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16 March 2020

Google Cloud’s edge alliance with AT&T signals major telco push

As the idea that telcos could go it alone in the cloud died, so they have become attractive partners for webscalers, and that symbiosis will be stronger in the edge cloud where MNO’s 5G and location assets will carry more weight. Last year, Amazon AWS had seemed the most advanced in cultivating operator partnerships, especially when it signed up Verizon, Vodafone and SK Telecom for its Wavelengths edge program. But Microsoft Azure has been pushing strongly into the telco space too, and late last year, scored a flagship win with AT&T.

Google Cloud was the outsider, a smaller cloud business and with only Telecom Italia publicly announced as a tier one telco customer. However, that is changing. Google is reported to have stepped up several gears in recent months in trying to sign commercial deals and strategic alliances with operators, and it has its own AT&T partnership to show for it now.

While Google Cloud lacks AWS’s ubiquity or Microsoft’s huge enterprise incumbency, it does look attractive at the 5G edge. Its model and infrastructure are less centralized and more network-centric than those of its rivals and that may enable it to form more multi-faceted collaborations with operators. After all, it does have the vast Android mobile developer base to bring to the party.

Google Cloud has created the Global Mobile Edge Cloud, saying it aims to deliver

  • a portfolio and marketplace of 5G solutions built jointly with telecommunications companies
  • an open cloud platform for developing these network-centric applications
  • a global distributed edge for optimally deploying these solutions, which will be developed rapidly by “lighting up thousands of edge locations that are already deployed in these telecom networks” rather than building all the sites itself

“This is a real step to help telecom companies modernize their infrastructure and their services,” said Shailesh Shukla, GM and VP of networking at Google Cloud.

To help achieve the second objective, Google unveiled Anthos for Telecom, which brings its Kubernetes-based Anthos cloud platform to the network edge and optimizes it to support telecoms-centric applications such as AI-enabled customer service or personalization systems.

“We’re basically giving you compute power on our edge, where previously it was only for Google use, through the Anthos platform,” said Eyal Manor, VP of engineering for Anthos. “The edge is very powerful, and I think we will now see substantially more innovation happening for applications that are latency-sensitive. We’ve been investing in edge compute and edge networking for a long time in Google over the years for the internal services. And we think it’s a fairly unique capability now to open it up for third party customers.”

The Global Mobile Edge Cloud looks notably different from the common platforms with which AWS and Azure lure telcos. It is more collaborative and more of a two-way partnership. The new cloud platform is billed as one on which Google will work with operators to develop applications and a distributed edge through joint efforts.

By contrast, the Wavelengths deals that AWS has with several operators are more about pooling assets – harnessing the operator’s network and micro-data center locations to help AWS distribute its cloud quickly and cost-effectively, while bringing the operator the huge benefit of access to the Amazon developer base (which have to, in the Verizon example, sign up for Verizon connectivity subscriptions in order to use its facilities).

These tit-for-tat arrangements will be important to any cloud/telco agreement, and are certainly not commercially trivial, but there is a sense that AWS will always have the upper hand because of its control over that developer base, which it is effectively loaning to the telco for as long as the connectivity and sites are valuable. Google has less weight in the cloud market, and needs to take a more genuinely collaborative approach.

In the partnership with AT&T, the two companies will pool resources to deliver 5G services on the AT&T Network Edge, making use of Google Cloud’s capabilities in Kubernetes, AI/ML and big data analytics.

“Combining AT&T’s network edge, including 5G, with Google Cloud’s edge compute technologies can unlock the cloud’s true potential,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO of AT&T Business. “This work is bringing us closer to a reality where cloud and edge technologies give businesses the tools to create a whole new world of experiences for their customers.”

This adds Google to AT&T’s broad raft of cloud partners. It already works with AWS to cross-sell enterprise services, and has a deep alliance with Microsoft, which is supporting the telco’s own migration of many of its IT functions to the public cloud. IBM and Mirantis are other important partners, especially on the Network Cloud side.

Microsoft and AT&T also agreed, a year ago, to work together to develop a hybrid edge deployment model, which the operator has since claimed has improved network performance by up to 50% (see inset).

Google Cloud hopes to have a broader set of intersections with the telco than just in edge cloud services. It has already been pushing into the business of offering packet core as a managed service to smaller operators, and of course it has many projects in which it works with MNOs on Android applications. It has now codified these efforts in a three-pronged strategy for operators, which will work alongside the edge and cloud activities, and will focus on:

  • driving new revenue streams from 5G in the enterprise
  • creating new data experiences
  • improving operations in core network infrastructure.

It will be providing various types of services to Vodafone, Wind Tre and Altice USA, and is working with Deutsche Telekom’s integration arm, T-Systems, to provide consulting, migration support and managed services for enterprises. T-Systems will build a Google Cloud-specific center where enterprises can build custom cloud services in order to facilitate large-scale workload migrations to the cloud and edge, along with AI/ML services.

And Google is broadening its enterprise ecosystem, announcing deals to bring Amdocs’ and Netcracker’s software to its cloud to support hosted OSS/BSS services for telcos.

Netcracker will deploy its entire Digital BSS/OSS and Orchestration stack on Google Cloud using the Anthos application platform; while Amdocs will do the same with its data and intelligence systems, and has announced Altice USA as its first Google Cloud-based customer. Amdocs also said it would work with Google to create new solutions for operators to monetize over 5G networks at the edge.

And Google Cloud’s first flagship telecoms customer, Telecom Italia (TIM), was not forgotten – it signed a formal technology collaboration agreement with Google, following up on last year’s memorandum of understanding. The pair will work together to build public, private and hybrid cloud services for the enterprise. TIM believes this will help it increase revenues from B2B technology services to €1bn by 2024, generating €400m in earnings. Revenues in this area were €618m in the first nine months of 2019.

AT&T and Azure are piloting network edge computing platform:

 

Last year, AT&T and Microsoft Azure started to pilot a network edge computing (NEC) service platform based on a combination of the Azure cloud and AT&T’s network locations. This will enable Azure services to be delivered closer to the users via the AT&T cloud and virtualized network, with 5G connectivity to be part of the mix in future too.

Having announced the deal in July, the companies opened up previews of their NEC technology in November for selected partners in Dallas, with Los Angeles and Atlanta set to follow early next year. This “weaves Microsoft Azure cloud services into AT&T network edge locations closer to customers”, as the partners put it. AT&T recently switched on a 400Gbps 5G connection between Dallas and Atlanta to support applications such as advanced gaming.

“With our 5G and edge computing, AT&T is collaborating uniquely with Microsoft to marry their cloud capabilities with our network to create lower latency between the device and the cloud that will unlock new, future scenarios for consumers and businesses,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO at AT&T Business, in a statement. “We’ve said all year developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters, and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution.”

Like many operators, AT&T is targeting gaming as the low hanging fruit for edge cloud, since it builds on existing user bases and content relationships. AT&T and Azure are working with Game Cloud Network, which has created a 5G app called ‘Tap & Field’. This uses Azure PlayFab services to support a game in which users race in near-real time in various track and field events.

Game Cloud Network CEO Aaron Baker said: “AT&T and Microsoft are building the perfect environment for game developers to create amazing new possibilities for gamers. 5G and edge computing have the potential to radically change how we play together and launch new business opportunities for brands and game publishers.”

AT&T has been enhancing its telco cloud to support Azure, and Microsoft is helping it to fulfil its aim of being a “public cloud-first” company by 2024, at least when it comes to IT and business support applications. Network functions such as virtualized RAN and core are moving to the cloud too, but are likely to stay on private infrastructure until the results of the IT transition are seen.