Verizon turns up private 5G edge compute with Microsoft Azure

Verizon’s partnership with Microsoft Azure for enterprise is starting to bear fruit, as the carrier now has a private mobile edge cloud computing product available for enterprises.

Verizon is hoping to capture share in a $7-8 billion private wireless opportunity and mobile edge compute is one of the components. The carrier first announced plans to collaborate with Microsoft on private networks last year and has also teamed up for cloud computing with AWS for both public and private network environments.  

The new offering combines the Verizon 5G Edge with Microsoft Azure Stack Edge cloud computing platform. It complements Verizon’s On Site 5G product, which launched in June for enterprise and public sector and brings 5G network infrastructure like small cells, packet core and radios on-prem. The On Site 5G product is the first private wireless solution to offer high-band millimeter wave spectrum, extending Verizon’s Ultra Wideband network.

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Now in addition to private wireless network infrastructure and spectrum, Verizon is bringing the cloud compute and storage aspect into its private wireless mix.

The carrier told Fierce that it’s worked closely with Microsoft to integrate the Azure Stack Edge into its private wireless suite, optimizing for security and performance. However, both do work independently and can be delivered in a variety of setups depending on use cases and need.

Microsoft’s platform also is configurable, ranging from a single server deployment to many GPUs/CPUs compute combinations with Terabytes of storage.

Compared to edge compute zones with AWS that are available for anyone to tap and leverage the public cloud, the product with Microsoft Azure keeps storage and compute capabilities on-prem. Verizon also offers private 5G MEC with AWS Outposts (although a Verizon spokesperson noted there are nuances to each).

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Main benefits of bringing 5G and cloud computing to the enterprise edge with Microsoft include greater security, ultra-low latency from the proximity, and high bandwidth. Those features help support functions that utilize technologies like computer vision, augmented and virtual reality, and machine learning.  

Efficiency is another benefit, as applications supporting data analytics are hosted via computing infrastructure deployed onsite.

From the enterprise side, customers mainly need to ensure adequate power, cooling, and space to deploy the onsite 5G and private 5G edge equipment.

“Both these platforms [on site 5G and on-prem 5G MEC] are highly flexible and can be configured depending on the size of the facility as well as the use cases the customer wants to achieve.  Prior to any deployment, Verizon will work with the customer to do a site survey of the facility and discuss their use cases and goals to ensure the proper network and infrastructure design is delivered to meet their needs,” the operator spokesperson said.

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The carrier is working with a number of customers on the new platform but declined to share specifics on who or how many.

An early adopter of the Microsoft Azure private 5G edge from Verizon is Ice Mobility, a supply and logistics supply chain services provider that supplies Verizon and all of the carrier’s retail partners.

Deployments with Ice Mobility and other customers have typically seen roundtrip latency of less than 10 ms, according to the Verizon spokesperson.

With a trial at its packaging facility starting in 2020, Ice Mobility installed high-definition cameras that connected to the 5G MEC network across its pick lines (where employees pull the right product in a warehouse for an order). It used computer vision to help identify and validate that merchandise going into each box was the correct material and flagged if there were errors.

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“It literally eliminates the quality control step, but even more importantly increases accuracy because now you have an automated process doing it,” said Ice Mobility co-founder and CEO Mike Mohr, in a video from last fall.  

Now the company is looking to expand the applications into things like near real-time activity-based costing, which Verizon said would enable the company to assign overhead and indirect costs to specific customer accounts, packaging lines and warehouse activities – creating “tangible, material automation enhancements.”

Other carriers like AT&T, and network vendors including Ericsson, Nokia and others are all looking to cash in on the private wireless opportunity. In the U.S., access to new spectrum like the shared CBRS band has also helped fuel interest from enterprises and utilities.