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Microsoft hasn’t been shy about expanding its role in 5G networks, as it has worked for the last two years to expand Azure’s footprint to 5G carriers and enterprises alike. Today, its networking subsidiary Affirmed Networks announced a significant win in the growing private 5G space, as the companies are now supplying technology solutions manufacturer Inventec with secure private 5G networks — a deal characterized as critical in transforming Inventec’s business with digital operations and robotic automation.
Based in Taiwan, Inventec is perhaps best known for manufacturing enterprise-class HP, Toshiba, and Acer computers, retail all-in-one terminals, Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, and Apple HomePod speakers, while Affirmed is supplying 5G Standalone UnityCloud, a solution that connects multiple classes of industrial machines. Affirmed claims Inventec’s deployment is the first fully cloud-native 5G standalone network in actual use “within the Industry 4.0 arena,” which is to say that while other companies have been piloting private 5G networks or testing various industrial components, this one is both real and based on the latest 5G standalone standard and cloud software.
The Microsoft/Inventec deal is significant for technical decision makers because it demonstrates how private 5G networks will power significant enterprise transformations over the next decade. Inventec selected Affirmed’s private 5G network solution over both Wi-Fi and alternatives from traditional service providers, noting its need for a fast, secure, and scalable wireless solution capable of connecting robots, machines, and devices across a campus in Taoyuan City, Taiwan. Significant improvements in end-to-end network latency and bandwidth enabled 5G to surpass Wi-Fi in performance, while enabling greater flexibility and comparable performance versus wired connections.
Initially, UnityCloud is connecting Inventec’s automatic optical inspection systems — the industrial solutions that use computer vision to check products for obvious and non-obvious defects. AI-aided defect detection has emerged as a killer industrial app, and private 5G is helping to increase both the automation and remote monitoring of these inspections, enabling manufacturers to continue shipping products despite COVID-19-related staffing concerns.
Microsoft announced its acquisition of Affirmed Networks in March 2020 and completed the deal in April. At the time, the companies promised to offer virtualized mobile networks at 70% of the cost of traditional solutions, helping companies to save money while upgrading their network infrastructures with future-proof technologies. This is the first private 5G network deal announced by Affirmed since the acquisition.