Data is rapidly becoming the most valuable commodity of the digital age as organizations try to figure out customer preferences, predict when equipment will malfunction and even discern an individual's propensity for crime (yes, that Minority Report movie starring Tom Cruise doesn't seem quite so far-fetched 17 years on).
But all the data now available is worthless if organizations cannot make sense of it. Thanks to the analytics and machine learning tools being developed by some of the smartest people on the planet, companies in the telecom sector can increasingly put their data lakes to good use and realize value from the information they hold about networks, operations and customers.
Given the interest in this area, it is not surprising the Leading Lights award for Most Innovative AI/Analytics Strategy attracted so many strong entries from companies serving and active in the telecom sector. Our shortlist features six organizations with a compelling proposition: Accedian, Amdocs Management, Adaptive Spectrum and Signal Alignment Inc (ASSIA), Boingo Wireless, Cisco Systems and Huawei Technologies.
The winner will be announced at the Leading Lights Awards dinner, which will be held at the Pinnacle Club in Denver, on Monday, May 6, on the eve of the Big 5G Event. Find out about how to book a table and attend the awards dinner by clicking on this link.
Here are some details about the six shortlisted entries:
Accedian, a Canadian company that develops monitoring tools for networks, launched its SkyLIGHT DataHUB IQ system last October, pitching it as a cloud-native analytics platform that an operator could deploy in public or private clouds. Designed to give operators a complete view of network performance, and show how applications and services are behaving (and affecting the customer experience), it uses machine learning techniques to match key performance indicators against other data sources and reveal anomalies.
As far as one customer is concerned, the technology stands out from others as both a "microscope" and a "telescope." In other words, you can drill down to network performance at a single site or look at overarching trends across the entire system. "We are detecting issues that had previously gone undetected and have a complete network and service performance view in a single tool, which opens a sea of opportunities," said the customer.
Known for its operational support systems expertise, Amdocs has been touting its artificial intelligence and analytics capabilities ever since those technologies became potential business opportunities. But it's not just talk. The company's Intelligent Customer 360 solution (IC360, for short) has already delivered performance improvements for some operators by giving them insight into customer behavior and preferences.
This technology clearly has Minority Report overtones, albeit with less sinister implications. One operator using IC360 said customer satisfaction increased by 12 points (in terms of the commonly referenced "net promoter score" metric), according to Amdocs, while another used IC360 to develop more personalized real-time offers that led to a reduction in churn. One handy feature of the system -- which Amdocs calls out as an industry first -- is that it will identify those customer segments requiring urgent attention so that operators can act immediately to address any risks or pounce on sales opportunities.
Adaptive Spectrum and Signal Alignment (ASSIA)
ASSIA is all about developing tools for the management of residential broadband and WiFi networks, and so it is little surprise that its CloudCheck system is focused on boosting the performance of residential WiFi connections through machine learning tools. CloudCheck is able to predict what quality-of-service levels will be like on individual WiFi links without the need for software probes on the ends of those links. That's important because it means operators can analyze millions of devices at the same time without having to worry about software updates for each device.
Specific features of the technology include proactive care, proactive maintenance, churn prediction and service-level upsell prediction, says ASSIA. Rather than waiting for customers to start complaining about quality of experience, operators should be able to find out when and where problems are likely to occur -- and take the appropriate steps. Usefully, the CloudCheck system can also resolve some problems by switching devices to alternative access points or frequency bands.
Boingo should get some bounce from its Opt-Aware technology, if it can live up to the promise. Drawing on machine learning and other advanced analytics techniques, the technology is intended largely to provide a more personalized experience to customers of the WiFi service provider, and some of the use cases sound truly innovative. Imagine arriving at an airport on a regular business trip to find the network has already booked you a taxi based on your previous expeditions, for instance. Or attending a sports event where food and drink is delivered to your seat without any human intervention. Who needs free will, anyway?
Indeed, it is all potentially a bit scary, and would need to be managed carefully to ensure customers don't end up on taxi rides to the Hyatt Hilton when they are for once visiting relatives (or with a hotdog instead of a cheeseburger at a basketball game). But the first phase of the technology has already been tested on military bases, says Boingo, and those military types don't usually stand for any nonsense.
Cisco hardly needs any introduction as the world's largest maker of the routers and switches that power the Internet. But the company has for years been moving into new cloud and software business areas, and its Crosswork Network Automation service -- released at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona -- is a full suite of products for network automation, orchestration and analytics that could address various needs among telco and enterprise organizations keen to reduce costs and speed up service development.
So what's really new? Well, Cisco is exposing APIs so that Crosswork can be integrated with external systems, and providing software-development kits to external developers. All that's going to be important as customers continue demanding interoperability and solutions that do not tie them to one vendor permanently. There are some nifty features, too. A network insights component promises to reduce downtime spent on fixing network problems, while the trust insights tool validates the security of hardware and software.
Huawei, China's biggest maker of network equipment, has come up with the AI Fabric Intelligent and Lossless Data Center Network Solution. It won't win any awards for branding, but it could make a big difference to key performance indicators in data center networks. Designed for scenarios where AI applications, high-performance computing and distributed storage are in use, the Huawei technology uses a switching algorithm called iLossLess to cut down on packet loss while guaranteeing low latency and high throughput.
It's far from a typical entry -- a good reason for including it in the shortlist -- and it promises major benefits for customers. Huawei says it will improve computing efficiency by 40% and storage performance by 25%. It should also allow operators to simplify their architecture and run different types of traffic over the same network, reducing the total cost of ownership by up to 53%, according to Huawei.Related posts:
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading