• 9 min read

Modernizing and monetizing telecom networks with AI-powered Azure for Operators

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Advancements in generative AI continue to accelerate the pace of industry transformation, with telecommunications emerging as a leader AI adoption. In this blog, I will share a number of exciting updates about our Azure for Operators portfolio of cloud-based solutions that enable operators to drive innovation and efficiency in the network.

I’m looking forward to joining our customers and partners at Mobile World Congress (MWC), February 26 to February 29, 2024, in Barcelona. Advancements in generative AI continue to accelerate the pace of industry transformation, with telecommunications emerging as a leader in AI adoption.

Read the blog Accelerating Telco Transformation in the Era of AI by Jason Zander, Executive Vice President, Strategic Missions and Technology, to learn how operators are using Microsoft’s AI and Copilot solutions to elevate customer experiences, streamline business operations, monetize 5G investments, and modernize their network.

In this blog, I will share a number of exciting updates about our Azure for Operators portfolio of cloud-based solutions that enable operators to drive innovation and efficiency in the network. We are proud to announce an expanding customer base and the infusion of AI across Azure for Operators products.

Modernize networks with a hybrid carrier-grade platform and AI-powered automation and insights

Deep integration of the network with the Azure cloud is foundation to using AI-powered automation and insights to unlock improved efficiency, scalability, security, and reliability. Since the general availability announcement of Azure Operator Nexus—our carrier grade, hybrid platform, our progress includes:

  • Additional Operator Nexus deployments supporting 5G standalone roll outs as primary platform.
  • Expanding capabilities to address national security requirements in multiple regions.
  • Increasing support for common operational requirements and refining approach to the DevSecOps models supporting multi-vendor network function deployments.
  • Additional form factors to support RAN and additional workloads.
  • As a service model to support customer and partner lab deployments in Microsoft datacenters.
  • Expanded Nexus Ready program with over 20 certified partners and over 80 network functions.

Operator Nexus enables operators to run workloads on-premises or on Azure, seamlessly deploying and managing everything from the bare metal to the network to the tenant. Purpose-built for and validated by tier 1 operators to run mission-critical workloads, Operator Nexus:

  • Accelerates time to market for new services.
  • Lowers total cost of ownership (TCO).
  • Drives operational efficiency and resiliency.
  • Critically, improves the security of highly distributed, software-based networks.

As part of e& UAE’s transformation to becoming a digital telco we are excited to collaborate closely with Microsoft as we drive innovation in our services and excellence in our customer experience. The use of Azure Operator Nexus and Azure Operator 5G Core to support our core network will better enable us to leverage the power of AI and automation and provide new avenues for monetization.

—Khalid Murshed, Chief Technology and Information Officer, e& UAE.

Azure for Operators

Learn how telecom operators are transforming with Azure.

“AT&T is moving to the next phase of our cloud migration that includes deploying Microsoft’s Azure Operator Nexus platform in our network as part of the next phase of our 5G SA deployment. Continuing its leadership in cloud networking, AT&T is using cloud native DevOps tools to drive improvements such as one-touch deployment, vendor-agnostic framework, CI/CD integration, automated network testing, in-service upgrades, and advanced security and compliance management. Azure Operator Nexus’ API-driven solution helped us to significantly simplify, automate, and improve the deployment cycle time for cloud infrastructure software and configuration in our data centers.

Yigal Elbaz, Senior Vice President, Network CTO.

Read our tech community blog to learn more about Azure Operator Nexus.

AI-enabled insights for operators

Azure Operator Insights and Copilot in Azure Operator Insights empower operators to drive efficiency, speed, and accuracy in network operations. Copilot in Azure Operator Insights, now in limited preview, represents a game-changer for network engineers. Copilot in Azure Operator Insights will empower network engineers to spend more time solving and less time diagnosing customer problems by efficiently identifying, mitigating, and resolving network issues. This service brings operator-focused gen AI-infused product enables operators to move from reactive, to proactive, and predictive network management. Network health can be continuously monitored across multiple underlying management systems, allowing for anomalous health metrics to be detected and the interaction of complex services to be more easily visualized. Network health alerts proactively inform the LLM-based prompts, accelerating the ability to mitigate using suggestions analyzed from data sources such as product manuals, support websites, user forums, and troubleshooting guides. Accumulated experiences are used to further tune the AI model using information maintained in the operator’s subscription.

Today, Azure Operator Insights and Copilot in Azure Operator Insights are delivering AI-infused insights to drive network efficiency for customers like 3UK and participating partners including Amdocs, Accenture, and ServiceNow.

Azure Operator Insights removes data silos and delivers actionable business insights by enabling the collection and analysis of massive quantities of network data gathered from complex multi-vendor network functions. Leveraging ingest and query technology designed to support Azure itself, Azure Operator Insights can analyze data streams sized at multiple petabytes per day in timeframes that cannot be achieved with conventional toolsets. Operator Insights helps operators tackle complex scenarios such as network health, performance, security, end-to-end customer experience, and operations efficiency.

Azure Operator Insights uses a modern data mesh architecture enabling complex domains to be broken into manageable sub-domains called data products that integrate massive datasets from different sources and vendors. This new capability, data product factory, enables operators, network equipment providers, and solution integrators to develop unique data products that can be published to Azure Marketplace or for individual customer use. We are excited to be working with Accenture and Amdocs as our initial collaborators with the Azure Operator Insights data product factory.

“3UK is using Azure Operator Insights to leverage the latest AI advancements through the Copilot in Azure Operator Insights product. This is an exciting development that brings together the latest in generative AI and supports our commitment to better connectivity, every day, for every customer.”

Iain Milligan, Chief Network Officer, 3UK.

Visit our tech community blog for more use cases.

Modern mobile packet core

Azure Operator 5G Core, now in public preview, is designed to meet the evolving needs of mobile network operators, offering a fully containerized carrier-grade, any-G, hybrid mobile packet core with fully integrated network functions that run on-premises or in-cloud. It is a modern architecture proven in the field at scale based on acquired packet core technology from our Affirmed Networks acquisition.

Key features since private preview include:

  • Inline user plane services provide operators with efficient network resource utilization in a reduced footprint while improving overall user experience.
  • APIs for repeatable and consistent automation for rapid, error-free service rollouts.
  • Micro service architecture supports 2G to 5G in single deployment.
  • Containerization drives high performance and efficiency.
  • Integrated with cloud-based services for zero trust security, AI based automation, and advanced analytics.
  • Rapid time to market with DevSecOps-based approach.

For more information about these enhancements for Azure Operator 5G Core, visit our tech community blog.

Security and compliance for telecom workloads

We are committed to supporting our customers’ security and compliance obligations. In deepening our commitment, we have joined the GSMA Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS) to help ensure the security and compliance of our products. Specific to the United Kingdom (UK), we support the UK Telecoms Security Assurance (TSA) code of practice.

“We are delighted to welcome Microsoft Azure for Operators to the Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS). By joining NESAS, Microsoft demonstrates its leadership to providing secure and trustworthy solutions for the telecom industry. NESAS provides a common security framework that enhances transparency and confidence in the network equipment supply chain. We look forward to working with Microsoft and other members of the scheme to advance the security and reliability of telecom networks around the world.

Samantha Kight, Head of Industry Security, GSMA.

Monetize 5G investments and enhance customer experiences with modern connected applications

For operators, the ability to monetize a differentiated network experience requires exposing key capabilities to developers and ISVs, whose efforts accelerate the development of modern connected applications, speeding adoption, and value creation. The announcements in this section make it possible for operators to monetize AI, programmable network, and edge compute.

Announcing Azure Operator Call Protection in public preview

We are announcing a new service that uses AI to protect consumers from telephone scam calls. Azure Operator Call Protection uses real-time analysis of voice content, alerting consumers when there is suspicious in-call activity. Operator Call Protection works on any endpoint (mobile or landline) and is entirely network-derived (no app download required) making for simple monetization of the service as either a premium feature or part of a service bundle. It is built on Azure Communications Gateway, which enables connectivity between an operator voice network and Microsoft Teams and other cloud communication services. Operators participating in preview include British Telecom Group and Far EasTone.

“We’ve already implemented various measures to protect our customer base from many millions of scam calls and texts, but with fraud a growing problem in the UK, we are always looking at how we can take consumer protection to the next level. That’s why we are collaborating with Microsoft to pilot Azure Operator Call Protection and analyze how, by using advanced (AI) capabilities, we can further enhance our defenses against fraudulent activity.”

—Reza Rahnama, MBE, MD Mobile Networks, BT Group.

Visit our tech community blog for more information about Azure Operator Call Protection.

Azure Programmable Connectivity (APC) is now available in public preview as an Azure service. Now fully integrated into the Azure Marketplace, APC empowers operators to commercialize their network APIs and simplifies their access for developers. APC provides seamless access to Open Gateway for developers to create cloud and edge-native applications that interact with the intelligence of the network. By providing a unified, standard interface across operator networks, developers can create cloud and edge-native applications that interact with the intelligence of networks.

We are actively collaborating with global operators integrating their network APIs to develop a strong partner ecosystem (such as AT&T, BT, Claro, Deutsche Telekom, MEO, Orange, Rogers, Singtel, Telefonica, T-Mobile, TIM Brasil, Verizon, and Vivo). We also continue working with network technology partners and network programmability aggregators, such as Ericsson and Vonage, as well as Nokia and Nokia’s Network as Code platform, making concrete progress accelerating the ecosystem on network programmability.

“Verizon’s network APIs enable developers to create new experiences, ease pain points in customer interactions, and improve customer security by enabling access to Verizon network APIs through Azure’s APC, developers across the globe can benefit from Verizon’s deep knowledge of the data environment and expansive network resource.”

—Srini Kalapala, Senior Vice President of Technology and Product Development, Verizon.

Learn how APC is revolutionizing the way developers interact with network API services and learn how enterprises are taking advantage of network-aware applications.

Azure private MEC enables operators to support modern connected applications with high-performance, ultra-low-latency edge solutions. Here are a few examples of how enterprises are transforming operations with 5G:

  • Noble Corporation, one of the largest offshore drilling contractors in the world, is deploying Azure private MEC to provide mobility solutions for the crew while increasing efficiency. “With Tampnet’s Private Offshore Network and Azure private MEC, onsite connectivity is no longer a challenge for Noble. Connected workers, and safe and secure networks are accelerating implementation of digital initiatives for improved offshore operations.”—Juan Vesga, OTG Project Manager, Noble Corporation.
  • Trinity Broadcast Networks (TBN), has installed a private 5G network deployment from our partner, Trilogy NextGen Networks, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. “As the new home for many of TBN’s most popular news and entertainment programs, as well as ‘Dr. Phil Primetime,’ it was essential to create a facility that delivers the ultimate state-of-the-art experience. Our partnership with Trilogy NextGen helps us invigorate the world of broadcasting, as we push the boundaries of content creation to inspire, inform, and uplift audiences around the world.”Russell Hall, Senior Vice President of Production, TBN.
  • 5G PORTAL–the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, together with Microsoft and a wider consortium of partners, have created an offshore 5G equipped testbed, covering the Port of Grimsby and the  operational Lynn and Inner Dowsing Wind Farm. 

Expanding partner ecosystem for modern connected applications

Our partners are actively developing modern connected applications that run on Azure private MEC. We have onboarded more than 20 ISVs and dozens of SI and operator partners. Learn more below about some of the new partner solutions available on Azure Marketplace.

  • Glartek’s Augmented & Connected Worker platform uses AR to support enterprise operations.
  • Scenera’s MAIstro software as a service (SaaS) offers a comprehensive solution for orchestrating AI analytics seamlessly from edge to cloud.
  • Tampnet’s offshore private networks provide secure connectivity for offshore operators and vessels.
  • Taqtile Manifest® Mixed Reality Work Instruction Solution leverages mixed reality to improve operational workflows.
  • T-Mobile’s 5G Advanced Network Solutions provides “right-sized” solutions for enterprises.
  • Zebra Technologies Corporation’s Workcloud Communication platform enables secure and reliable communication for front-line workers.

See how ISV partners are powering AI-enabled applications.

Get started today

Microsoft and our ecosystem partners are building a truly “better together” architecture that holistically addresses the needs of network operators as they transform their networks. Looking ahead, we remain committed to being the most trusted co-innovation partner through every stage of the digital evolution, working with operators and enterprises to future-proof networks and unlock new revenue streams in a cloud- and AI-native future.

Invitation to operators, system integrators, and network managers

Invitation to enterprises, developers, and ISVs

  • Whether you’re an enterprise looking to leverage our solutions, a developer eager to create network-aware applications, or an application ISV seeking to collaborate with Microsoft on MEC solutions, we invite you to take the next step. Sign up now to join us in building the future of telecommunications with Azure for Operators. 
  • To learn how Microsoft is helping organizations embrace 5G with modern connected applications, sign up for news and updates delivered to your inbox.