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Verizon said it will partner with Microsoft to integrate its 5G Edge network with Microsoft Azure edge services, a move designed to support private 5G networks for enterprise customers. The Verizon news was released around the same time that rival AT&T announced private cellular network partnerships of its own with Ericsson and Nokia – although the AT&T news focused primarily on LTE, rather than 5G.

“By providing on-site private 5G, businesses will realize increased power efficiencies and reduced costs of end user devices, while helping to address their privacy and security needs,” Verizon said in a press release about the Microsoft partnership.

According to a Verizon spokesperson, however, Verizon is not yet offering private 5G networks in the U.S. The company did announce a private 5G offering in Europe and Asia-Pacific, though, and it’s logical to expect the company to announce something in the U.S. before too long. The Microsoft integration with 5G Edge, however, is available in the U.S.

A key capability of 5G is lower latency in comparison with earlier-generation wireless networks, but taking full advantage of that lower latency will require the analytics and intelligence supporting customer applications to move to the network edge. Verizon 5G Edge is designed to meet that need by moving the network edge to the customer premises.

Verizon describes 5G Edge as a “mobile edge computing platform . . . designed to enable developers to build applications for mobile end-users and wireless edge devices with ultra-low latency.”

A Verizon video offers a real-world example of the sorts of applications that Verizon 5G, the Verizon 5G Edge network and Microsoft Azure can support. The video focuses on Ice Mobility, a logistics and supply chain company that has used the Verizon and Microsoft technology to enhance quality control.

The company installed high-definition cameras where employees pick and pack orders for shipment to customers. The intelligence underlying the system matches order data to information printed on each item and generates an alert for any mismatches.

As Ice Mobility CEO Mike Mohr explains in the video, the system “literally knows the entire journey of the box. It knows the product. It knows the customer. And it knows what the worker is putting in the box. It literally eliminates a quality control step. But even more importantly, it increases accuracy.”

According to a press release, the company expects to save 15% to 30% in processing time.

Other possible applications that could be enabled by using 5G and MEC include those incorporating computer vision; augmented, mixed and virtual reality; digital twins and machine learning, a press release notes. For example, a precision medicine application might be enabled by mixed reality and artificial intelligence.

Verizon Private 5G Vs. AT&T Private Cellular
AT&T uses the name AT&T Private Cellular Networks for its offering that combines mobile edge computing at the customer premises with cellular connectivity. And in a press release yesterday, AT&T touted the benefits of using a combination of CBRS spectrum and LTE, rather than 5G, to support the private network portion of that offering.

According to the Verizon spokesperson, the Verizon private 5G offering launched outside the U.S. is “transparent to the spectrum used.” However, the press release about the European and Asia-Pacific launch focuses on 5G, suggesting that any private cellular network offering the company might launch in the U.S. would also use 5G rather than LTE technology.

LTE wasn’t designed to the low-latency specifications that are part and parcel of 5G. But for some industrial applications, LTE is probably sufficient and may be less costly thanks to the economies of scale of LTE.

It’s also worth noting that Verizon is using Nokia to support its overseas private 5G offering — the same vendor that AT&T is using to support its Private Cellular Network offering.

In addition, AT&T has a partnership with Microsoft similar to Verizon’s.

All this suggests that AT&T should have no trouble matching the Verizon private 5G offering and that it wouldn’t be a big effort for Verizon to launch a private 5G offering in the U.S. should the companies see sufficient demand for those offerings.

Clearly, private cellular networks – whether based on LTE or 5G — are shaping up to be a cutting-edge technology development area and one that Telecompetitor looks forward to keeping tabs on moving forward.

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