WG2, which sells a cloud-native mobile core, wonders where Microsoft is

Working Group Two (WG2) is a company that spun out of Norway’s Telenor in 2017 to build a cloud-native mobile core that can be purchased by mobile operators.

Erlend Prestgard, CEO of WG2, said when he was working at Telenor, the operator created a group to build some small applications on top of Telenor’s core. Although the applications it wanted to build were not complex, the group found it nearly impossible to build the apps because the core network was proprietary and extremely complex. He said the engineers first had to get permissions to work on the core software and then they “had to use protocols from the 1980s.” And when they did manage to create a new application and they wanted to sell it to other operators, they realized that all the operators in the world had slightly different core networks, so the app wouldn’t work for them anyway.

Ultimately, the engineers realized that in order to build modern-day applications on a telco’s core network, they needed to start from scratch with a cloud-native core. Several of these engineers broke away from Telenor in 2017, with Telenor’s blessing, and they formed WG2 with about five people. They have since created a cloud-native mobile core, and they employ about 85 people in 16 different countries.

Prestgard said these days, he hears some operators talking about getting cloud applications as a service. “They go to their normal vendors and say, ‘do what you do, but do it in the cloud.’ That’s actually the worst of both worlds,” he said.

The WG2 team decided it wouldn’t be sufficient to take a traditional core network and put it on a cloud like AWS. It needed to build a mobile core in the cloud, from the get-go.

Prestgard and his co-founder Werner Eriksen envisioned an “Android for Networks” where they would have “clever hardware and put in an operating system that is common across all this hardware.” Then they would create application programming interfaces (APIs) for developers, who could easily create products.

To date, WG2 has sold its mobile core to a few operators. Telenor uses it for its Vimla MVNO brand. CK Hutchison, which owns 11 MVNOs around the world, uses WG2’s technology. And this week, the Hawaiian MVNO Mobi announced that it was using WG2 for its core network.

WG2’s technology is delivered as software-as-a-service, and customers get an end-to-end service level agreement. It includes operations support system (OSS) software, and it provides an API to connect to business support system (BSS) software from the likes of Amdocs.

Prestgard said it was frustrating to work at a telco that used proprietary equipment for its core network. “This is the fundamental reason operators are challenged; their ability to change is so slow,” he said. “Except for Jio and Rakuten, no operators are able to do anything because of proprietary equipment. They don’t have access to the source code.”

With WG2, any developer can come to its platform and build products. That’s already happened a few times with developers building apps for cloud-based mobile PBX switch-boards, professional voice assistance, network anti-spam products and SMS security products.

What is Microsoft doing with mobile core?

Asked who WG2’s competitors are, Prestgard said it’s the proprietary vendors such as Ericsson and Nokia along with younger vendors such as Mavenir. But nobody is really doing what WG2 is doing.

In 2020 Microsoft bought Affirmed Networks, a company that did mobile core technology. And that same year it also bought Metaswitch, a company with an IMS stack as well as mobile core technology.

Since those acquisitions, we’ve heard nary a peep from Microsoft about what it’s doing with those technologies.

Prestgard said, “Microsoft would be our strongest competitor. And in theory it seems like they’re there. But we’re not seeing them in the market.”

Fierce Wireless reached out to Microsoft asking for a comment about what it’s doing with the Affirmed and Metaswitch technologies.

Shawn Hakl, VP of Azure for Operators at Microsoft, sent this statement: "Microsoft products including Azure private multi-access edge compute (MEC), Azure Private 5G Core, Azure Operator 5G Core, and Azure Communications Gateway all foundationally leverage the technologies from our Metaswitch and Affirmed acquisitions, but are Microsoft first-party offerings scaled with Azure capabilities such as DevOps, security, analytics, and automation."

“Microsoft should be in our throats, but we’re not seeing them,” said Prestgard.