AT&T continued a recent run of operator cloud networking plays, penning a deal to shift its 5G core network to Microsoft Azure in a move also involving the sale of its related platform technology to the software giant.

The US operator emphasised it would continue to run its network and control customer relationships, but was seeking to reap the benefit of slashing its engineering and development costs.

In a joint statement, Microsoft explained it stands to gain access to the operator’s current Network Cloud platform technology, and associated IP and technical expertise.

Andre Fuetsch, EVP and CTO at AT&T, noted the Network Cloud team had proved “running a network in the cloud drives speed, security, cost improvements and innovation” after operating its 5G core since it was launched in 2018.

Microsoft’s decision to buy the unit will provide the resources required to make “this capability accessible to operators around the world”.

Jason Zander, EVP of Azure at Microsoft, explained the acquisition boosts its telecom portfolio, enabling it to deliver “a carrier-grade cloud” system.

AT&T added managing its mobile network traffic on Microsoft Azure will boost delivery of “large-scale network services”, with access to cloud, AI and edge technologies improving flexibility around developing and launching new services.

Microsoft takes over software development and deployment of AT&T’s Network Cloud immediately, with Azure integration to take place over the next three years.

The move adds to growing momentum around operator cloud deals. Amazon Web Services (AWS) revealed a deal with Swisscom during MWC21 Barcelona this week, a follow-up to a collaboration with Nokia and US newcomer Dish Network.

And Orange today (30 June) unveiled plans to begin trials of a cloud-native standalone 5G network in its home market, which could ultimately be deployed across its operations.