Amazon's AWS cozies up to carriers, launches 2 services to build and operate networks in the cloud

Amazon has been working on ramping up how it works with telecoms carriers as customers and partners -- an ambition pushed in no small part by slowing growth for cloud services overall at AWS and its big rivals Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Now, one week ahead of MWC in Barcelona -- one of the biggest trade gatherings in the telecoms industry -- AWS is announcing two big products in aid of that: a "Telco Network Builder" for carriers to use its cloud to build and scale 5G and other telecoms networks, and a service to use AWS to build and manage private wireless networks for enterprises.

The two new services -- which Amazon describes as "offerings" -- are meant to complement (and give a head start on) news that AWS plans to put out next week at MWC, detailing how it's working with carriers -- and working on building more trust with them -- with tools to give third-party access to networks to build services and more.

The telco network builder will see Amazon opening up its cloud network so that telcos can plan, run and scale 5G, 4G, and other networks more quickly, by turning them into managed services banked around AWS infrastructure.

Carrier customers, AWS said, will use a template to detail parameters like connection points, networking requirements, compute, and geographies; these are then run through an automated engine to build out a network architecture. That architecture (unsurprisingly) will include AWS compute and other AWS resources, with the sweetener being that the process can be carried out and adjusted and updated over a period of hours, versus the days or weeks or months that it typically takes to provision networks. The idea here is that carriers need to work in more dynamic ways these days -- whether it's to boost network capacity during specific event-based surges, or because people are taking up (or quitting...) a new service, or it's picking up business customers and working on quick turnarounds for their services.

On top of this is the "burden" of 5G: It's been a big investment to build out the latest generation of network infrastructure, so carriers are now driving hard on building new services to generate revenue from those networks, with one of their main targets being B2B and enterprise opportunities. The idea here is that making it easier to build those networked services will reduce the costs. It's not quite "build it and they will come" (a mantra that spelled disaster for the telco industry 20 years ago) but it's build the ability to build fast, in case they come.

The second product is, in that regard, a continuation on that theme. It takes on some of the makings of the network builder and applies it to how carriers can provision private wireless networks. These are essentially mini service providers of their own, which are often used by smaller carriers or larger enterprises that run their business data and voice networks like small telecoms service providers in themselves. The big selling points for private wireless networks is that they are potentially more robust, more cost-effective, and more secure than Wi-Fi networks.

Typically a private network stitches together network capacity from multiple carriers in multiple regions. AWS has a massive global footprint for its cloud business, which gives it a good basis for building and provisioning that, and it also already has a number of carrier partners signed up to underpin that with regional network capacity, including T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and KDDI, with more reportedly coming on and getting announced alongside these.

The idea here is that AWS will act as the portal, but telcos will be the managed service providers for the network on behalf of those enterprises or smaller service providers, the company said. As with the telco network builder, AWS will provide a dashboard for monitoring performance and modifying it as needed.

"That's one of the friction points we saw as we started looking at the private network space," said Ishwar Parulkar, chief technologist for the telco industry at AWS, in an interview. "There are a lot of enterprise customers who really don't care about all of this. They just want to be able to use the network and run some applications on top. That's one of the primary values that we bring with this: lifting that undifferentiated work away from them and managing it in the cloud."

For Amazon, telcos represent a prime business opportunity: As carriers build new networks with increasing reliance on software and cloud services, Amazon is positioning itself as a tech and cloud partner to help run those services better and more cheaply.

But it's been interesting to watch how it has worked to build trust among a group of businesses that have at times been very wary of Big Tech and the threat of being reduced to "dumb pipes" as tech companies lean on their own architecture and technology advances to build faster and cheaper services that compete directly with what carriers have and plan to roll out. As one example, the company is clear to call these new products "offerings" and not services to make clear that it is not the managed service provider, the carriers' role.

"We've been on this journey for a few years now in terms of really getting the cloud to run telco networks," said Parulkar. "Our goal here is to make AWS the best place to host 5g networks for both public and private. And on that journey, we've been making steady progress."

For carriers, they are now in a world where arguably communications is just another tech service, so many of them believe that running them with fewer costs and in more flexible ways will be the key to winning more business, introducing more services and getting better margins. Whether carriers want to wholesale work closer with Amazon, or with any of the cloud providers, for such services, will be the big question.