It’s been just over a week since Microsoft announced that they were in the process of acquiring Metaswitch. During that time there’s been little/no new information from the parties involved, but there’s been plenty of discussion in the industry about possible outcomes.
Absent any concrete information, in this article I’d like to lay out one possible scenario – the best-case outcome for telcos.
The best case for telcos?
For this article, I’m going to assume that Microsoft sees great value in the relationships that Metaswitch has developed with all its service provider customers, and that Microsoft sees these telcos as an important part of the network and that Microsoft wants to use their new technology portfolio to help make all these network operators successful.
Product 1: Azure Edge Zones with Carrier
Microsoft are working on an offering they called Azure Edge Zones which is basically an implementation of the Azure cloud (with VMs, containers, and a variety of applications) that are deployed “close to population centers” at the edge of the network in order to minimize latency for important real-time network functions.
Microsoft currently manage their own edge zones in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, but they’ve also partnered with AT&T to create edge zones in Atlanta, Dallas and LA (again).
They also talk about how enterprises can create “Azure Private Edge Zones” in their own factories or businesses that can provide great performance (it’s a local, private Azure cloud) while also having access to the full set of Microsoft cloud tools.
How does this relate to Metaswitch’s carrier customers?
- Maybe Microsoft decides to replicate the AT&T partnership with mid-sized carriers to greatly expand the availability of their edge zones across the country.
- Maybe Microsoft offers the Metaswitch product suite (CFS, EAS, MaxUC, etc) as part of an edge zone – so either you can host it in your data center and run a nicely packaged voice network from Azure, or else you can simply access a remote cloud-based voice platform hosted at your nearest Microsoft Edge Zone location.
Today Metaswitch is encouraging carriers to purchase their applications built on VMware, but the carriers have to manage their own VMware deployment – maybe in the future Microsoft will just host this all for you in Azure, making it easier to deploy and manage.
Product 2: Microsoft Teams + Metaswitch UCaaS
Microsoft seem to have been having plenty of growth with Teams over the past year – even before the pandemic they were growing rapidly. During the pandemic a lot of the press attention has focused on Zoom, but Teams has also been doing very well, and it provides a wider range of features than Zoom.
Teams is not just a video conferencing app, it also provides the ability for team collaboration (presence, chat, etc), as well as voice and video calls, including PSTN connectivity.
Teams is aiming to be a complete communication solution for businesses, and announced back in March that Metaswitch Perimeta was certified for use with Teams to allow service providers to use their Perimeta to provide direct PSTN connectivity to Team users over a SIP trunk.
But Teams is ultimately still a software tool – and while it has a pretty comprehensive set of features, those features are often delivered in a different way than you’d expect from a traditional phone system.
However, if you combine Teams with the carrier-class, fully featured UCaaS features available through the Metaswitch CFS and EAS platforms, you get a very powerful application that can be configured to satisfy a variety of users.
- Do you want to use the Teams app for everything? No problem.
- Do you want your voice communications to look more like a traditional office PBX? No problem.
- Do you want a mix of both within the same business? No problem.
Where do carriers fit into this?
While Microsoft could choose to go directly to businesses with this offering, anyone who’s sold hosted PBX / UCaaS services knows that a new deployment is much more successful with some high-touch support from real people.
So if carriers are instead empowered by Microsoft to sell a new, enhanced version of Teams with Metaswitch features – on top of the local service provider’s network and supported by local technicians – that could be the best of both worlds for the business customers, the telcos and for Microsoft.
Will all this happen?
Frankly, I don’t know. It’s clear that Microsoft’s primary goal in purchasing Metaswitch was to gain 5G technology and expertise, but they also now have relationships with a lot of small and mid-sized carriers who could be very valuable as they expand their network reach.
If Microsoft want to offer impressively low latency nationwide they’ll need more than a handful of edge zones in big cities – and Metaswitch’s customer base of Tier 2/3 service providers could be the key to expanding geographically.