Igal Elbaz, AT&T SVP of wireless and access technology (pictured), told Mobile World Live a deal to move its 5G core network to the Microsoft cloud offered broader industry benefits by enabling the software giant to sell its platform to other operators.

The companies plan to bring Microsoft Azure into AT&T’s network operations centres, a move Elbaz explained would commence this year.

Their agreement “does not necessarily mean we are running on public cloud the way we understand today”, Elbaz said. “We are extending Azure into the operator premise”.

“We are distributing our network much closer to customers to run applications and services that can unleash immersive experiences”, Elbaz said. “The idea is a hybrid cloud platform which rides on public cloud as well as operator premises.”

Microsoft will be able to sell AT&T’s platform to other operators, which Elbaz noted could be a positive for the entire mobile market.

“The fact that there’s a cloud player that can continue to invest and serve other operators can benefit the whole industry”, he said. “At the end of the day we can benefit from the fact that there is a growing ecosystem of users for that platform, rather than just us…I don’t think you ever want to be the only customer or user of something”.

Elbaz said AT&T will continue to operate its 5G network, create new services and manage customer experience, moves which will benefit from moving the core closer to end-users.

He explained Microsoft will develop and deploy the platform with help from A&T engineers, and the software giant was in talks regarding job offers.

End of an era
AT&T was one of the first operators to virtualise much of its core network. Two of the companies which helped the process, Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks, were acquired by Microsoft, which is now making a move for the operator’s entire Network Cloud platform technology.

“Now cloud players want to get into networking”, Elbaz said. “We don’t have to do it ourselves”.

Elbaz said the potential extension of AT&T’s cloud platform to its competitors would not necessarily make network interoperability easier or more likely. “Make no mistake”, he said. “There are real boundaries”.

Similarly, sharing of cloud platforms will not necessarily decrease operators’ ability to differentiate services: AT&T is positioning its deal with Microsoft as enabling it to devote more resources to service differentiation.