Microsoft Makes 5G Play With Deal For Affirmed Networks

The startup’s software virtualizes wireless networks, a capability that will help Microsoft woo telecoms to its public cloud with gains in scalability, cost and efficiency.

Microsoft has agreed to acquire Affirmed Networks, a deal that will provide the cloud giant with wireless network virtualization software that enables telecom operators deploying 5G networks, the company said Thursday.

“At Microsoft, we intend to empower the telecommunications industry as it continues its move to 5G and support both network equipment manufacturers and operators in their efforts to find solutions that are faster, easier and cost-effective,” said Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president of Azure Networking, in a Microsoft blog post.

With Acton, Mass.-based Affirmed Networks—which boasts customers like AT&T—in its portfolio, Microsoft can make a stronger pitch for telecoms to adopt its Azure cloud.

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Telecoms are increasingly looking to move their network workloads to public cloud and abandon projects to stock their own data centers with expensive custom hardware. Network virtualization technology allows them to scale their traffic capacity with commodity computing resources, achieving more efficient deployment and maintenance of those workloads.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is eager to meet that surging demand as 5G leads to an explosion of novel use cases, from autonomous vehicles to smart cities to virtual reality, Khalidi said.

“We believe that software can play an important role in helping advance 5G and deliver new network solutions that offer step-change advancements in speed, cost and security,” he said.

Ric Opal, principal and strategic partnerships leader at Microsoft partner BDO Digital, Oak Brook, Ill., sees a smart play by Microsoft not only to woo telecoms, but also to differentiate its cloud services.

Microsoft controls endpoints and the cloud, Opal said, but not the connectivity in between.

The Affirmed Networks technology “gives them the ability to optimize from a services perspective the experience the customer is going to have,” Opal said, whether those customers are connecting to Azure, Office 365 or Microsoft’s cloud-based business apps.

The current coronavirus crisis highlights the importance of being able to scale streaming video services and business collaboration platforms. For cloud providers like Microsoft, as 5G proliferates, the challenge will be “to optimize those experiences on a multitude of devices without wires,” Opal said.

Affirmed Networks will help Microsoft differentiate how it transports data for telecom operators as well as users running applications on Microsoft’s back-end cloud services, he said.

As technologies like quantum computing come online, and only industry giants like Microsoft can offer those breakthrough compute capabilities to enterprises, that virtual network component will become even more important, Opal said.