5G industry news

AI, R&D and MNOs

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Dr. Abhaya Sumanasena on 14 May 2018
  • Last modified 17 May 2018
Artificial intelligence (AI) is at the heart of the UK government’s technology investment programmes, and while it has many applications, one industry where it will make a big difference is in mobile communications.

In April 2018, DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) announced a £1 billion deal between government and industry, to fund about 1,000 PhD places focused on AI, and allocate about £300 million in new research funding.

The aim is to put resources behind the UK’s Industrial Strategy (which sets out a long-term plan to boost the productivity and earning power of people throughout the UK) and its AI Grand Challenge (one of four highlighted in an Industrial Strategy policy paper), and to help the UK take a leadership position in the global AI market. This could boost the UK economy by £232 billion by 2030, according to some estimates.

The AI Sector Deal (described a ‘a strong partnership between business, academia and government’) can boast some impressive wins such as Japanese venture capital firm Global Brains opening its first European HQ in the UK and investing £35 million in deep technology start-ups, and the University of Cambridge opening a new £10 million AI supercomputer centre to businesses.

So which vertical industries will be able to take advantage? Some of the industrial uses of AI have achieved a high profile, such as robotics in factories, or enhanced diagnostics in healthcare. By contrast the value of AI for mobile operators has been less discussed. It could, however, be considerable.

One of the projects under the new AI Deal involves BT supporting an AI R&D cluster at Ulster University. And many mobile operators – by no means just in the UK – are actively trialling AI and machine learning to support their customer relationships and their internal processes.

Both Vodafone and Telefónica have kicked off projects – initially in Spain – to use AI to improve the quality of their networks by supporting proactive maintenance and improved planning.

France’s Orange has been engaged in a research project with IBM and Nokia to use AI to predict future demand patterns in mobile networks so that it can plan them accurately, rather than always having to provision for peak usage.

The CogNet project, as it is called, is being conducted under the auspices of Europe's 5G-PPP (5G Public Private Partnership) program, and also includes Telefónica, another frontrunner in the world of telco network AI, plus cloud services provider Interoute and Germany's research foundation the Fraunhofer Institute.

CogNet got started back in July 2015 and has just announced the first details of its work, at the AI Net conference in Paris earlier this month. Orange's Imen Grida Ben Yahia, a senior R&D engineer in Orange Labs, said the project had used real network data from Manhattan, New York, to show how AI – in particular, machine learning – could help predict demand patterns and anomalies in dense urban areas – and how a large-scale event could "drastically affect traffic demand”.

In another CogNet study, the team used AI to address the issue of a ‘noisy neighbour’ – when two or more virtual network functions (VNFs) on the same cloud infrastructure cause interference.

But AI has other potential roles in wireless, including a part to play in altogether more prosaic areas – such as call centres. Found out how at www.uk5g.org!