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The Role of AI in the Telecom Industry

In July 1876, Alexander Graham Bell introduced the telephone, to the world at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. While initially only used in business, by the early 1900s the telephone became a staple in most homes. Little did he know that his invention would spark the telecommunications industry, enabling communication across wire-based, wireless, Internet and other devices across the world – even between humans and robots.

Innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart phones, mobile apps and live streaming services are drastically transforming the way we communicate, conduct business and live. But such disruptive innovation doesn’t come without challenges for telecommunications providers.

Consumers are demanding a positive user experience and, to remain competitive, it’s critical that you deliver it – all the time. They want to enjoy continuously enhanced entertainment options on multiple devices, and expect to be connected at all times – with no disruption to network performance or dropped calls.

The challenge you face as a telecom provider is to create a strong, scalable telecom infrastructure enabling constant connection through a variety of devices, and at the same time, provide data and voice services that are consistently high quality, reliable, and affordable – all without missing a beat.

Moreover, telecom providers must transform to keep pace with an industry poised to grow increasingly more sophisticated and demanding thanks to key market drivers, such as:

  • The transition to 5G. Representing the next evolution of mobile communications, 5G is expected to enable even greater connectivity, speed, bandwidth and other capabilities than ever before, supporting applications such as augmented reality and virtual reality, and enabling communication among billions of sensors and devices.
  • Content is becoming king. As telecom providers work to compete against cable and Internet service providers, they are looking to offer content from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others to differentiate their offerings and win more customers in an increasingly competitive and demanding marketplace. Partnerships with these and other companies are becoming a key goal.
  • Focus on customer experience. With more and more options, today’s consumers and business users alike know what they want, and that means connectivity at the speed of light, quick resolution to connectivity issues and a delightful user experience. Telecom providers are tasked with providing these services, while keeping costs down.

AI Emerges as the Solution

To meet these and other challenges, the telecom industry is turning to AI to help improve the user experience, operate more efficiently and reduce costs. According to a report from Market Research News, 40 percent of surveyed industry executives revealed that their companies plan to invest more than- $1 million in AI during 2018-2020. And further, 68 percent of respondents operating in large companies identified customer experience enhancement as a key driver of their AI investments.

But what exactly are the types of AI initiatives underway in the telecom industry?

  • Predictive Analytics. Telecom providers are leveraging the vast amounts of data collected over the years in order to extract actionable insights to improve the customer experience, become more efficient and increase revenue. This data is being culled from devices, networks, mobile applications and geolocations, as well as usage and billing data from customer databases and services.

    AI-driven predictive analytics is helping telecoms provide better services by utilizing data, sophisticated algorithms and machine learning techniques to predict future results based on historical data. For example, it is helping them monitor the state of equipment, predict failure based on patterns, and proactively fix problems with communications hardware or set-top boxes in customers’ homes.

    Historical data is also helping them predict the likelihood of customer churn, identify customers who would be receptive to an upsell of new services and see where they can streamline resources.

  • Machine Learning. This algorithm-driven form of AI is improving network optimization, helping telecom providers build self-optimizing networks (SONs), to automatically improve network quality based on traffic information by region and time zone. Advanced algorithms allow them to look for patterns within data, to detect and predict network anomalies, and proactively fix problems before customers are negatively impacted. As operators transition their network architectures with software-defined networking and virtualization technologies that enable automation, AI will leverage these capabilities to self-diagnose, self-heal and self-orchestrate the network.
  • Chatbots. Conversational AI platforms — known as chatbots or virtual assistants — are improving the customer experience and taking the burden off of customer service agents for routine customer inquiries, such as support requests for installation, set up, troubleshooting and maintenance, which often overwhelm customer support centers. Chatbots are significantly reducing customer hold times and driving improved customer experience.

The telecommunications industry has changed in many ways, and we are at the tipping point of a new transformation in how services are delivered, measured and improved. Today, if Alexander Graham Bell articulated his famous command over the telephone for the first time, “Mr. Watson come here, I want to see you,” he may have been met with the response, “Mr. Bell, can you text me your reason for calling? I’m live-streaming Game of Thrones right now.” Or, then again, thanks to AI, he may have already asked Alexa to record it for him.

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