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Verizon Inks Partnership to Integrate Microsoft Azure for Operators

Verizon/Ice Mobility

Verizon infrastructure at Ice Mobility distro center

Verizon is expanding its onsite 5G edge wireless network offering with support for the new Microsoft Azure for Operators platform. The two companies this week said they will integrate Microsoft Azure for Operators with Verizon’s mobile edge computing (MEC) services.

Launched last month, Microsoft Azure for Operators is a mix of new services designed for telecommunications and wireless service providers. The company designed the new services for customers at sites with applications that require reliable and low-latency connectivity. It also includes mixed reality communications services, network slicing and support for highly scalable IoT applications.

The partnership is Verizon’s latest effort to broaden MEC, which bring its 5G Ultra Wideband network to customer sites. Microsoft and Verizon will focus on applications that incorporate computer vision, including mixed reality. Also, Microsoft and Verizon say their collective solution is suited for supply chain automation and applications that require real-time communications. Among customers targeted are those in manufacturing, distribution and healthcare delivery.

Verizon's Rima Qureshi

Verizon’s Rima Qureshi

“By bringing together Verizon’s 5G network and onsite 5G Edge platform with Microsoft’s expertise in cloud services, we will enable the development of the next-generation technologies everyone has been envisioning,” said Verizon EVP and chief strategy officer Rima Qureshi.

Verizon partner Ice Mobility is testing MEC with Microsoft Azure for Operators to enable computer-assisted inspection of products it distributes. Ice Mobility packages and ships phones and other products to Verizon retail partners. To ensure products ship in the correct packages, Ice Mobility installed cameras, connected to Verizon’s 5G wireless MEC infrastructure. The aim is to automate inspections by matching the data from each order using computer vision rather than people. The solution flags if a worker puts the wrong product and materials in a box.

The companies estimate doing so will reduce processing time by 15-30%.

Ice Mobility's Mike Mohr

Ice Mobility’s Mike Mohr

“It literally eliminates some quality control stuff, but even more importantly, it increases accuracy,” said Ice Mobility CEO Mike Mohr. In the future, Mohr said Ice Mobility would like to use the full capabilities of the solution to automate functions such as security, social distancing and contact tracing.

Verizon’s partnership with Microsoft is its latest in a string of recent alliances to expand its edge 5G services. Last month, Verizon extended its partnership with AWS to add MEC support in Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C. The two companies first brought the service to Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area. During the summer, Verizon partnered with IBM to collaborate on using MEC to create hybrid industrial apps using artificial intelligence. Earlier this month, Verizon announced a partnership with Cisco to bring 5G-enabled MEC to sports and entertainment arenas and stadiums.

Microsoft Azure for Operators

The Microsoft Azure for Operators announcement last month kicked off the software giant’s effort to bring 5G to the edge with carriers.

“We’re building a carrier-grade cloud and bringing more Microsoft technology to the operator’s edge,” according to EVP Jason Zander’s announcement. “This, in combination with our developer ecosystem, will help operators to future-proof their networks, drive down costs, and create new services and business models.”

Microsoft gained the technology from its acquisitions earlier this year of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch, which provide cloud-native network functions. Both build on the launch of Azure Edge Zones back in March. Besides Affirmed and Metaswitch, members of the Azure Edge Zones ecosystem include Mavenir, Nokia’s Nuage Networks, Palo Alto Networks, and VeloCloud By VMware.

“These capabilities, combined with Microsoft’s broad developer ecosystem and deep business to business partnership programs, provide Microsoft with a unique ability to support the operators as they seek to monetize the capabilities of their networks,” Zander noted.

The first carriers showcased as partners during last month’s launch of Microsoft Azure for Operators were AT&T, Celcom (in Malaysia), Deutsche Telecom and Telefonica. This week’s announcement brings Verizon into the Microsoft fold.

Meanwhile, Verizon this week separately announced that it is partnering with Nokia to deliver private 5G capabilities to enterprise customers in Europe and Asia Pacific . The offering will let Verizon partners deliver self-contained, private 5G networks consisting of micro towers and small cellular infrastructure. Developers can program applications to a customer’s dedicated infrastructure using Nokia’s web-based API that interfaces with its Digital Automation Cloud.

A Verizon spokeswoman said the company hasn’t yet announced plans for private 5G in North America. But Verizon last month said it completed testing of Corning’s indoor cell site solution and has started testing Samsung’s offering. Verizon chose both companies for its planned Ultra Wide band 5G mmWave private network service. The carrier plans to offer it to facilities such as hospitals, manufacturing plants, warehouses, schools, ports and retail stores.


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