Microsoft announced a range of new carrier infrastructure offerings through Azure, including services for private 5G enterpise networks, at this week\u2019s Mobile World Congress, in a move designed to bolster the company\u2019s position as a partner to the telecom industry as 5G and edge computing deployments progess.\nThe headliner is Azure for Operators, a flavor of Microsoft\u2019s Azure cloud services designed to help telecom companies manage their networking core in a more unified way than before, combining key workloads like RAN, core, and OSS\/BSS (operations support\/business systems support) management on a single software platform. The company also announced Azure Operator Distributed Services, a containerization platform for some 60 network functions across 15 different equipment vendors.\nThe latter system is currently up and running on AT&T\u2019s network cloud platform, a demonstration of the close collaborative relationship between the two companies. The telecom giant said last year that it had moved its core network operations onto the Azure cloud, and announced ahead of MWC that its private 5G offerings would use Azure for core management software and edge compute \u2014 dovetailing with Microsoft\u2019s announcements of a new Azure private 5G core and improved mobile edge computing support in the form of public MEC.\nLeveraging Azure for private 5G networks\nBeyond simply using Microsoft\u2019s software for its own retail network, part of the move for AT&T is to leverage Azure as a way to easily offer private 5G as a service. The idea here is to let enterprise customers buy private 5G coverage for a given area via AT&T or Microsoft, and allow the vendors to simply \u201cswitch on\u201d connectivity, by allocating bandwidth out of what\u2019s already available to the new customer.\nThe announcements are a sign that Microsoft intends to keep pursuing its plans to leverage 5G as a way to gain a larger role in enterprise networking, according to Gartner Director Analyst Bill Menezes.\n\u201cMicrosoft was never into network infrastructure in the past,\u201d Menezes said. \u201c[Today\u2019s moves], however, are a continuation of the strategy that [it] and the other hyperscalers have been pursuing in the last couple of years.\u201d\nThe reach of these private 5G services is likely to be limited, added Menezes, who noted that Wi-Fi and other legacy wireless technologies aren\u2019t going away anytime soon. The target market, instead, is specialist applications \u2014 like companies with large manufacturing facilities or those that want to track vehicles on a large lot.\n\u201cI talk to a fair number of enterprises who say that private mobile networking, either 4G or 5G, is going to make sense for our warehouse or manufacturing facility, but we\u2019re still going to want Wi-Fi,\u201d Menezes said. \u201cThis relationship helps close the gaps between those technologies.\u201d\nPreview versions of the new Azure 5G core and edge features can be accessed now by contacting Microsoft, and AT&T\u2019s Private 5G edge program is in a similar preview phase, although no retail availability dates have been announced as of this article\u2019s publication.