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Indian Telcos Differ on AI, Big Data Role

The impact of AI and big data technologies are topics over which government is seeking the telecom sector's views

The ongoing digital transformation in the telecom sector, especially in customer service and back office operations, has brought back the value of data science and artificial intelligence. However, in the Indian context telecom operators do not seem to see eye-to-eye on the impact of these technologies, as was found recently in their submissions to government queries. 

To set the context, data science and artificial intelligence provide telecom operators with the tools to interpret data and use it effectively to enhance reliability, decrease costs and provide an overall improvement in customer service. A recent research by Analytics Insight says big data is dominated by the telecom and IT industry with a 33% share of the overall market. 

The report predicted that spending on big data in telecom is slated to grow from $59 billion in 2019 to over $105 billion by the end of next year. In addition, there would be a growing demand for skilled professionals in the field with the job opportunities touching anywhere between 3.5 to 4 million by 2023. 


What’s the bone of contention in India?

So, where is the challenge with the Indian telecom players? Reliance Jio recently submitted a note to TRAI underscoring the opportunities for AI deployment to enhance network performance and spectrum management, in addition to security and customer services. However, both Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea felt it was too early to predict if such a move would work, given that both the technologies are still in a nascent stage. 

There was also a general disagreement on the need to create common AI protocols before leveraging the new age tech in the industry. Jio was of the view that AI would play a key role globally in cutting down network capex and poor quality of experience for VoLTE subscribers besides better hardware performance, improved customer experience and cost optimization. 

However, Airtel said it uses AI tools for networking planning, especially in rural areas, but that it was too early to conclude that AI or Data Analytics could optimize solutions for telcos. Their note said systems evolve over a period of time and then stabilize, following which only one could think of standard operating procedures or protocols. 

On its part, Jio has exhorted TRAI to start working on development of uniform and trustworthy AI terms and definitions via a non-statutory, multi-stakeholder organization. It believes that such a regulatory approach could result in a responsible AI environment that would go a long way to instilling trust in the minds of consumers in India. 

On their part, both Airtel and Vodafone Idea felt regulatory intervention could stifle the country’s IT capabilities to develop innovative AI technologies. Their view is that TRAI must leverage AI in telecom instead of defining what they should be or how they should function. On its part, Vodafone Idea said since there was no clear objective or outcome for standardization, now, it must not be attempted till the time such a need is felt. 

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