Affirmed Networks is still basically acting as a stand-alone company even though it was purchased by Microsoft in April. Affirmed announced today that it’s working with the Swedish company Netmore to set up a private 5G wireless network in the U.K.
Sanjay Mewada, chief strategy and marketing officer with Affirmed, told FierceWireless “We are still operating as is for the foreseeable future - up to a year.” He said Covid has caused corporate integrations, such as the blending of Affirmed with Microsoft, to be “a little slowed down.”
It will be interesting to watch Affirmed as it gets more integrated with Microsoft. The cloud giant hasn’t been heavily involved with the wireless industry to date. Mewada said, “Private LTE is obviously an important part. That becomes a low-hanging fruit.” But he said Affirmed’s virtual evolved packet core will allow any mobile operator to move its core network functions and compute workloads to Microsoft Azure's public cloud. He referred to this as “mobile core as-a-service" ported onto the Azure cloud platform.
“If you think in terms of all aspects of telecom infrastructure, as you move toward cloud, you have the options to use parts of the infrastructure as-a-service as opposed to buying it and owning it,” said Mewada.
Asked if Microsoft would be targeting smaller wireless operators with this mobile core as-a-service, Mewada said, “There is no limitation to say it’s the smaller guy or the medium guy. Scale is not an issue when you come into the cloud.” Microsoft could even potentially host the mobile cores of Tier 1 wireless operators.
Private 5G with Netmore
In the meantime, Affirmed is working with Netmore, a company it’s been engaged with for a while to deploy a private wireless 5G network in the UK. The network is being set up in Sherwood Forest as part of a tourist experience related to the legend of Robin Hood. Tourists will be able to use 3D glasses for a virtual reality experience in Sherwood Forest.
Artie Otis, chief strategy officer of Netmore, said the company deployed Affirmed’s mobile core software in Netmore’s data center in the UK, and it also has deployed gateways at Sherwood Forest. He said the Affirmed software disaggregates the control plane from the user plane, which makes it easy to decide which software should stay at the central data center and which software needs to be closer to the end user.
“The gateway allows us to build traffic breakout on site,” said Otis. “The closer the service is to the site, the better. Affirmed allows us to have this distributed way of deploying.”
Affirmed and Netmore are also working with the UK fiber provider Connect Fibre, which will provide the backhaul to enable spin-off projects to share relevant assets. And spectrum is made available via the UK’s communications regulator Ofcom. Netmore is still in the process of choosing a radio partner for the project.
Netmore chose Affirmed after it evaluated 5G cloud-native mobile cores from other companies. Otis didn’t say exactly which other companies Netmore looked at. But the usual suspects would be Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei. A couple of smaller vendors including Athonet and Druid also offer 5G mobile core software.