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Unlocking the Power of AI: Telecommunications Leaders Weigh In

2023 has been a landmark year for artificial intelligence. ChatGPT burst onto the market late last year, garnering over 100 million users and over 1 billion monthly visitors since its inception. Over half of all U.S. employees use AI tools like ChatGPT to craft compelling messages, boost productivity, and improve interactions – and we’re hardly scratching the surface of its potential. 

During a session at INCOMPAS 2023 last month titled “The Transformative Power of AI,” Zayo Chief Product Officer Bill Long joined leaders from Arcadian Infracom, Microsoft, and Google to weigh in on this buzzy topic, particularly the applications of AI in telecom. 

This blog will distill key points from the session including how businesses like Zayo and Google are using AI today, challenges related to AI, and what the future holds for this revolutionary technology. 

Applying AI in Telecom Brings a Better Customer Experience

The telecommunications industry already uses AI for various purposes today. The panel speakers at INCOMPAS touched on just some ways their organizations are tapping into its boundless potential. 

Boosting Customer Loyalty with 24/7 Support

Over half of businesses across industries use AI to improve the customer service experience. Differentiating a telecom business isn’t easy, so improving customer service can have a positive impact on an organization’s bottom line. And the telecommunications industry isn’t exactly excelling in this area at the moment: customer loyalty to providers is down 22% since 2020 due to poor customer service. 

“Customer care is essentially the front door to AI within your organization,” shared Rick Lievano, Chief Technology Officer of Worldwide Telecommunications Industry at Microsoft. 

Customer care is essentially the front door to AI within your organization

Contact centers, for one, can use AI chatbots to supplement human customer service employees, provide 24/7 support, and quickly handle basic inquiries in a personalized manner using customer and organizational data. One survey found that 62% of customers would rather use a chatbot than wait for human agents to answer their inquiries. 

What’s more, chatbots today are more advanced than in the past, thanks to AI. AI chatbots use natural language processing (NLP) to provide more human-like interaction and convey empathy for customers. Fast, accurate, and empathetic, AI-driven support could provide a much-needed boost for telecommunications providers to regain customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Improving Processes to Retain Customers 

The contact center isn’t the only element of the customer service ecosystem getting an AI overhaul. 

Zayo Chief Product Officer Bill Long shares during the panel, “The best use cases for AI are the easiest use cases.” In particular, applying machine learning (ML) models to customer data can help predict churn, enabling sales to intervene when a customer is showing signs of leaving.

Some parts of the service delivery process like network provisioning, service order management, and fault detection can be automated with AI to create a better experience. Zayo has introduced AI-driven automation to improve delivery intervals, properly prioritize customer orders, and fix issues quickly overall boosting customer satisfaction. AI-driven service delivery improvements have been a key component in Zayo’s journey to becoming a market leader in service delivery.

Business processes like permitting, too, can be made faster and more efficient with the help of AI. Dan Davis, CEO of Arcadian Infracom shared that one of the most complex processes for his organization – which builds and operates fiber infrastructure – is the right-of-way acquisition process. “The hardest part about building networks is that projects tend to be 500 to 1,000 miles, cost $150-300 million and we have several moving forward at the same time.” 

Because of this, Arcadian Infracom navigates tons of permits and negotiates with several different local governments and agencies to push their projects ahead. With the addition of AI, Arcadian Infracom analyzes, manages, and deciphers the massive amounts of data that permitting generates. Speeding up what is traditionally a long and tedious process and mitigating the potential for costly human error, they’ve introduced efficiency into their front-end processes. 

Gathering Actionable Insights

Another way Zayo is using AI is to act on the data generated by its network. The network itself provides Zayo with vast amounts of telemetry and streaming data – but it’s only valuable if we can act upon it. AI helps machines learn, and ML models help carriers predict network issues, leading to proactive fixes and faster response times. These complex algorithms also show spikes in network demand, allowing Zayo the insight to scale the network as needed. 

Generative AI models reason with massive datasets, find anomalies and correlations, and provide actionable insights to improve network performance and the overall customer experience. 

But, AI Means More Complex Challenges

Although AI provides nearly unlimited opportunities, the widespread adoption of AI hasn’t come without challenges. 

For one, AI creates opportunities for bad actors to commit cybercrime in new and increasingly sophisticated ways. For example, Lievano shared during the panel, using just a snippet of your voice, cybercriminals can create a copy of it using AI and manipulate it to say anything they want. This opens the door for several risks like fraud, reputation damage, and security breaches. 

To make matters worse, regulation of the AI industry hasn’t kept up with innovation. The proper regulatory standards need to be put in place to ensure the correct use of this powerful technology. Regulators must consider data privacy and security, ethical guidelines, and best practices for auditing AI usage while being agile in the face of continuous technological innovation. These regulatory standards should encourage – not stifle – innovation. 

AI also constrains power and bandwidth resources. AI tools use massive amounts of network bandwidth, meaning that companies may need to scale their network resources to take advantage of this technology and eliminate potential bottlenecks in other areas of the network. Carriers, then, bear the responsibility of building more fiber and creating more data centers to keep pace with the storage, compute, and transport demand of AI. This creates a need for more efficient usage of network and data center resources as the demand grows. 

Looking Ahead: The Future of AI in Networking

Looking forward, lawmakers need to create regulations that curb cybercriminals and prioritize consumer safety and innovation. Security must be as crucial a consideration as innovation when it comes to AI. As described above, bad actors are already using AI to commit crimes, so it’s critical for regulatory standards to stay one step ahead. 

While the adoption of AI comes with challenges, it also presents significant opportunities for carriers and data center providers. Increased demands for AI tools and applications will further drive demand for fiber to enterprise locations and data centers. Carriers will continue to build long-haul fiber capacity to connect users to available power sources. The biggest challenge for telcos in coming years will be simply keeping up with the demand. 

Although science fiction will have us believe the robot takeover is imminent, overall, the shifts brought by AI will be far less dramatic than what we see on screen. While the fear that AI will replace humans is somewhat based on reality, AI will likely create jobs. While Forrester predicts that 2.4 million U.S. jobs will be replaced by AI by 2030 and AI-related job listings are on the upswing, 63% of decision-makers report that the biggest skills gap in their workforce is AI and ML. 

As Kevin Shatzkamer, Managing Director of Engineering for GCP Cloud, AI, & Industry Solutions at Google predicts during the panel discussion, “AI won’t replace humans, but humans who understand how to use generative AI in their jobs will replace humans who don’t.” 

AI won’t replace humans, but humans who understand how to use generative AI in their jobs will replace humans who don’t.

Similarly, we believe that telcos that harness the power of AI will replace those that don’t. By providing a faster, more efficient, customer-centric experience, better managing and acting upon data, automating processes, meeting bandwidth demands, and finding new ways to innovate with AI, AI-driven telcos will lead the future. 

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