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Microsoft Azure expands its telco solutions



New smartphones may get most of the headlines at MWC, but at its core, the annual trade show is still a telco event. It’s maybe no surprise then that the large cloud providers, who are all vying for the lucrative telco market, also made a few announcements ahead of the event. AWS jumped ahead of its competitors by announcing its news a week early and today, it’s Microsoft’s turn. The new features the company today announced for telco’s using its Azure cloud services focus on four areas: network transformation, automation and AI, network-aware applications and what Microsoft calls “ubiquitous computing from cloud to edge.”

“The future hyperscale cloud is going to look a lot different than the cloud we have today,” Jason Zander, Microsoft’s EVP for Strategic Missions and Tech, told me. “Our expectation is that it’s going to expand; it will be a highly distributed fabric; it’s going to span from 5G to space. That future — this intelligent cloud, this intelligent edge — has to be powered by a modern network infrastructure. And it’s going to enable a new type of application and we need a new connectivity paradigm for that. We call that modern connected applications. Basically, we’re on track to give you applications that can be connected anywhere, anytime on the entire planet. That’s where we’re headed and we want to make sure that we are part of that future. And it’s a natural extension of the cloud and also an opportunity for us to partner with the telecommunications industry.”

As he noted, Microsoft believes that a modern network infrastructure will drive a lower total cost of ownership for its telco partners while also helping them modernize and monetize their existing infrastructure. To do so, Microsoft is launching Azure Operator Nexus today, its next-gen hybrid cloud platform for communication service providers. It allows these companies to run their carrier-grade workloads both on-premises and on Azure.

“AT&T made the decision to adopt Azure Operator Nexus platform over time with expectation to lower total cost of ownership, leverage the power of AI to simplify operations, improve time to market and focus on our core competency of building the world’s best 5G service,” said Igal Elbaz, Senior Vice President, Network CTO, AT&T.

It’s not just about software, though. Zander explained that when Microsoft first approached this space, the company thought that it could simply apply the same technology it had built for Azure and apply it to the telco space. But that didn’t work. “It’s a combination of hardware, hardware acceleration, and the software that goes with it,” Zander explained. “This is important, because Microsoft has a set of edge cloud hardware — but it’s not built for it. When you see vendors talking about using the same thing to run an IT workload as they are planning on running a telco network, it doesn’t work and it’s exactly why we’ve made this multi-year investment.”

As part of today’s announcements, Microsoft is also launching Azure Communications Gateway, its service for connecting fixed and mobile networks to Teams, into general availability and it’s launching Azure Operator Voicemail, a service that allows operators to migrate their voicemail (remember voicemail?) services to Azure as a fully managed service.

On the AI front, Microsoft is launching two new “AIOps” services — Azure Operator Insights and Azure Operator Service Manager. Operator Insights uses machine learning to help operators analyze the massive amounts of data they gather from their network operations and troubleshoot potential issues, while Service Manager helps operators generate insights about their network configurations.

With this announcement, Microsoft is also putting an emphasis on building network-aware applications. For the most part, this is about managing quality of service for specific applications. That may be 5G data from autonomous cars or connecting next-gen flying vehicles like the Volocopter, a company Microsoft has partnered with for a while, to the cloud. As Zander noted, this requires a back and forth between the carriers and developers — and since no developer is going to create a service that only works on one network, there needs to be some interoperability here. With the Linux Foundation’s Project Camara, Microsoft, Google Cloud, IBM, Ericsson, Intel and others have been working with carriers like AT&T, Deutsche Telecom, Orange, T-Mobile US, Telefonica, TELUS and Vodafone to create an open API standard for some of this work. “They get it. They know they want to differentiate — but they also know that if there’s fragment in the app ecosystem, it’ll just stall one way or the other,” said Zander.

Also new today is the general availability of the Azure Private 5G Core and Microsoft’s multi-access edge compute (MEC) service.

Read more about MWC 2023 on TechCrunch


Just 7 days until the TC Early Stage early bird flies away



Budget-minded entrepreneurs and early-stage startup founders take heed — this is no time to procrastinate. We have only 7 days left of early-bird pricing to TechCrunch Early Stage 2023 in Boston on April 20.

Don’t wait…the early bird gets the…SAVINGS: Buy a $249 founder pass and save $200 before prices increase on April 1 — that’s no joke.

TC Early Stage is our only event where you get hands-on training with experts to help your business succeed. No need to reinvent the startup wheel — you’ll have access to leading experts across a range of specialties.

During this one-day startup bootcamp, you’ll learn about legal issues, fundraising, marketing, growth, product-market fit, pitching, recruiting and more. We’re talking more than 40 highly engaging presentations, workshops and roundtables with interactive Q&As and plenty of time for networking.

Here are just a few examples of the topics we have on tap. You’ll find plenty more listed in the event agenda.

How to Tell Your TAM: Dayna Grayson from Construct Capital invests in the rebuilding of the most foundational and broken industries of our economy. Industries such as manufacturing and logistics, among others, that formed in an analog world have been neglected by advanced technology. Dayna will talk about how, beyond the idea, founders can pitch investors on their TAM, including how they will wedge into the market and how they will eventually disrupt it.

How to Think About Accelerators and Incubators: Founders often hear they should get involved with an incubator or accelerator, but when is the “right” time for early-stage founders to apply to these types of startup support ecosystems, and how can they best engage if accepted? In this talk, Harvard Innovation Labs executive director Matt Segneri will cover everything from the types of incubators and accelerators available to early-stage founders, to what startups should consider before applying, and tips for getting the most out of these ecosystems.

How to Raise Outside of SV in a Down Market: Silicon Valley’s funding market tends to be more immune to macroeconomic conditions than elsewhere in the world. So how do you raise outside the Valley bubble? General Catalyst’s Mark Crane has ample experience on both the founder and VC side from all over Europe, as well as a firm understanding of the funding landscape in the northeastern U.S., so he’ll give practical advice on how to stay alive and thrive.

At TechCrunch Early Stage you’ll walk away with a deeper working understanding of topics and skills that are essential to startup success. Founders save $200 with an early-bird founder ticketcollege students pay just $99!

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Twitter will kill ‘legacy’ blue checks on April 1



Twitter has picked April Fool’s Day, otherwise known as April 1, to start removing legacy blue checkmarks from the platform.

Despite the significance of the day Twitter chose, the removal of legacy checkmarks has been anticipated for months now. Musk tweeted in December that the company would remove those checks “in a few months” because “the way in which they were given out was corrupt and nonsensical.”

Since then, legacy blue checkmark holders have been seeing a pop-up when they click on their checkmark that reads, “This is a legacy verified account. It may or may not be notable.”

Before Musk acquired the company, Twitter used checkmarks to verify individuals and entities as active, authentic and notable accounts of interest. Verified checkmarks were doled out for free.

Today, Twitter users can purchase a blue check through the Twitter Blue subscription model for $8 per month (iOS and Android signups will cost $11 per month, due to app store costs). There are also other checkmark colors and badges available for purchase to denote whether an account is a business or a government, for example.

Twitter says the purchase of a checkmark gives users access to subscriber-only features like fewer ads on their timeline, prioritized ranking in conversations, bookmark folders, and the ability to craft long tweets, edit tweets and undo tweets.

The news comes within hours of Twitter also announcing the availability of the Blue subscription globally.

Twitter did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for more information about how many users have already signed up for Twitter Blue.

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Roofstock, valued at $1.9B last year, cuts 27% of staff in second round of layoffs



Proptech company Roofstock has laid off about 27% of its staff today, according to an email sent to employees viewed by TechCrunch. The cuts come just five months after the startup laid off 20% of its workforce.

The company’s website states that it has 400+ employees, or “Roofsters” as they’re dubbed, but it is not known if that figure is current.

Roofstock, an online marketplace for investing in leased single-family rental homes, one year ago raised $240 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led that financing, which included participation from existing and new backers including Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Bain Capital Ventures and others. Roofstock has raised a total of over $365 million in funding since its 2015 inception, per Crunchbase.

According to the email seen by TechCrunch, co-founder and CEO Gary Beasley said today’s reduction in force (RIF) was “in response to the challenging macro environment” and the “negative impact” it is having on Roofstock’s business.

He added that the company was not expecting to have to cut more staff so soon but that it needed to “right size” in an effort “to reduce cash burn rate” and ensure it has “adequate capital runway until the market eventually turns.”

Beasley sent the email because apparently, the Zoom meeting where it was addressed “maxed out on attendees.”

Oakland, Calif.-based Roofstock lets people buy and sell rental homes in dozens of U.S. markets. The premise behind the company is that both institutional and retail investors can buy and sell homes without forcing renters to leave their homes. Meanwhile, buyers can also presumably generate income from day one. 

At the time of its raise in March 2022, the company said that it had facilitated more than $5 billion in transaction volume, more than half of which had come from the last year alone.

Just days before its last round of layoffs last year, Roofstock made headlines for selling its first single-family home using NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.

Rising mortgage rates and a slowdown in the housing market led to challenges for many real estate technology companies in 2022 that continue this year. Opendoor, Redfin, Compass, and Homeward were among the other startups that also laid off workers. IBuyer Reali also announced it was shutting down after raising $100 million the year prior.

TechCrunch has reached out to Roofstock but had not heard back at the time of writing but multiple sources confirmed that layoffs had taken place today.

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