Last month, AT&T announced its approach to 5G for businesses, laying out three key pillars: mobile, fixed and edge computing.
Now we’re taking it a step further, testing how to bring network edge compute (NEC) capabilities into the AT&T 5G network with Microsoft Azure. We’re testing our ability to substantially reduce latency and improve user experience by deploying advanced cloud services in specific geographic locations closer to business sites. A fully-scaled deployment will give businesses access to compute power, lower latency and optimized network routing without the need for dedicated on-premises hardware.
These advantages will be important for the low-latency cloud and IoT solutions used by retail, healthcare, public safety, manufacturing and entertainment.
“We’re creating new ways for our customers to directly access a multitude of cloud options closer to where they do business,” said Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer, AT&T Business. “Using the blazing speeds of our fiber, LTE and 5G mobile connections, we’re paving the way for how low-latency pathways to cloud services like Microsoft Azure can accelerate business transformation – for both enterprise and small business applications.”
Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president, Azure Networking, Microsoft Corp. said, “Our collaboration will pave the way to enable Microsoft Azure cloud services to connect to more customers and devices across the U.S. through AT&T’s nationwide wireless network. Our two companies are working together to achieve the low latency connectivity needed for the explosion of devices and immense amount of data being created by computing at the edge.”
AT&T recognizes the importance that these types of services will have on businesses. According to Gartner, “Edge computing requirements will change the shape of infrastructure for almost all enterprises, shifting information processing from highly centralized to a mix of centralized and distributed. The number of locations where enterprise information processing will take place will grow rapidly, creating both business opportunities and tremendous challenges and risks.” 
Proof of Concept – Keeping an Eye on Drones
To advance the potential for NEC services, AT&T is creating a NEC environment at the AT&T Foundry in Plano, Texas, where we co-create new, cutting-edge solutions with enterprise and public safety customers. Our team in Plano worked with the AT&T Foundry in Israel to identify a startup that could enhance their solutions via NEC. We’re now testing our solution with Israel-based Vorpal Ltd.
The use of drones has exploded in recent years. But in some cases, drones can be a safety hazard when flying near restricted areas. Vorpal offers VigilAir as a drone detection and geolocation tracking solution. The service can be useful to commercial drone monitoring, airports, public safety law enforcement agencies and others needing the ability to identify drone and operator locations in near-real time, enhancing monitoring and mitigation. As Vorpal expects drone usage, and in particular commercial drone usage, to substantially increase in the coming years, the need for VigilAir to take advantage of high throughput and low latency compute will be important to deliver the best results.
By running their VigilAir application using Azure cloud services delivered through the Plano AT&T test environment, and connecting their drone-tracking sensors using AT&T LTE and 5G networks, Vorpal could achieve the low latency and compute scalability required for optimized performance.
We expect to share more details about NEC services with Microsoft Azure later this year. NEC is part of AT&T’s broader edge compute strategy that also includes AT&T Multi-Access Edge Compute (MEC).
 Gartner: “How Edge Computing Redefines Infrastructure,” Thomas Bittman, Bob Gill, Aapo Markkanen, 23 August 2018