As the cloud continues to expand into a ubiquitous and highly distributed fabric, a new breed of application is emerging: Modern Connected Applications. We define these new offerings as network-intelligent applications at the edge, powered by 5G, and enabled by programmable interfaces that give developer access to network resources. Along with internet of things (IoT) and real-time AI, 5G is enabling this new app paradigm, unlocking new services and business models for enterprises, while accelerating their network and IT transformation.
At Mobile World Congress this year, Microsoft announced a significant step towards helping enterprises in this journey: Azure Private 5G Core, available as a part of the Azure private multi-access edge compute (MEC) solution. Azure Private 5G Core enables operators and system integrators (SIs) to provide a simple, scalable, and secure deployment of private 4G and 5G networks on small footprint infrastructure, at the enterprise edge.
This blog dives a little deeper into the fundamentals of the service and highlights some extensions that enterprises can leverage to gain more visibility and control over their private network. It also includes a use case of an early deployment of Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) on an edge platform, leveraged by the Azure Private 5G Core to rapidly deploy such networks.
Building simple, scalable, and secure private networks
Azure Private 5G Core dramatically simplifies the deployment and operation of private networks. With just a few clicks, organizations can deploy a customized set of selectable 5G core functions, radio access network (RAN), and applications on a small edge-compute platform, at thousands of locations. Built-in automation delivers security patches, assures compliance, and performs audits and reporting. Enterprises benefit from a consistent management experience and improved service assurance experience, with all logs and metrics from cloud to edge available for viewing within Azure dashboards.
Enterprises need the highest level of security to connect their mission critical operations. Azure Private 5G Core makes this possible by natively integrating into a broad range of Azure capabilities. With Azure Arc, we provide seamless and secure connectivity from an on-premises edge platform into the Azure cloud. With Azure role-based access control (RBAC), administrators can author policies and define privileges that will allow an application to access all necessary resources. Likewise, users can be given appropriate access to manage all resources in a resource group, such as virtual machines, websites, and subnets. Our Zero Trust security frameworks are integrated from devices to the cloud to keep users and data secure. And our complete, “full-stack” solution (hardware, host and guest operating system, hypervisor, AKS, packet core, IoT Edge Runtime for applications, and more) meets standard Azure privacy and compliance benchmarks in the cloud and on the enterprise edge, meaning that data privacy requirements are adhered to in each geographic region.
Deploying private 5G networks in minutes
Microsoft partner Inventec is a leading design manufacturer of enterprise-class technology solutions like laptops, servers, and wireless communication products. The company has been quick to see the potential benefit in transforming its own world-class manufacturing sites into 5G smart factories to fully utilize the power of AI and IoT.
In a compelling example of rapid private 5G network deployment, Inventec recently installed our Azure private MEC solution in their Taiwan smart factory. It took only 56 minutes to fully deploy the Azure Private 5G Core and connect it to 5G access points that served multiple 5G endpoints—a significant reduction from the months that enterprises have come to expect. Azure Private 5G Core leverages Azure Arc and Azure Kubernetes Service on-prem to provide security and manageability for the entire core network stack. Figures 1 and 2 below show snapshots from the trial.
Figure 1: Screenshot of logs with time stamps showing start and completion of the core network deployment.
Figure 2: Screenshot from the trial showing one access point successfully connected to seven endpoints.
Inventec is developing applications for manufacturing use-cases that leverage private 5G networks and Microsoft’s Azure Private 5G Core. Examples of these high-value MEC use cases include Automatic Optical Inspection (AOI), facial recognition, and security surveillance systems.
Extending enterprise control and visibility from the 5G core
Through close integration with other elements of the Azure private MEC solution, our Azure Private 5G Core essentially acts as an enterprise “control point” for private wireless networks. Through comprehensive APIs, the Azure Private 5G Core can extend visibility into the performance of connected network elements, simplify the provisioning of subscriber identity modules (SIMs) for end devices, secure private wireless deployments, and offer 5G connectivity between cloud services (like IoT Hub) and associated on-premises devices.
Figure 3: Azure Private 5G Core is a central control point for private wireless networks.
Customers, developers, and partners are finding value today with a number of early integrations with both Azure and third-party services that include:
- Plug and play RAN: Azure private MEC offers a choice of 4G or 5G Standalone radio access network (RAN) partners that integrate directly with the Azure Private 5G Core. By integrating RAN monitoring with the Azure Private 5G Core, RAN performance can be made visible through the Azure management portal. Our RAN partners are also onboarding their Element Management System (EMS) and Service Management and Orchestrator (SMO) products to Azure, simplifying the deployment processes and have a framework for closed-loop radio performance automation.
- Azure Arc managed edge: The Azure Private 5G Core takes advantage of the security and reliability capabilities of Azure Arc-enabled Azure Kubernetes Service running on Azure Stack Edge Pro. These include policy definitions with Azure Policy for Kubernetes, simplified access to AKS clusters for High Availability with Cluster Connect and fine-grained identity and access management with Azure RBAC.
- Device and Profile Management: Azure Private 5G Core APIs integrate with SIM management services to securely provision the 5G devices with appropriate profiles. In addition, integration with Azure IoT Hub enables unified management of all connected IoT devices across an enterprise and provides a message hub for IoT telemetry data.
- Localized ISV MEC applications: Low-latency MEC applications benefit from running side-by-side with core network functions on the common (Azure private MEC) edge-compute platform. By integrating tightly with the Azure Private 5G Core using Azure Resource Manager APIs, third-party applications can configure network resources and devices. Applications offered by partners are available in, and deployable from the Azure Marketplace.
It’s easy to get started with Azure private MEC
As innovative use cases for private wireless networks continue to develop and industry 4.0 transformation accelerates, we welcome ISVs, platform partners, operators, and SIs to learn more about Azure private MEC.
- Application ISVs interested in deploying their industry or horizontal solutions on Azure should begin by onboarding their applications to Azure Marketplace.
- Platform partners, operators, and SIs interested in partnering with Microsoft to deploy or integrate with private MEC can get started by reaching out to the Azure private MEC Team.
Microsoft is committed to helping organizations innovate from the cloud, to the edge, and to space—offering the platform and ecosystem strong enough to support the vision and vast potential of 5G. As the cloud continues to expand and a new breed of modern connected apps at the edge emerges, the growth and transformation opportunities for enterprises will be profound. Learn more about how Microsoft is helping developers embrace 5G.