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Microsoft and Affirmed: Accelerating the path to 5G Services in the Cloud

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

With the announcement of Azure for Operators, Microsoft has outlined a vision and strategy to unlock the power of 5G and bring cloud and edge closer than ever, opening new opportunities for service providers all over the world.

Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch, while a surprise to some in the telecommunications industry, signaled  Microsoft’s long-term commitment to telecommunications industry. Telcom executives naturally had a lot of questions: What were Microsoft’s 5G plans? How would the new acquisitions align with Microsoft’s cloud strategies? Would Microsoft’s presence accelerate the arrival of 5G? Is Microsoft looking to compete or partner with telecommunications service providers?

Today, we can answer those questions.

On September 28, Microsoft for Telecommunications hosted its inaugural Telecommunications Executive Forum. This live event showcased Microsoft’s strategy, roadmap, and technology for 5G—some of it unveiled publicly for the first time. Attendees heard about Microsoft’s vision for 5G edge computing, cloud-based telecommunications, IoT, and a lot more. (Read more about Azure for Operators).

For Affirmed, it’s an exciting time to be a part of Microsoft. Our decision to join the Microsoft family was driven by the fact that both companies shared a unique vision for 5G and, together, could accelerate that vision. So far, the experience together has been overwhelmingly positive. Our customers are more excited about 5G than ever before, and our recent customer successes validate the vision that Microsoft and Affirmed share for the future.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen more and more telco operators around the world not just testing 5G technologies but embracing them:

  • In Finland, home to the world’s highest consumers of mobile services, DNA is replacing their legacy mobile core with a 5G core to serve up high-speed, high-bandwidth connections and meet consumers’ ever-expanding appetite for mobile services.
  • In Latin America, Millicom is moving to a cloud-based, 5G-ready mobile core to roll out new edge-based services to their customers such as augmented/virtual reality experiences and IoT applications.
  • In the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, Etisalat is leveraging next-generation network automation and orchestration as they continue to roll out 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) services.
  • In Sweden, Netmore is adopting 5G technologies to gain an early market lead on private enterprise services and IoT applications across Europe.

Bringing together the industry’s first cloud-native mobile platform and the world’s second-largest public cloud network provides telco operators with a clear, proven, accelerated path to 5G services in the cloud. Microsoft’s announcement to build a comprehensive cloud platform for 5G service providers is a game-changer for telcos. As for Affirmed, being a part of Microsoft expands the kinds of solutions we can offer our customers, including the option to consume a cloud-based mobile core platform as a service on world’s most advanced cloud computing platform.

A merger is often compared to a marriage. After the initial honeymoon, the real test of the relationship begins as you discover how well you work together. What we’ve discovered is that all the things that attracted us to Microsoft are the same things that make us stronger together. We’re both one hundred percent committed to the cloud as the next-generation platform for telecommunications. The unmatched flexibility the cloud platform offers—from on-prem deployments to mobile core as a service—enables operators to evolve at their own pace.  We both believe edge computing is integral to the success of 5G. We believe in open standards that invite innovation. We both believe in partnering, not competing, with service providers. And, most importantly, we share the same goals and dreams for the future.

In the days and months that follow, you’ll see that future unfolding. You will see how Microsoft, Affirmed, and Metaswitch teams are working together on a diversity of offerings. Microsoft’s Azure platform is a critical piece of the telecommunications industry’s future, and we’re proud to be an important part of that. For Affirmed, it’s been a long and interesting journey from a start-up with a vision of a cloud-native mobile core to being an instrumental part of Microsoft’s vision for the future of telecommunications.

The best is yet to come. We can’t wait to get started.

Read more about Azure for Operators on this blog post and this Microsoft site or reach out here, if you want to learn more about this announcement.

Red Hat and Affirmed Networks collaborate to help accelerate 5G deployments on Red Hat OpenShift

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

Service providers are transforming and virtualizing their networks in response to an increasingly dynamic market and rapid technology changes. As new opportunities for services grow, 5G has also given service providers the opportunity to increase efficiency, flexibility and elastic scale with microservices-based cloud native architectures. 

As these shifts take place, Red Hat and Affirmed are working together to help service providers adopt cloud native network functions (CNFs) for 5G Cores. Building on the foundation of Red Hat OpenShift, we’re enabling the Affirmed UnityCloud “Any G” solution to be deployed more broadly on a supported, cloud-native backbone, making it easier for telecommunications companies to more efficiently deploy 5G, 4G and 3G services backed by a common telco cloud infrastructure.  

Red Hat and Affirmed are no strangers to collaboration, with Affirmed’s virtual evolved packet core solutions (vEPC) and virtual network functions (VNFs) already deployed and supported around the world on Red Hat OpenStack Platform. Now, our relationship has expanded to include 5G on Red Hat OpenShift, with the OpenShift certification expected to complete this summer.

UnityCloud Platform is a platform of innovation and is designed to deliver automatic, self-observable and non-stop networks. UnityCloud Platform combines the strength of open source technologies with Affirmed’s carrier-grade telco and virtualization expertise. The platform provides a variety of CNF dependencies and automation frameworks to enable cloud-native functions to run seamlessly. UnityCloud Platform was designed to work on bare metal, VM based IaaS, container-based IaaS in both public and private environments.

With the extension of our collaboration, Affirmed now supports UnityCloud from the core to the edge and across public, private and hybrid cloud environments. This enables telecommunications providers to use “Any G” solutions on a broad spectrum of platforms, including Red Hat OpenShift on bare metal, Red Hat OpenShift on Red Hat OpenStack Platform and Red Hat OpenShift in the public cloud, like Microsoft Azure.

Cloud-native collaboration: Address a broad spectrum of telco needs

Through this collaboration, customers will have additional flexibility to tackle an extended set of technology scenarios, including:

  • Network Functions on Red Hat OpenShift and Red Hat OpenStack Platform: A customer or operator seeking to administer a virtual machine (VM)-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) that supports multiple VNFs and containerized network functions (CNFs) from different suppliers. Ideally, this deployment is based on Red Hat OpenStack Platform, where Affirmed provides UnityCloud Platform on Red Hat OpenShift and CNFs provided by Affirmed Networks and other ecosystem partners.
  • CNFs on OpenShift on baremetal: An operator wants to deploy a containerized Kubernetes-based IaaS that supports multiple CNFs from different vendors. This baremetal deployment is best suited for Red Hat OpenShift, running Affirmed Network’s UnityCloud Platform LITE and CNFs provided by Affirmed Networks and other ecosystem partners.

Red Hat OpenShift is available for a variety of cloud environments, from major public clouds including Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud to private cloud and virtualized infrastructure such as Red Hat OpenStack Platform and VMware. More than just availability, the industry’s most comprehensive enterprise Kubernetes platform provides the flexibility to combine public and private resources for hybrid cloud deployments.

Running Affirmed UnityCloud on Red Hat OpenShift provides the flexibility to deploy on a myriad of private, public cloud, or hybrid cloud environments to shift or scale workloads as business needs dictate. We hear from our customers that hybrid cloud combines the flexibility to innovate more quickly with the control of on-premises datacenters, while still enabling them to use and extend existing public cloud infrastructure investments. 

With a public or hybrid cloud environment based on Red Hat OpenShift, customers can have a much higher level of agility, making it easier to move between and across different types of private and public cloud footprints. With open source software, enterprises can benefit from the continuous community innovation, a generally lower operational cost and less vendor lock-in.

 

You don’t need to wait for 5G. Monetize your network now with Private LTE.

by Tim Irwin Tim Irwin No Comments

You’ve heard it all before. Telcos are trapped between rising traffic, shrinking margins, and flat revenue but—wait!—5G will come to the rescue with new revenue-generating services. And while 5G does have a world of potential, telcos can’t afford to wait for a future that may take years to arrive – but you don’t need to wait any longer, thanks to private LTE networks. 

 

We believe that 5G will be a game-changer. But it could initially play out like a waiting game, as mobile operators analyze various business cases. Autonomous vehicles, for example, are a great idea, but who makes the first move? Is it companies that put 5G chips in their cars in anticipation of a ubiquitous 5G network, or operators that need to unroll a reliable 5G fabric before car manufacturers commit to wireless control?

 

While the world waits for 5G to arrive—in networks, smartphones, IoT devices, etc.—LTE is already in place. So, here’s food for thought: What if operators and enterprises could monetize Private LTE networks right now in the same way they plan to monetize 5G networks? That is, by partnering to create value-added services for its customers through a private LTE network.

 

Private LTE Networks Presents an Opportunity for MNOs

Think about it: Private LTE networks present a great opportunity. Right now, network demands are on an upward curve and they’re only going to get higher. Mobile network operators find themselves in the middle, a pipeline between ravenous content consumers and profitable over-the-top content providers. As the air interface technology increases bandwidth at one end of the pipe (i.e., higher consumption or more product to consume), operators have to increase the size of their pipe between the radio and the content, which means more coverage, more capacity, more complexity, etc. But, importantly, not more money for the telco operators.

 

What if telco operators could create a better network experience by pushing network communications out to the edge of the network? Then operators would only need to expand capacity at the edge to deliver high-speed, low-latency services, rather than upgrading their entire network from end to end. Then, when 5G finally does arrive, the private LTE services can be seamlessly integrated into the 5G architecture to continue monetizing those services.

 

Private LTE Networks vs. Wi-Fi Networks

Private LTE networks are similar to Wi-Fi networks in some ways but with a few very important distinctions. Here are the differences between Private LTE vs. Wi-Fi:

  1. Unlicensed Spectrum: Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, which opens the door to all sorts of RF pollution and compromised quality.
  2. Security: A mobile LTE network delivers a higher level of security than a Wi-Fi network.
  3. Time & Effort: Running a large-scale W-Fi network is hard work; most enterprises don’t want to get into the business of RF planning.

 

Enterprises understand the value of having a better mobile experience closer to their end users, whether that user is in a store or in their home. That experience should include enforceable SLAs—something that you can’t get with unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum but you can get with licensed LTE spectrum—as well as security and managed services.

 

Unlike consumer smartphone services, enterprise services are easier for operators to monetize, particularly when they’re aligned with a clear business case. For example, a private LTE network that delivers a better video experience would be valuable to a content provider’s audience and, thus, potentially profitable. An operator could deploy that extra edge capacity for HD video consumers as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the content provider. Best of all, when 5G finally does arrive, you’re already engaged with enterprises in delivering next-gen services—a relationship you can build on with the advances that 5G will bring.

 

There’s actually a lot that enterprises can do with a private LTE network right now—and that’s the topic of my next blog. Learn more about Affirmed Networks solutions.

 

How Mobile Networks Help the World Stay Connected in the Age of Social Distancing

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

As governments, healthcare professionals and businesses make hard choices on how to handle the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to lose sight of the important role that communications service providers play behind the scenes to keep everyone connected in an age of social distancing and shelter-in-place.

As a response to the COVID-19 concerns, Work From Home (WFH) is mandatory for most businesses right now. Schools and universities have had to implement remote learning procedures years earlier than expected. Friends and families are using phones and video apps to stay in touch more than ever before. And mobile networks are straining to keep up with the heightened demand. In Sweden, for example, mobile data usage is already at an all-time yearly high and voice calls have increased 30% in just the last two weeks.

Throughout it all, however, the mobile network perseveres.

Ensuring a continuous, connected experience is a challenge under “normal” conditions, and especially challenging in the “new normal” of a global pandemic like what we’re experiencing with COVID-19. There are three critical elements that will determine how well mobile networks can hold up in the days to come: technology, standards and people.

 

3 Critical Elements of Mobile Networks During The Pandemic

Technology

Thanks to the evolution of mobile technology, most people in the world enjoy fast, ubiquitous access to real-time information (and entertainment) on their mobile devices. In a time when people need to stay apart for safety, staying together through technology has become more important than ever. Mobile technology also supports critical services, from emergency responders and law enforcement to telemedicine.

Standards

It’s easy to forget the role that standards play in mobile communications, but without them, communication begins to fall apart. They’re the glue that holds mobile services together, whether it’s allowing different devices to get the same service experience or connecting business applications with mobile communications. Affirmed has always viewed adherence to standards as critical; it’s a big reason why our solutions currently support millions of customers in more than 100 telecommunications networks worldwide.

People

The most important element, particularly now, is people. From customer service to network maintenance, service delivery to operations, people are what make networks work. With the backdrop of social distancing and shelter-in-place leading to reduced on-site personnel, the individuals in the field and those working long hours remotely to make sure that mobile networks keep working deserve a special thanks. Of course, Affirmed is playing its own part in helping mobile networks meet the heightened demand, and we’re proud to do so.

 

The Importance of Mobile Networks Moving Forward

As we enter an uncertain future, our reliance on communications network will be more important than ever. I have no doubt that there will be some bumps in the road ahead, from outages to increased delays. But we feel especially fortunate to work in an industry that can do so much for so many right now. To everyone who works in the communications industry, thank you for everything you do—and know that Affirmed Networks has your back.

The Age of the Subscription Economy

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

As enterprises move from physical products to digital services, they are redefining the business model relationship with the end customer, creating what we now know as the subscription model. Subscription models are one of the benefits of 5G for consumers – they can help deliver meaningful 5G consumer and enterprise services to consumers. Many of today’s most popular digital 5G services like video streaming, music streaming, transportation, newspapers, and magazines use a subscription model. The trend of 5G streaming will grow exponentially in the years ahead.

The rapid adoption of subscription-based services is not something new. Companies like Spotify introduced the idea of subscriber-based music streaming to consumers over a decade ago; today, Spotify boasts over 270+ million active users. In the enterprise domain, companies such as Oracle have also successfully made the transition from on-premise perpetual software to a cloud-based SaaS business model for infrastructure and software applications.

Meanwhile, in the communications industry, service providers are looking to enhance their digital offerings and business models to become the digital service providers (DSPs) of tomorrow. Streaming services are a big opportunity for consumers, and DSPs are embracing subscription-based models to procure, deliver, and monetize these digital services.

 

Subscription Models and the Mobile Network

This shift to subscription-based models is reflected in Affirmed Networks’ Mobile Network as a Service and Affirmed Cloud Edge offerings, which are designed to help DSPs rapidly deploy their mobile network infrastructure, accelerate service innovation and reduce costs in an open public cloud infrastructure.

Mobile Network as a Service Capabilities

With Mobile Network as a Service, DSPs can:

  • Rapidly and cost-effectively test new markets and services by leveraging public cloud infrastructure and economies of scale;
  • Instantly instantiate new services and functions such as deep packet inspection, media optimization, and network address translation on a single platform;
  • Focus on growing the digital services business opportunity while a partner delivers the underlying platform;
  • Eliminate upfront CapEx costs required for hardware and data center costs while controlling OpEx costs thereafter;
  • Provide “just in time” network scaling for the capacity that DSPs actually need, rather than “just in case” capacity planning that often requires expensive over-provisioning of network resources;
  • Implement local breakout services to reduce backhauling costs and improve customer experiences.

 

Procuring, delivering, and monetizing mobile network infrastructure has evolved from hardware-based solutions to perpetual software-based models and, now, to SaaS-based models. DSPs are slowly changing procurement procedures and other internal practices as they move to SaaS-based solutions delivered by innovative partners. DSPs understand the value creation that SaaS enables in their business by rapidly delivering a tailored solution for customers, generating recurring revenues, and reducing customer churn. For the end customer, this all boils down to convenience.

 

A Win-Win for Consumers & DSPs

A digital service that is personalized to the needs of the individual customer in terms of commitment, payments, and accessibility is paramount. The evolution of traditional models to SaaS-based models is necessary to meet changing customer behaviors and foster innovative ways to generate new revenue streams. The technology and the commercial models are now available to DSPs to help them rapidly prototype, innovate and deliver meaningful 5G consumer and enterprise services. At the same time, end consumers get more personalized service. It’s a win-win scenario that everyone can subscribe to.