Verizon’s recent announcements of new partnership deals with Microsoft and with Nokia are designed to create a unified platform for businesses to use as they build their own edge deployments, according to experts.
Those deals will see Verizon offer Azure integration natively on its 5G Edge networking platform, as well as partnering for private 5G delivery with Nokia, with the latter agreement focusing on areas where Verizon does not already have a public networking presence, like Europe and Asia-Pacific. The company already has partnerships in place with AWS and IBM, among other major edge technology players.
These announcements are aimed at exactly the same target as similar team-ups from AT&T – forming a smooth ecosystem of providers that makes it easier for businesses to implement edge services.
Successful edge deployments need to address multiple parts of the stack, including connectivity, hardware and software. Businesses are increasingly eager to use licensed wireless networks to address the first part of the equation, but, until recently, ran the risk of being unable to use their preferred cloud platform or hardware, due to a lack of interoperability.
“What Verizon brings to the table is obviously industry leading expertise in 5G networking,” said Patrick Filikins, IDC senior research analyst for IoT and mobile network infrastructure. “What Microsoft brings is a platform solution, in this case edge compute ... but also an open API-based platform solution built onto it so that the enterprise can design an application and build some customization and interaction with that application going forward.”
By teaming up with major players in different parts of the stack, wireless operators and software vendors can make it easier for them to retain rather than customers to stay with them rather than seeking out compatible connectivity or software solution for their edge computing implementations.
There’s a sense among mobile carriers that they may have missed the boat when it comes to private connectivity with earlier technological generations, according to Jason Leigh, IDC’s research manager for mobile operator research and 5G. While 5G differs qualitatively from previous generations of licensed wireless technology, it’s misleading that 5G on its own is more readily integrated into mobile edge computing (MEC). “We’ve glommed on to 5G and MEC as inextricable, but that’s not necessarily true,” he said.
While plenty of businesses use carrier connectivity in their networks, that connectivity has mostly been sold à la carte, until now. Rather than selling enterprises basic wireless connections, the carriers are eager to build out a network of partnerships that are part of a broader platform ecosystem—collecting a bigger percentage of new spending by offering additional services like native connectivity to Azure and compatibility with Nokia gear. In addition, companies like Verizon haven’t traditionally been in the business of making connectivity hardware for the enterprise market themselves, so the partnership with Nokia is aimed at capturing some of that spending, too.
“The interesting thing is that while you’re seeing these tie-ups early on, at a certain point, these operators need to take a vendor-neutral stance, because they don’t know what relationships those clients have,” said Leigh.
The relative novelty of mobile edge as a technology also means that the service providers, hardware manufacturers and every other vendor trying to make some money by addressing this growing demand aren’t completely sure which industries that money is going to come from. While there’s no obvious vertical that’s being actively targeted by these announcements, much of the appeal of mobile edge hinges on the ability to provide very low latency, which implies that the manufacturing and healthcare sectors are likely to be the ones most interested in a more-integrated edge offering from Verizon.
“[Those] are the two earliest ones because when you’re talking private 5G, you’re talking about cases where there’s an imperative to get the bandwidth and latency exactly right,” said Leigh.
For the vendors, it’s all about synergy – where Verizon lacks expertise in platform software, Microsoft’s developers can step in to help. In the same way, the deals help Nokia gain a wider audience for its enterprise offerings, and gives Azure customers the opportunity to use Verizon’s enormous infrastructure in their deployments.
“Really what [it] means is that you have Verizon indicating that the end customer who wants private 5G wants something beyond connectivity – they want a platform that they can build that application on, so they can observe and collect data,” said Filkins. “So when you see everyone becoming friends like this, it’s about what customers want.”