Today’s telecommunications companies operate in an era of constantly connected users. From smartphones to smart cars, the Internet of Things has greatly increased the number of devices connected to communications networks. This expansion is driving telcos to adopt new technologies to simplify and automate processes while reducing costs. And this is where artificial intelligence enters the picture for telephone companies, Internet service providers and other players in the telco industry.
To meet the demands of always-connected customers and drive operating efficiency, telcos are investing in AI — in a big way. Market intelligence firm Tractica forecasts that global telecommunications industry investment in AI software, hardware and services will reach $36.7 billion annually by 2025.1
There are good reasons for the industry to jump on board the AI train. By adopting AI, telcos can improve efficiency in network performance monitoring, predictive maintenance and data-routing configurations, to name just a few of the applications of AI within the industry. And beyond the network, virtually all telcos, from the largest to the smallest players, are using AI-enabled technologies like chatbots and customer voice interfaces to streamline customer service.
The big picture: Telcos understand the potential of AI to drive higher productivity and efficiency, reduce costs, enhance quality, optimize supply chains and transform back‑office operations.
Common use cases
There are countless use cases for AI in complex telcos environments. Here’s look at a few of the more common ones in use today.
Expert systems — One of the first AI applications in telco was network management expert systems. These systems are used widely in the industry today to improve the efficiency of infrastructure. In fact, some of the world’s first practical expert systems based on AI were employed to improve operations and maintenance of telco networks and services.
Network operations monitoring and management — In the coming years, the leading use case for telecom AI deployments will be network operations monitoring and management, according to Tractica. The research firm predicts that this use case will account for 61 percent of the sector’s AI spending between 2016 and 2025.1
Predictive maintenance — AI systems enable telco operators to analyze massive amounts of data to predict and prevent hardware and network problems, including issues ranging from cell towers to the set-top boxes in homes. AI systems can be trained to monitor the state of equipment, detect patterns and anomalies that are indicative of emerging issues, and to predict the likelihood of failures. Operators can then work proactively to address equipment issues before customers are impacted.
Customer service chatbots — With the capabilities of AI-enabled systems and technologies for chatbots and virtual agents, service providers can automate customer service inquiries and the routing of customers to the proper agents. These systems can include self-service capabilities that give customers guidance on things like installing and troubleshooting devices. Such AI-driven capabilities are another way operators can improve the customer experience while containing the costs of customer service functions.
Speech and voice services — With new natural language processing capabilities in AI systems, telcos can enable their customers to explore and purchase media content using spoken words. This is already happening in various forms. For example, in June 2018, Dish Network Corp announced a partnership with Amazon that allows its users to search for and purchase content using Alexa-powered Echo devices.2
With cybersecurity attacks on the rise, telcos need new armaments to fight back. AI is one of those weapons. AI systems can be trained to analyze millions of data points in real time, continually scan systems and networks for vulnerabilities, and identify anomalies, unusual patterns and suspicious behaviors that could be indicative of cyberattacks. They can also be trained to block suspicious traffic and take steps mitigate attacks in real time.
Biometric and facial recognition — In a rapidly emerging use case, companies are using fingerprint, eye and facial recognition capabilities to provide enhanced security for specific applications and end-user devices. As a sign of this trend, Deloitte Global predicts that, by the end of the decade, fingerprint readers will have become as ubiquitous as front-facing cameras on smartphones.3
A case study
AI-enabled biometric security capabilities — including fingerprint, iris and facial recognition — are on the job every day when people use smartphones and other mobile devices. One example: Mastercard is increasingly using biometrics as a tool to verify the identity of card users. In one such application, the Mastercard Identity Check service allows online shoppers to authenticate a purchase by touching the screen of a smartphone or simply showing their faces to the device and blinking — a concept sometimes referred to as “selfie pay.”4
In another leap forward, Mastercard is using technology that identifies and verifies users based on their online interactions — behavior that can’t be replicated by a third party. For example, the technology considers how individual users hold a mobile device, the way they swipe it and tap it, and the pressure they put on the screen.4
While AI won’t address all the challenges of an industry swept up in a tidal wave of disruptive changes, it is clearly one of the must-haves for telco success in an era of ever-rising customer expectations and explosive growth in IoT devices and network data. With AI, telcos have the opportunity to leverage massive amounts of data to enhance network management, improve customer service quality, automate processes and reduce operational costs.
As a Tractica industry analyst notes, “The telecom industry is ripe for AI-driven solutions, with their promise of lowering costs and boosting efficiencies through automation.”5
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1 Tractica, “Telecommunications Industry Investment in Artificial Intelligence Software, Hardware, and Services Will Reach $36.7 Billion Annually by 2025,” April 30, 2018.
2 Reuters, “Dish expands Amazon Alexa features for set-top boxes,” June 12, 2018.
3 Deloitte, “Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions,” 2017.
4 Dell EMC, “Fighting fraud the smart way — with data analytics and artificial intelligence,” December 2018.
5 Tractica, “Telecommunications Industry Investment in Artificial Intelligence Software, Hardware, and Services Will Reach $36.7 Billion Annually by 2025,” April 30, 2018.