Microsoft expands partnership deal with Telefonica with edge computing in mind

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft’s annual Spanish holiday in Barcelona will include a revamped partnership agreement with Madrid-based telecom provider Telefonica, the companies plan to announce Monday at Mobile World Congress.

It’s not exactly a new HoloLens, but the partnership is an evolving part of Microsoft’s edge computing strategy, which aims to position the company’s cloud division for a future in which an increasing amount of application processing is done closer to the end user on networks such as Telefonica’s. Under the new agreement, Telefonica will expand its use of Azure Cognitive Services to customer service and supplier channels and work with Microsoft to develop connected home services based around Microsoft’s cloud.

Specifically, the companies plan to “evaluate” (which gives them plenty of wiggle room to back out later) using Azure Cognitive Services as the foundation for future Telefonica smart home applications. Azure Cognitive Services allows users to take advantage of Microsoft’s machine-learning research to add features like speech recognition to their applications, and Telefonica already uses it for a customer-service chatbot service called Aura.

An example of a dashboard used to track edge computing. (Microsoft Photo)

Like a lot of other aspects of this world, edge computing is still a bit hazy, but is based around the growing realization that real-time applications can’t wait for cloud computing to provide the data processing they need. Processing and networking capabilities have never been better, but data still has to travel some distance between a data center and the end device, and that takes time.

That means that companies building apps and services for this real-time world are looking at the just-underway 5G buildout as an opportunity to design edge computing principles into their networks over the next few years. 5G networks could result in more and more edge devices using mobile cellular networks for connectivity compared to in-ground fiber or Wi-Fi, and that means cloud companies like Microsoft will have to work more closely with the companies that control those networks to deliver their services.

Microsoft and Telefonica have used Mobile World Congress to highlight their ongoing partnership for the last several years. As one of the largest mobile network operators in the world, Telefonica has reams of data on how applications perform over mobile networks that could give Microsoft an edge (sorry) when it comes to building cloud services for those networks.