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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 plans for 5G? 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 Democratization of IT and the Network: Are You Ready?

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

Many years ago, I worked at a network equipment provider, where I shared an office with the mobile core team. And every morning, as I walked through the reception area, I would pass a pair of towering, refrigerator-sized CGSN and SGSN nodes. Each node could deliver wireless access protocol (WAP) service to about 50,000 subscribers. At the same time, companies like VMware and Sun Microsystems were just starting to take the concept of IT virtualization mainstream.

How times have changed. And it’s because of the Democratization of IT.

Today, IT applications are being rewritten to adopt cloud-native principles and deployed in hybrid cloud environments that are maintained with a DevOps model. Yet while IT applications for functional domains such as Online Channels, Customer Relationship Management, Sales Force Automation, and Human Capital Management have already made the transition to a cloud-native design, network applications have only recently begun to embark on virtualization and the first wave of digitalization.

The Democratization of Networks

We hear a lot of debate in the industry around the impact of 5G, but I believe another and equally important topic is being ignored: the democratization of the network. Never before has the network been more accessible. The democratization of technology and the network is taking place, led by open-based technologies and evolving commercial models such as open, web-based interfaces, cloud-native architectures, and public cloud deployments.

Few people would argue the necessity of cloud-native network functions to deliver service and operational agility, but what lessons can the network community learn from the evolution of on-premise software to virtualized software and, finally, to truly cloud-native software? Will the traditional barriers between networks and IT collapse until all applications are deployed on horizontal platforms? I believe the answer is a definitive Yes.

Today, most service providers have separate IT and network teams that reflect the historical separation of the two technologies. This is rapidly changing, however. As service providers come to realize that the network and IT functions can be developed, deployed and managed from a common open-source infrastructure, the heated discussions between IT and Networking over topics such as converged charging and prepaid platforms have become a distant memory.

There are still points for discussion, of course; for example, the need for an infrastructure that supports both CPU-intensive and I/O-intensive workloads. But there are many similarities and synergies that can be derived by jointly designing a network and IT applications in areas such as security, reliability, and resiliency. And, really, shouldn’t we be working together to create a common set of requirements, platforms, and processes to develop, manage and maintain both IT and network applications?

The Solution for Service Providers

The solution, I believe, lies in the creation of a common platform and a common team to architect, deploy and operate the core applications of the future. Labeling an application as an “IT application” or a “network application” is less important than creating an underlying platform that has the built-in flexibility and adaptability to serve the future needs of both IT and networking. Service providers cannot count on traditional vendors to deliver this future. These vendors have a legacy hardware business to protect and are saddled with legacy software that cannot fulfill the basic requirements of cloud-native.

What service providers need is choice. For example, they should be able to choose whether they deploy network applications on bare metal, in a private cloud, in a public cloud or in a hybrid cloud running on a common platform. Affirmed is committed to delivering more choices to service providers through the industry’s only truly cloud-native mobile core solution built on a common, open-source platform. It’s much more than a platform for virtualization; it’s a platform for innovation.

Think about it: How will service providers operate networks and deliver network assurance as the cloudification of the network goes mainstream? Wouldn’t it be more cost-efficient to have a single observability platform (e.g., Grafana) for both IT and network functions? From a service agility perspective, IT has been using microservices for years to rapidly deliver new software functionality and capabilities. Now, for the first time, IT and network functions can take advantage of the same technologies while using the same tools, processes, and people – thanks to democratization.

Service providers can now leverage a common platform for all their enterprise applications, whether they’re IT or network applications. This has the benefit of improving agility and operations while reducing costs. Of course, to do this, the platform has to be flexible enough to support the various workload configurations, evolve as the open-source tools evolve and support multiple use cases and deployment models.

It’s the promise of new 5G use cases, operational models and cost efficiencies that will drive service providers to review their current platform choices and look for a better solution. On the other side of that solution are a democracy of IT and network teams working together on a shared goal of a better future. Affirmed Networks is ready for that future right now. Are you?