The following is the first in a series of blog posts based on a recent presentation I was invited to make for the FCC’s Artificial Intelligence Working Group (AIWG) focusing on the Synergy Between AI, 5G and IoT.
I was asked for my expert opinion on what is real, what is hype and my opinion of the maturity of AI technology.
AI Will Drive Dramatic Breakthroughs in 5G Networks
The major US mobile operators are all deploying their 5G networks in 2020, and each one claims that AI and machine learning will help them proactively manage the costs of deploying and maintaining new 5G networks. AT&T recently outlined the company’s blueprint for leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML) to maximize the return on its 5G network investment. AT&T’s Mazin Gilbert sees a “perfect marriage” of AI, ML and software defined networking (SDN) to help enable the speeds and low latency of 5G.
AT&T is using AI and ML to map its existing cell towers, fiber lines, and other transmitters that today, to build its 5G infrastructure and to pinpoint the best location for 5G build outs in the future. AT&T has more than 75,000 macro cells in its network and is using AI to guide plans for deploying hundreds of thousands of additional small cells and picocells. If AI detects a cell site isn’t functioning properly, it will signal another tower to pick up the slack.
AT&T is using AI to load balance traffic such as video on its network, and the company is using machine learning to detect congestion on small cells on 5G networks before service degrades. If one area is experiencing a high volume of usage, AI will trigger lower-use cell sites to ensure that speed isn’t compromised. AT&T is also leveraging AI and ML to improve efforts in forecasting and capacity planning with the dispatch field services that help customers every day. And AI is being used to optimize schedules for technicians, to get as many jobs done during the workday as possible by minimizing drive time between jobs while maximizing jobs completed per technician.
AT&T is building its AI platform to scale from the core to the edge network and is putting more intelligence into its mobile edge compute (MEC) at the customer edge and into its radio access network (RAN). By putting intelligence closer to the edge, AT&T is starting to load balance traffic across these small cells and move traffic around when needed. AI will also help enable SLAs from networking slicing offerings to AT&T’s customers. AI is also the key ingredient for implementing numerous new projects and platforms for AT&T, which is using AI to manage its third-party cloud arrangements, such as with Microsoft, and in its internal cloud and hybrid clouds. In addition, AT&T is using AI to define policies that are currently set by systems and employees. AI and the data analytics tell AT&T if any of the policies have conflicts prior to defining them.
AI Automation Transforms 5G Network Reliability and Field Service
Verizon recently confirmed that its plans for its 5G rollout across the US are ahead of schedule. Verizon EVP and CTO Kyle Malady has reported that despite the coronavirus pandemic, the largest US wireless operator is successfully moving the technology forward with its 5G and intelligent edge network. Verizon is also using its AI-enabled Verizon Connect intelligent fleet and field service management platform to closely monitor 5G wireless network usage in the areas most impacting customers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Verizon Wireless uses this platform to prioritize network demand, track assets and vehicles, dispatch employees and monitor work being performed for mission-critical customers including hospitals, first responders and government agencies. Reveal Field from Verizon Connect integrates proactive maintenance, intelligent scheduling and dispatching to improve first-time fix rates and reduce mean time to resolution.
T-Mobile, AI and Enriching the Customer Experience
T-Mobile has long prided itself as a disruptive force in the world of wireless communications, always thinking creatively about the relationship it wants to have with its consumers. That includes T-Mobile’s approach to using AI to enhance customer service. The Uncarrier believes the predictive capabilities of AI and machine learning creates an opportunity to serve customers better and faster, benefiting not just the company and its service agents but also enriching the customer service experience. T-Mobile could have used these advancements in AI-based proactive maintenance and intelligent network management to help address a recent emergency. The carrier had to resolve a 13-hour intermittent network outage that impacted customer ability to make calls and send text messages throughout the US.
After discounting rumors of widespread DDoS attack, Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s president of technology acknowledged the network outage has been linked to increased IP traffic that created significant capacity issues in the network. The trigger event was determined to be the failure of a leased fiber circuit from a third-party provider in the Southeast. The resulting overload resulted in an IP traffic storm that spread from the Southeast to create significant capacity issues across the IMS (IP multimedia Subsystem) core network that supports VoLTE calls. Ray reported that hundreds of engineers worked tirelessly alongside vendors and partners throughout the day to understand the root causes and resolve the issue.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has called the T-Mobile outage “unacceptable” and added that the Commission would launch an investigation and demand answers regarding the network configuration and traffic related problems that created significant capacity issues in the mobile core network throughout the day. Now that the nationwide network outage is over, perhaps T-Mobile could leverage AI and machine learning as it works with vendors to “add permanent additional safeguards” that would prevent such an issue from happening again.
Orange and Zinier Drive AI and 5G Innovation
AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile US are not the only wireless operators focusing on the synergy between 5G and AI. Orange recently appointed former Orange Belgium CEO, Michaël Trabbia, as chief technology and innovation officer with a mandate to leverage 5G, AI, cloud edge technologies and NFV (network function virtualization) under the French carrier’s Engage2025 strategic plan. Orange recognizes the need to detect, accelerate and shorten reaction and decision times to confront with confidence the profound changes brought about by the global coronavirus epidemic. There are many uncertainties but also real opportunities for the Orange Post-Covid Strategy; the new CTO will drive AI and 5G innovation to seize these possible opportunities and accelerate digital transformation.
AI and machine learning are helping 5G wireless carriers and IoT service providers to drive efficiency across their organizations, from the back office to the field. Zinier recently raised $90 million in venture capital to accelerate its effort to integrate AI technology to help automate field service management. The company is integrating AI and automation to create the next generation of intelligent field service automation. “Touchless service delivery” aims to drive predictive maintenance, increase network uptime and reduce costs. Zinier believes that AI-driven automation can help mobile operators streamline field service processes ahead of 5G deployments. By analyzing real-time data against historical trends, leading wireless operators can leverage AI to create predictive insights and optimize intelligent field service operations. Zinier’s AI-driven automation platform can help wireless field service organizations install and maintain a rapidly increasing number of job sites for new 5G wireless networks.