operator’s 5G core. AWS is another cloud player who in November announced available of private 5G services for enterprises.

At MWC 2022, AT&T announced its own collaboration with Microsoft to integrate AT&T 5G with Azure private MEC.

RELATED: 5G cloud move big for AT&T but huge for Microsoft: Entner

With its enhanced private 5G core product, operators can unify cloud management of multiple, globally distributed private wireless networks, and pick and choose to integrate components from technology and vendor partners, according to Microsoft. Operators already creating solutions with Azure private MEC include AT&T, Etisalat, Swisscom, and Telefonica.

Microsoft’s private 5G core is validated with technology partners to speed up integration with RAN partners –  who in addition to Qualcomm include ASOCS, AirSpan, Commscope, Fujitsu and Parallel Wireless.

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Partners working together for pre-validated solutions is a key feature and what Qualcomm aims to achieve with its new private network partner program.  

Some of those same Microsoft ecosystem partners are involved in Qualcomm’s private 5G ecosystem, which also includes Askey, Baicells, Boingo, Capgemini, Casa Systems, Cognizant, Foxconn Industrial Internet USA, Ingram Micro, Innowireless, Mavenir, Radisys, Sercomm and others.

Commercial availability of a pre-integrated private network offering from Microsoft and Qualcomm is expected in the third quarter of 2022 through select operators and system integrators. The two partners are showcasing their collaboration at Qualcomm’s booth during the MWC show, including technologies such as autonomous mobile robotics, 5G AI boxes, IP cameras and lidars.  

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“This collaboration between Microsoft and Qualcomm Technologies will reduce adoption barriers and operating costs for high performance 5G connectivity solutions serving global enterprises,” said Shriraj Gaglani, GM for Azure for Operators at Microsoft, in the announcement. “RAN-Core automation and chip-to-cloud system observability for deployment and operation of large scale private mobile networks that will massively simplify the procurement, deployment, and management of intelligent 5G edges for a broad range of industries and use cases.”

Separately, in discussing a flurry of announcements across its product segments and businesses, Qualcomm’s Roberts said during a press briefing that the company sees a “massive opportunity” at the connected intelligent edge, which it defines as the billions of smart devices connected 100% of the time, with impacts across industries.

RELATED: Qualcomm’s Amon looks beyond mobile with 5G, edge and cloud

The intelligent edge opportunity ties to the growth of the cloud, which he said is growing 35% year over year. By 2025 Qualcomm expects over 60% of data processing happening outside of the central cloud or traditional data centers.

“If you believe in the growth of the cloud, you also believe in the growth opportunity for us here at Qualcomm,” Roberts commented.

Qualcomm has a $100 billion market opportunity today, he said, with the intelligent connected edge (including the metaverse) anticipated to increase the company’s addressable market over 10 years to $700 billion in what represents a 7x growth opportunity -  and where Qualcomm wants to be the partner of choice at the edge for digital transformation.