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Microsoft extends Azure networking with satellite connections

Microsoft has already built out a global network of data centers to bolster Azure networking, but the company is now moving to extend its reach further via new partnerships with several satellite-based telcos.

The move especially caters to industries such as farming, mining and energy exploration, where companies often work in extremely remote locations far removed from land-based or even cellular network coverage.

Azure ExpressRoute, Microsoft's private connection option for Azure, can now take advantage of satellite connectivity. Initial broadband satellite partners include SES, Intelsat and Viasat. ExpressRoute has been tied into the companies' network of satellite ground stations, which ensures predictable levels of latency, Microsoft said in a blog post.

The partners manage a variety of satellites, such as geostationary ones that follow the Earth's orbit, as well as medium Earth orbit types, which are commonly used for navigation services.

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites will become available for Azure networking later on, Microsoft said. These satellite types are launched in fleets configured to provide coverage in a similar manner to cellular networks.

LEO satellites are in vogue lately, with the likes of Tesla founder Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos planning to launch thousands of them in a bid to create new global broadband internet networks that can reach users anywhere.

Also, AWS previously took steps to tap satellite data feeds, albeit with a different positioning than Microsoft has with ExpressRoute.

In May, AWS Ground Station became generally available. The managed service co-locates ground stations near AWS regions, and customers can use it to download satellite data into AWS for processing and analysis.

In comparison to Microsoft, AWS has positioned Ground Station more as a way for enterprises to tap satellite data for tasks such as weather analysis less expensively than leasing time on ground stations or building them out itself, rather than as an ongoing extension to their private Azure networking footprint.

Both Microsoft and AWS previously formed partnerships with satellite companies around industrial IoT connectivity scenarios. Microsoft teamed up with Inmarsat, and AWS is working with Iridium Communications on an IoT service called CloudConnect.