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Why smart operators are turning to AI to prepare for 5G

5G holds great promise. The next-generation wireless network will enable large-scale internet of things applications and support blisteringly fast data processing across a diverse array of devices on a massive scale. Today’s 4G status quo will not be an option when it comes to supporting low-latency use cases like mobile 4K videos, virtual and augmented reality, autonomous driving, robotics and a plethora of yet-to-be-conceived innovative services.

But the promise of 5G will remain just that without the all-in commitment by mobile operators to use artificial intelligence.

It’s not that mobile operators are currently failing to harness data. Many are processing user data, network data and, increasingly, IoT data. However, the sheer scale of 5G means that current data analytics capabilities must evolve. That means operators must invest in AI if they expect to take full advantage of the potential of 5G.

There are two complementary areas for the application of AI. First, as a productivity driver in the product development process, and therefore time to market; and second, to power autonomous intelligent platforms for IoT and other customer-facing services. Together, the tangible benefits of AI are significant for operator business growth, margins and the delivery of the all-important customer experience.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Here is what AI will mean for mobile operators.

Built-in brainpower

AI brings the ability to enhance the development lifecycle. Integrating machine learning across the DevOps process will result in significant productivity gains and faster time to market. Operators already see significant efficiencies from increased automation across DevOps, but more sophisticated forms of machine learning will deliver improved uptime, predictive defect detection and root-cause analysis. These will come from the integration of AI into specialist machine-learning toolchains that can be used to support many use cases.

Beyond development, AI will play a decisive role in managing network capacity, freeing up resources, improving availability and deepening customer engagement.

Smart thinking in an IoT world

Central to the 5G proposition is the technology’s ability to support the demands of IoT. That is, to provide mass connectivity across diverse devices and process data into business insights in real time. To make good on the promise of smart cities and factories, connected cars, telematics and wearables require AI. Gartner predicted there will be nearly 21 billion connected devices by 2020. A handful of operators are finding ways to define and manage virtual network functions, policies, resource consumption and performance metrics to meet this challenge. Today, there are AI-based platforms dedicated to the management and orchestration of networks capable of these tasks.

Data-driven customer engagement

In a 5G world, operators will be judged on their ability to deliver enhanced, contextual services to customers. Advanced data analytics and AI will be essential for delivering these services, in part, because they identify the bandwidth requirements for the customer experience. An AI-powered management layer translates a customer’s intent and uses that insight to configure the network, optimize resources, remediate issues and launch services based on workload models.

This intent-based layer will control physical and virtual networks and network function virtual orchestrators. Operators can further drive customer loyalty by utilizing AI throughout the customer relationship — for example, by providing service recommendations based on existing usage, telemetry and cutting-edge customer care.

As Gartner advised, operators need to do the groundwork now to ensure they are positioned to roll out effective AI technologies for 5G. This includes investing in skills, processes and tools for setup, system integration, algorithm and approach selection, data preparation and model creation.

The bottom line

As consumers are exposed to an increasing array of AI-based applications, their expectations for rich, immersive experiences will dictate the suite of network services network operators must provide. 5G has the power to deliver these experiences, but mobile operators must be realistic about the challenges ahead. They must transition from automation to predictive capacity planning and service delivery. Intelligent resource deployment in areas such as service provisioning, orchestration, network function virtualization and software-defined networking are key.

In the end, the success of a 5G network rollout will depend in large part on the operator’s ability to harness AI across the network value chain.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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