Microsoft and AT&T have unveiled the first concrete step in a partnership designed to offer customers technology built on AT&T’s network and Microsoft’s cloud.

In a Tuesday press release, Microsoft said that the two companies are introducing select customer previews for Network Edge Compute (NEC) technology, which runs Azure cloud services on AT&T’s edge network locations.

As Microsoft explained, the move means that AT&T’s virtualized 5G core Network Cloud will be able to deliver Azure services to customers.

SEE: 5G technology: A business leader’s guide (TechRepublic Premium)

The preview of NEC will initially be available to a limited number of customers in Dallas, Microsoft said. Next year, the preview will expand to select customers in Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The technology is seen as a way to unite 5G, cloud, and edge computing environments for enterprise customers.

Edge computing, in which the processing of data is done close to the customer, has seen its share of challenges, including connectivity and latency issues, Sid Nag, vice president of Cloud Services and Technologies for Gartner, told TechRepublic. But Nag believes that the introduction of 5G makes all of this a more interesting play.

“Building all these lego blocks together and putting them in a matter where they all work hand in hand is a benefit not only to the provider community, i.e., Microsoft and AT&T, but also a benefit to the business and enterprise customer,” Nag said.

One example given by Microsoft on how edge computing can benefit businesses is in mobile gaming. An AT&T customer, Game Cloud Network, has developed a 5G game called Tap & Field, which is hosted on AT&T’s edge network with Microsoft Azure. In this track-and-field type game, users race against each other. But the advantage here is that the racing can be done in near real-time without the usual latency thanks to the speed of a 5G network and 5G connected devices.

Beyond games, any type of latency-intensive industry application or workload where edge and reachability are required would benefit from this type of environment, according to Nag. He cited specific examples including aviation and fleet management where real-time computation is going on at the edge.

“With our 5G and edge computing, AT&T is collaborating uniquely with Microsoft to marry their cloud capabilities with our network to create lower latency between the device and the cloud that will unlock new, future scenarios for consumers and businesses,” Mo Katibeh, chief marketing officer for AT&T Business, said in the press release. “We’ve said all year that developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters, and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution.”

The report of the customer previews for Network Edge Compute follows an announcement in July of the burgeoning partnership between Microsoft and AT&T. The collaboration in cloud computing, edge computing, and 5G included the news that most of AT&T’s non-network applications and workloads, such as Office 365, SharePoint, and OneDrive, would migrate to Microsoft’s public Azure platform by 2024.

The latest development also comes in the wake of Microsoft’s announcement in early November of Azure Arc, a service that brings Azure public cloud capabilities into the enterprise.

As one example cited by Nag, with Azure Arc, a service like SQL Server running in the public cloud could potentially have the same capabilities running on premises within an enterprise. Given AT&T’s move to Azure and Microsoft’s release of Azure Arc, the latest development seems like a natural extension between the two partners as a way to expand Azure services into the AT&T network, he said.

“I see these two announcements and this [latest one] as being very synergistic,” Nag said. “And I think the business customer benefits all around. And from a broader perspective, I think this is an interesting nexus of 5G, cloud, edge, and Internet of Things. Obviously, Microsoft has a significant stake in edge; AT&T has a stake in edge, too. Microsoft has a significant stake in public cloud. AT&T has a significant stake in networking in general but more importantly in 5G technology.”

Image: Microsoft