Microsoft and AT&T are ramping up innovation in the early days of their strategic alliance announced in July. One area of focus is aimed at enabling new 5G, cloud and edge computing solutions to drive enterprise capabilities for companies around the world.
The companies are opening select preview availability for Network Edge Compute (NEC) technology, which weaves Microsoft Azure cloud services into AT&T network edge locations closer to customers. This means AT&T’s software-defined and virtualized 5G core – what the company calls the Network Cloud – is now capable of delivering Azure services. NEC will initially be available for a limited set of select customers in Dallas. Next year, Los Angeles and Atlanta are targeted for select customer availability.
From making the world’s first 5G millimeter wave browsing session on a commercial 5G device to groundbreaking commercial installations in healthcare, manufacturing and entertainment, AT&T has proved itself to be a leader in 5G. The company recently activated an industry-first 400-gigabit connectionbetween Dallas and Atlanta to support video, gaming and other 5G needs. AT&T serves parts of 21 cities with its 5G network using millimeter wave spectrum (5G+) and plans to offer nationwide 5G in the first half of 2020.
“The first smartphones on 3G networks introduced the idea of mobile apps over a decade ago. A few years later, 4G LTE made it feasible to connect those devices faster to cloud applications to stream videos, hail rides, and broadcast content to the world,” said Mo Katibeh, EVP and chief marketing officer, AT&T Business. “With our 5G and edge computing, AT&T is collaborating uniquely with Microsoft to marry their cloud capabilities with our network to create lower latency between the device and the cloud that will unlock new, future scenarios for consumers and businesses. We’ve said all year developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters, and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution.”
This innovation points to a future where high-end augmented reality glasses are as thin and stylish as a standard pair of eyeglasses, lightweight drones can track themselves and thousands of nearby companions in near-real time, and autonomous cars have access to nearly-instant data processing capabilities without having to install a mini data center in the trunk.
“We are helping AT&T light up a wide range of unique solutions powered by Microsoft’s cloud, both for its business and our mutual customers in a secure and trusted way,” said Corey Sanders, corporate vice president, Microsoft Solutions. “The collaboration reaches across AT&T, bringing the hyperscale of Microsoft Azure together with AT&T’s network to innovate with 5G and edge computing across every industry.”
5G and edge for gaming, drones, and more
One example of how edge computing can unlock new scenarios and experiences is in mobile gaming, where gaming company Game Cloud Network has created a unique 5G game that’s hosted on the network edge with Microsoft Azure. Game Cloud Network is a pioneer in developing game-based brand engagement and a customer of AT&T. The company is now showcasing its new “Tap & Field” game, which utilizes Microsoft’s Azure PlayFab services. In the game, users race each other in near-real time via this track-and-field-style game, enabled by the speed of 5G-connected devices.
“5G gaming provides consumers with the best of both worlds: highly-immersive experiences on lightweight mobile devices,” said Aaron Baker, chief executive officer, Game Cloud Network. “AT&T and Microsoft are building the perfect environment for game developers to create amazing new possibilities for gamers. 5G and edge computing have the potential to radically change how we play together and launch new business opportunities for brands and game publishers.”
Through AT&T Foundry, AT&T and Microsoft are exploring proofs-of-concept including augmented and virtual reality scenarios and drones. For example, both companies continue to work with Israeli startup Vorpal, helping its VigilAir product track drones in commercial zones, airports, and other areas with near-instant positioning. The companies also recently demoed using Microsoft HoloLens to provide 3D schematic overlays for technicians making repairs to airplanes and other industrial equipment.
Progress toward a “public-cloud first company” and more
Microsoft is also helping AT&T Communications become a “public-cloud first” company by migrating most non-network workloads to the public cloud by 2024, and this migration to Azure is already underway. Another important part of AT&T’s strategy is to empower much of its workforce with Microsoft 365. This includes cloud-connected Office apps on Windows 10, and modern collaboration with Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive. AT&T has begun rolling out these solutions to tens of thousands of employees to help drive a culture of modern work.
AT&T and Microsoft will have more to share over the coming months and years as this unique alliance continues to evolve and expand. The two companies will both create and adopt new technologies to develop tools, commercial services and consumer applications that benefit everyone.