AT&T, Microsoft ramp up collaboration on edge, cloud

AT&T also said it's supplying much of its workforce with Microsoft 365. (Fierce Wireless)

It’s early days for edge computing and 5G, but AT&T and Microsoft are sharing a few more details about their collaboration that was announced in July, including the first markets to see the results of their strategic alliance.

The companies are opening select preview availability for Network Edge Compute (NEC) technology, which "weaves Microsoft Azure cloud services into AT&T network edge locations closer to customers." NEC initially will be available for a limited set of select customers in Dallas. Next year, the initiative will expand for select customer availability in Los Angeles and Atlanta.

AT&T didn’t specify exactly what makes customers eligible for the service.

The company recently activated an industry-first 400-gigabit connection between Dallas and Atlanta to support video, gaming and other 5G needs. AT&T serves parts of 21 cities with its 5G network using millimeter wave spectrum, which it dubs 5G+, and plans to offer nationwide 5G in the first half of 2020 using 850 MHz spectrum.

"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. We've said all year developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters, and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution," said Mo Katibeh, EVP and chief marketing officer, AT&T Business, in a statement.

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The companies are discussing early applications with high-end, thin and stylish augmented reality glasses and lightweight drones that track themselves and nearby companions in near-real time. Also said to be coming down the pike are autonomous cars that have access to nearly-instant data processing capabilities without having to install a mini data center in the trunk.

Gaming typically is offered as an example where edge computing in 5G can play an early role. The companies point to gaming company Game Cloud Network, which has created a 5G game that's hosted on the network edge with Microsoft Azure. Game Cloud Network, a customer of AT&T, is now showcasing its new "Tap & Field" game, which uses Microsoft's Azure PlayFab services. In the game, users race each other in near-real time via this track-and-field-style game, enabled by the speed of 5G-connected devices.

"5G gaming provides consumers with the best of both worlds: highly-immersive experiences on lightweight mobile devices," said Game Cloud Network CEO Aaron Baker in the press release. "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."

Microsoft is also helping AT&T Communications become a "public-cloud first" company by migrating most non-network workloads to the public cloud by 2024; that migration to Azure is already underway.

As part of their deal, AT&T is supplying much of its workforce with Microsoft 365, including cloud-connected Office apps on Windows 10 and collaboration with Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive. In fact, AT&T said it has started rolling out these solutions to “tens of thousands” of employees.