Since Alexander Graham Bell sat at an ornate desk in sepia-tinted 1892 New York and placed the first-ever phone call to Chicago, the telecommunications industry has stood at the forefront of technological innovation. As the crowd watched in disbelief as Bell spoke with another human being over 700 miles away, few could have guessed what the next 130 years were to have in store.

Today, amidst a digital telecoms carnival of mobile, 5G, VoIP, instant messaging, and video-conferencing, a new technology is quietly transforming the way we communicate all over again: AI.

A telecoms industry still beset with challenges

Despite the extraordinary advancements in the last 20 years especially, the telecoms industry still faces persistent challenges. As the global population increases and growing numbers of people access already crowded networks, more equipment is needed to keep networks operational, leading to complex and expensive network management.

These complexities and spiralling costs are compounded by the increasingly impossible struggle of making sense of and analysing enormous data repositories that are typically fragmented, siloed, unstructured, or incomplete.

Underneath this web of challenges is a telecoms customer base whose expectations only intensify and are only too happy to go elsewhere when they feel their needs are not being fulfilled.

AI is transforming network management

AI-enabled network optimisation solutions are already able to automatically analyse network data, identify problems, and resolve them before customers are even aware of their existence. Through an array of sophisticated algorithms, AI solutions achieve these resolutions in a variety of ways, including:

  • Automatically provisioning new network resources
  • Balancing network traffic
  • Identifying and prioritising network bottlenecks
  • Optimising network routing and energy efficiency

Predictive maintenance is another major benefit of AI. For example, Vodafone’s Anomaly Detection Service is currently operational throughout its pan-European mobile networks. The service works by immediately detecting when a mobile cell area displays unusual behaviour, which could pose a risk to Quality of Service if left unnoticed for any length of time. Able to react quicker, engineers can then address issues like mobile site congestion, unexpected latency, or call setup failures.

AI for environmentally sustainable telecoms

With the telecoms industry accounting for around 2% of global carbon emissions, pressure has steadily mounted on individual players to find ways to optimise energy consumption.

Coupled with soaring electricity costs, operators have begun employing AI to leverage solutions. Telefónica Spain got the ball rolling when it became the first operator to test the Deep Sleep Mode energy-saving functionality at a 5G-enabled Madrid site. Bolstered by AI and Machine Learning algorithms, the company racked up savings of up to 8%.

Ericsson then went on to test its power-saving Micro Sleep Tx feature in 4G and 5G-enabled technologies in the city of Talavera de la Reina. With continuous operation throughout a 24-hour period, Ericsson attained an energy reduction of 16%.

Keeping networks safe with AI

Telecom companies are exploiting AI’s robust analytical capabilities to tackle fraudulent activities. Algorithms powered by AI can detect real-time anomalies, allowing them to target telecom-related fraud, such as fake profiles and unauthorised network access.

The moment suspicious activity is detected, AI systems automatically block the fraudster’s access, heavily reducing the damage they can inflict. With industry estimates pointing to 90% of operators suffering daily attacks to the tune of billions in lost revenue every year, AI applied in this way could be the difference for many Communication Service Providers.

The future of AI in telecommunications

As generative AI can use the likes of social media trends and consumer feedback to predict which types of services are likely to become popular, telcos will become empowered to undertake a range of pre-emptive endeavours.

Data from multiple sources will be routinely analysed to predict network issues, resource allocation will be easily optimised, and prices dynamically adjusted based on user demand. Not only will these capabilities ensure competitiveness and maximal revenue generation, but other, more internal processes, such as supply chain management, could be transformed.

Perhaps the most promising area of AI that could boost telecoms is the level of personalisation across customer engagements. With total customer satisfaction being the ultimate goal of telecom players, AI’s ability to analyse vast amounts of data holds the key to better understanding customer behaviours, preferences, and pain points. Armed with this knowledge, companies are well-placed to create truly personalised experiences.

Meanwhile, a new generation of AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants, able to provide real-time interaction 24/7/365, will mean customer queries are met with instant solutions. Rather than simply streamlining customer support, these AI-driven interfaces will learn from interactions and continually improve their responses to support customers as they peruse different call plans and devices.

Beyond customer service, network optimisation, and greater security, AI’s potential applications to the telecoms industry are vast and much of it, as yet, undefined. With one eye always on ethical considerations, AI-driven solutions are primed to usher in a new age of innovation and efficiency to this most pioneering of sectors.