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AT&T chats up private 5G, edge compute for Ford using Microsoft Azure

AT&T chats up private 5G, edge compute for Ford using Microsoft Azure

Over two years into a development effort for private 5G and edge computing, AT&T has detailed some examples of current and future deployments, showing the variety of forms that private 5G will take, for better or worse.

At AT&T’s Analyst & Investor Day in March, the company offered some details about the deployment of private 5G services at automaker Ford. Rasesh Patel executive vice president, chief product & platform officer, said AT&T is deploying private 5G in the factory coupled with edge compute powered by Microsoft Azure.

“This will enable Ford to better transform their manufacturing processes with capabilities such as machine vision to enable real-time quality checks during manufacturing through low latency communications, acoustic detection to capture in real-time the sound of a seatbelt click to inform that the seatbelt is working properly, over-the-air firmware updates to the F-150 lightning as it’s moving across the factory floor,” he said, according to a transcript of the event.

Patel noted that healthcare was another market where the two companies are piloting a claimed industry-first deployment of MEC and 5G capabilities in partnership with the U.S. Veterans Administration.

AT&T and Microsoft offered another take on their partnership at the Mobile World Congress event. AT&T will use Azure private MEC with Azure Private 5G Core to develop a new service that is being branded as “Private 5G Edge.” The idea is to remove geographical barriers to private 5G by providing the ability to roam outside these private networks and connect via AT&T’s public mobile network in the U.S.

Highlighting the early nature of the market, AT&T said it is working closely with organizations to under their needs, challenges, and aspirations when it comes to using the private cellular network and edge computing. AT&T Private 5G Edge is evolving according to the needs and demands of those customers for a simple, flexible, reliable, secure, and easy-to-use private network.

“With AT&T Private 5G Edge, we are enabling customers to create and deliver innovation faster – with simplicity, flexibility, security, and high-speed wireless connectivity,” says Rupesh Chokshi, vice president of product strategy and innovation, AT&T Business. “The combination of 5G and edge compute can utterly transform how businesses are run, no matter the size, and we’re proactively engaging with those businesses to identify the right compelling opportunities.

In the early days of AT&T Private 5G Edge, the integrated platform provides connectivity and embedded applications with the use of CBRS spectrum and/or AT&T spectrum. The team is developing the platform to provide high-end computing and graphical processing power with a 5G network through self-install capability. After discussing with the customers from different verticals, the telecom provider has identified some potential use cases, including manufacturing, medical clinics, and car dealerships.

“Secure private 5G networks enable organizations to deliver latency-sensitive applications,” said Tad Brockway, corporate vice president, Azure for Operators at Microsoft. “Together with Microsoft, AT&T is streamlining the integration of the multiple elements private wireless solutions require, simplifying the application creation environment and accelerating the speed of deployment.”

Without requiring complex hardware and software setup, AT&T Private 5G Edge will enable IoT capabilities while reducing the setup cost and valuable floor space. Integration of Azure public MEC with AT&T Private 5G Edge will provide a foundation for businesses to test, build, and deploy next-gen 5G applications through public and private mobile networks, the companies said.

Analysis: Marketing the private edge

After initially branding the partnership’s offering as Network Edge Compute, the company said the Private 5G Edge will complement Azure public MEC with AT&T (itself having been renamed from Azure Edge Zones with AT&T), which was created with Microsoft and is based on AT&T Network Edge. If all that makes sense to enterprise customers, we’d be surprised. Without a solid, repeatable plan for deployments, it’s not clear Private 5G Edge becomes a part of the long-term portfolio, and in the meanwhile simply further muddies the water for what the private 5G and edge computing services can do for the enterprise.

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