“Everything invented in the past 150 years will be reinvented using AI within the next 15 years.”
-Randy Dean, Chief Business Officer at Sentient Technologies
Today we are living in a world of ubiquitous connectivity. Things around us continue to get faster, smarter, more connected and even more digital, and a significant role in this evolution, altering both consumer and developer behaviors has been played by the telecommunications industry. Here about the new trend in the telecom industry – artificial intelligence.
As artificial intelligence (AI) is finding its use in quite a variety of industries, the telecommunications segment continues to be the leading one. A great number of telecom operators have started experimenting by deploying AI-powered solutions in both business-to-business and companies’ internal processes. According to Tractica, the telco industry is predicted to invest $36.7 billion annually in AI software, hardware, and services.
Challenges of the Telecommunications Industry
The telco industry faces today a number of challenges related to growing market demands and economic pressure.
With millions of subscribers and a growing number of telco products, today’s communication service providers (CSPs) have to invest a lot of efforts and resource in the optimization of the operational support services. As the telecommunications sector expands its networks at a rapid pace, service configuration, customer care, and billing processing become more complex. Facing increasing customer demands for higher quality services, CSPs continually seek useful innovations and applications to provide their customers with better customer experience and service.
Another major challenge for the telco industry is the advance of the newest wireless networks such as 5G (the fifth generation of wireless networks) and IoT (Internet of Things) that lead to a massive generation of vast amounts of data. To efficiently manage these data, CSPs are facing an increasing need for data-driven solutions.
As a result of the rapid growth of IoT, a lot of new devices emerge on the market, which on one hand contributes to the market growth, while on the other hand brings new challenges in terms of security. As many IoT devices are at risk for malware-carrying applications, fraud prevention has now become the main priority for the telecommunications industry. In order to protect personal data collected from IoT devices, telco providers need to consider opportunities that emerging technologies are offering.
What is AI?
Artificial intelligence, abbreviated as AI, is a term, which gathers a lot of hype today. In essence, AI is a branch of computer science that creates a system able to perform human-like tasks, such as speech and text recognition, learning, problem solving. Using AI-driven solutions, computers can accomplish specific tasks by analyzing huge amounts of data and recognizing in these data recurrent patterns.
According to a study by Transparency Market Research (TMR), the global market for artificial intelligence is estimated to post an impressive 36.1% CAGR between 2016 and 2024, increasing by the end of 2024 from $126.14 billion in 2015 to $3,061.35 billion.
AI’s Role in the Telecommunications
According to IDC, 31.5% of the telecommunication organizations are primarily working on utilization of current infrastructure and 63.5% are investing in AI-driven systems.
The key drivers for AI growth in the telco industry is an increasing demand for autonomously driven network solutions. The networks of the telecommunications industry expand at a rapid pace, becoming more complex and difficult to manage. By using AI-powered network solutions, CSPs can reduce network congestions and improve network quality, therefore enhancing the customer experience.
Market Research Future predicts that by 2023 global AI in telecommunication market will reach $1 billion, with 32% CARG during 2018-2023.
The telecommunications sector has been a fertile field for AI-powered applications. According to Arjun Vishwanathan, Associate Director, IDC India: ”AI is expected to have an impact in a multitude of areas – the most important being traffic classification, anomaly detection and prediction, resource utilization and network optimization, along with network orchestration. Further, it will also assist the mobile devices with virtual assistants and bots.”.
Being an umbrella term, AI can be divided into different technology segments, such as machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, image processing, and speech recognition. However, a central role in the telecommunications industry belongs to machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing.
Deep Learning, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing
Deep Learning (DL) is a subset of machine learning, whose algorithms and techniques are similar to machine learning, but capabilities are not analogous. The main difference between ML and DL lies in the interpretation of the data they feed on. In DL, a computer system is trained to perform classification tasks directly from sounds, texts, or images by using a large amount of labeled data, as well as neural network architectures.
Machine learning (ML) is a subset of AI, which focuses on a computer program that is able to parse data using specific algorithms. Such program is able to modify itself without human intervention, producing the desired output based on analyzed data. In essence, using ML techniques, a machine is trained to analyze huge amounts of data and then learn to perform specific tasks.
Natural Language Processing
Natural Language Processing (NLP) – is a sub-field of AI, which is focused on enabling computers to understand, interpret, and manipulate human language. In essence, NLP allows machines to read texts, hear sounds, interpret them, and measure sentiments.
AI Applications in the Telco Industry
IDC predicts that by 2021, 60% of enterprises will have begun the journey to AI automation.
With self-optimizing networks (SONs) powered by AI, telco providers can automatically improve network quality (redistribute power at different network loads) and as a result provide better quality services to their subscribers. By using advanced algorithms, AI systems can process large amounts of data, in particular call detail records (CDR), in the case of the telecommunication industry, identify patterns, detect and predict network anomalies.
IDC claims that 63.5% of telecom companies are investing in AI systems in order to improve their infrastructure.
According to a report by ABI Research, by 2022 virtual assistants will enable telecom service providers to save $1.2 billion on customer care management, resulting in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% over the next five years.
Intelligent Virtual Agents based on AI technologies gain traction in the telecommunication sector, resulting in improved customer experience and satisfaction. Telecom providers have turned to virtual assistance in order to optimize processing of the huge number of support requests for troubleshooting, billing inquiries, maintenance, device settings, etc. AI-powered assistants handle all service-type questions and process transactions efficiently and at high speed.
Chatbots are able to handle the simplest requests because these are the most requests. Tasks more difficult will be solved by technical support.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Robotic Process Automation is a technology that configures computer software to capture data and manipulate applications in the way it is done by humans. With RPA telco providers can automate back-end activities such as data entry, reconciliation, or validation, streamline customer support as well as perform cross-sell and up-sell by means of AI-powered assisted calls. RPA applications allow CSPs to reduce costs, enhance accuracy, improve efficiency and deliver a better customer experience.
For example, a customer calls support, and at this point, all the information about the customer, and especially the one that could become problematic, has already been collected and the call centre employee sees it. Thus, the client does not spend time and his peace of mind to clarify the issue.
AI Use Cases in the Telecommunications Industry
Telia Company AB is the fifth largest telecom operator in Europe with more than 20,000 employees and over 23 million subscribers. It is present in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Applying AI and ML-powered technologies, Telia can identify the most valuable accounts based on available data, keeping the company’s database always up-to-date. Furthermore, the company has added virtual assistants to its customer services and claims in a case study that within a first month one of the chatbots has saved it €1 million.
The world’s largest mobile provider with over 902 million subscribers, China Mobile Communications Corp, is leveraging AI-embedded and big data technologies for fraud detection. The company has introduced a new product – a big data-based anti-fraud system, called Tiandun- which is able to detect fraudulent activity, distinguish it from normal calls and intercept spam texts or calls.
Vodafone Group is a British multinational telecommunications conglomerate with more than 500 million customers. The company has improved customers services with the arrival of its virtual assistant app TOBi. TOBi is able to enhance customers’ engagement and personalize the sales journey. Being a text bot, TOBi can directly answer most customer questions, address problems or suggest and offer more suitable products.
AI-embedded technologies can be a useful tool in the telecommunications industry. Implementation of AI by telco companies resulting in the development of highly personalized products, improved fulfilment processes and enhanced network management, allows telecommunications operators to provide their customers with more attractive services as well as improve their customer retention.
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