Nokia seals cloud RAN relationships with AWS, Azure, Google Cloud

Picture courtesy of Nokia

Picture courtesy of Nokia

  • Finnish vendor strikes RAN R&D relationships with trio of hyperscale giants
  • Nokia now has 5G networking partnerships with AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud
  • Builds on its virtualized and open radio access network (RAN) R&D
  • Initial focus plays to its strength in private network deployments

Nokia committed very clearly to public cloud platform-based mobile network architectures today by announcing key virtual and Open RAN development partnerships with all three main hyperscalers – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

The nature of the relationships differ slightly but the overall message is clear: Nokia knows that network operators – including enterprises – will want at least some, if not all, of their 5G radio access network (RAN) and core functionality running on cloud stacks in the future and it wants to be a key partner that can help enable such plans.

As such, Nokia has committed with a very public display that sets it apart from its main mobile network infrastructure rivals, Ericsson and Huawei, at a time when more and more network operators of all types – telcos, cable operators, utilities, other large enterprises – are looking for quicker and more flexible ways to deploy wireless networking capabilities from the core to the RAN: Today’s announcements puts Nokia firmly in the spotlight as such cloud-oriented options are considered. 

The announcements come only days after Nokia announced its service enablement platform (SEP) for Open RAN deployments, which is based around the integration of RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) functionality with multi-access edge computing (MEC) functionality for deployment on edge platforms. (See Nokia claims a ‘service enablement platform’ first by integrating the RIC with MEC.)  

Here's a snapshot of the three partnerships:

Nokia and AWS to enable cloud-based 5G radio solutions

The two companies are to develop virtual RAN and Open RAN use cases and proofs of concept (PoCs) based on a combination of Nokia’s technology and the AWS Outpost stack that can be deployed at the edge of a network. The relationship announcement cites use cases for communication network operators and enterprises alike, and also notes that the R&D efforts will include options “to run 5G RAN using AWS Outposts with either Intel or ARM-based CPU choices, or third-party bare metal servers while using Amazon EKS and EKS Anywhere.” This, according to Dave Brown, Vice President, Amazon EC2, at AWS, “will solve the challenge of CI/CD, automation, and network orchestration by using a common framework of tools across Core and RAN.” The aim here appears to be platform consistency for customers based on their preferences. The announcement includes may more details, which can be read here.

Nokia partners with Microsoft on cloud solutions for enterprise

This particular relationship looks very much focused on the needs of enterprises and/or in-building network deployments, and will involve the combination of Nokia’s Cloud RAN, Open RAN, Radio Access Controller (RIC) and multi-access edge cloud (MEC) with the Azure Private Edge Zone, which “enables data processing close to the end user, addressing ultra-low latency, high throughout 5G-based applications such as real-time robotics, mixed reality or immersive gaming.” The relationship will also see Nokia integrate its RAN capabilities with Microsoft Azure’s 4G/5G core, which has been developed using technology and expertise that came with the acquisitions of Metaswitch and Affirmed Networks last year. Again, there is a lot more detail in the full announcement, which can be read here.

Nokia and Google Cloud partner to develop new, cloud-based 5G radio solutions

The focus of this partnership is the development of “new, cloud-based 5G radio solutions” based on the combination of the vendor’s Radio Access Network (RAN), Open RAN, virtual RAN and edge cloud technologies, with Google’s edge computing platform (particularly its Anthos distributed managed application platform) and applications ecosystem. The two companies previously announced a partnership to develop cloud-native 5G core capabilities for telcos and enterprises. For more on the latest partnership with Google Cloud, read this press release.  

Cloud neutrality

Announcing the relationships with all three simultaneously “sends a clear message – that Nokia is platform-neutral and cross-platform,” says Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst – Mobile Networks & 5G at Heavy Reading. “That’s important because network operators will be looking to work with multiple cloud platform specialists too.”

The initial focus of the relationships appears to be the private networks market, which makes sense for Nokia “as it has by far the best private network technology offer,” notes Brown. 

In the longer term, the move also positions Nokia as a potential key partner for communications network operators as they decide what type of telco cloud platform and architecture best suits their needs: It seems likely that the cloud platform capabilities being developed by AWS, Azure and Google Cloud for the telecoms sector will play a key role in such strategies in the future and Nokia will already be available with a range of functionality and, importantly, experience.  

But while Nokia may have stolen a marketing march on its two main mobile networking rivals, it’s not the only one to have been working with the hyperscale giants on such developments: Brown says other, alternative RAN vendors have been working closely with the cloud giants too.

The analyst adds, importantly, that while Nokia is collaborating with the hyperscalers on providing cloud-based mobile networking functionality for use by enterprises, this doesn’t necessarily mean the vendor and the hyperscalers are trying to bypass the operators and leave them out in the cold: Mobile service providers will have an important role to play as the channel for the services and support they will need for their networking needs. Those operators will also want to have access to the networking functionality developed by other vendors too, so this will drive the cloud giants to seek similar relationships with other core and RAN vendors, adds Brown.   

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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