The Merger of Telecom and Artificial Intelligence

Carl Weinschenk
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The definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is a bit fuzzy, so when AT&T claims that it has been using AI for more than 20 years, it should be kept in mind that the AI of 1996 is a lot different from the AI of 2016.

The bigger point is that the newer version is doing a lot for the carrier. AT&T is settling on an AI platform that can be used for different things instead of developing “one-off” solutions every time a task requiring the predictive capabilities and massive number-crunching abilities of AI presents itself. AI can be leveraged to anticipate rather than simply react to events, as less sophisticated AI platforms have done in the past.

The driver is software-defined networks (SDNs), according to Computerworld. SDNs are monstrously complex endeavors:


That foundation is about two million lines of the code that powers AT&T’s Domain 2.0 software-defined network, which the carrier built so it could roll out new services more quickly and efficiently. Along with its own A.I. code, much of which is open source, the company is using open-source components from partners including universities and third-party vendors.

Telecommunications networks seem to be perfect for AI. They have millions of users, thousands of elements, and an assortment of technical and business parameters that are simply overwhelming. In a long feature at Pipeline, Wedge Greene and Trevor Hayes essentially say that the sci-fi future, the one in which the machines take over, has arrived. (Hopefully, the usual way in which these films play out will be avoided.) AI is a must for carriers:

Networks exponentially grow in scale and complexity. With the advent of the Internet of Things, the size of networks will grow at least 10,000 fold. We are long, long past the point where humans can manage this network expansion. Our network management systems, billing systems and customer management systems cannot do this job the way we want it done. For some time we have needed products that help manage the management systems themselves. And despite corporate consolidation trends, buying up and bundling more and more product lines, we cannot merge ourselves out of this problem.

The full AI/telecom future may arrive more quickly than many people realize. SoftBank said this week that it is buying chipmaker ARM for $31.4 billion. SoftBank is a major player in telecommunications in Japan and the United States. Its founder and CEO, Masayoshi Son, is a believer in the key role that AI will play going forward.

SoftBank almost certainly has other goals, from both the product and financial perspectives, for ARM. But the presence of a major chipmaker and telecom companies in the same AI-friendly portfolio makes it seem likely that deep attention will be paid to the topic.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.



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