UPDATED 15:11 EDT / MARCH 26 2020

CLOUD

Microsoft buys Affirmed Networks to push into the 5G networking market

Microsoft Corp. today made a significant move into the 5G networking market with the acquisition of Affirmed Networks Inc., a maker of infrastructure management software for wireless carriers.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. But the price tag was likely substantial given that Affirmed Networks has raised about $155 million in funding and counts more than 100 carriers as customers, among them AT&T Inc.

Affirmed Networks provides a software platform called UnityCloud that provides tools for managing carrier networks. The software automatically turns capacity up or down depending on demand, monitors infrastructure for issues and lets service providers roll out new features to users without downtime.

UnityCloud also provides extensive support for 5G. The platform implements network slicing, one of the 5G standard’s flagship features, which allows carriers to create multiple virtual networks on their infrastructure and optimize each one for a different application. The capability is touted as a way for service providers to provide better support for new use cases such as “internet of things” projects.

Microsoft will use Affirmed Networks’ technology to expand the capabilities of Azure. “With Affirmed Networks, we will be able to offer new and innovative solutions tailored to the unique needs of operators, including managing their network workloads in the cloud,” Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president for Azure Networking, wrote in a blog post“We believe that with innovation in software and by making use of broadly available cloud computing platforms like Microsoft Azure, operators can deploy and maintain 5G networks and services more efficiently.”

Historically dominated by a handful of large players, the telecommunications infrastructure market is being targeted by a growing number of challengers hoping to capture a slice of carriers’ 5G budgets. Microsoft is only one of the entrants. Earlier this month, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. unveiled 5G Core Stack, a collection of software building blocks for developing fifth-generation networks. 

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. wants a piece of the pie as well. The smartphone maker, which also has a lesser known telecommunications equipment business, this year acquired a consultancy called TeleWorld Solutions Inc. that counts 5G network design among its specialties.

Microsoft’s position as the industry’s second largest public cloud provider gives it a valuable advantage. The company has a $2 billion cloud contract with AT&T and boasts a number of other carrier customers as well. But Microsoft is facing competition from fellow cloud giants: Google LLC is courting carriers with the new Anthos for Telecom platform, while Amazon Web Services Inc. has AWS Wavelength, which brings its compute and storage features to 5G networks. 

The growing competition in the telecommunications infrastructure segment is ultimately good news for carriers and, by extension, for the users who rely on their services.

Photo: Microsoft

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