How AI and IoT Are Gradually Entering Indian Telecom Companies

Ayushman Baruah

Ayushman is an experienced journalist covering innovation and technology in India's startup ecosystem.

How AI and IoT Are Gradually Entering Indian Telecom Companies

The Indian telecom sector has been going through consolidation phase with the major players vying for the lucrative data services market, which is estimated to be worth 950 billion rupees by 2020, growing at a compounded annual rate of 21 percent, as per a report from Business Line. Bharti Airtel has consolidated its position as the No. 1 player with its acquisition of Tata Teleservices’ mobile business and Vodafone’s acquisition of Idea will really change the pecking order, the report suggested.

Post completion of Vodafone’s merger with Idea in March 2018, the combined entity is set to become the country’s biggest phone company by subscribers, dislodging Bharti Airtel, which has been at the top for 15 years. Bharti Airtel takes the second slot followed by Reliance Jio and BSNL respectively at third and fourth.         

As Indian consumers are increasingly becoming data hungry, telecom players are betting big on the power of data. According to Reliance Industries AGM, before Jio’s launch, India was 155th in the world in mobile broadband penetration. Today, India is No. 1 in mobile data consumption and well on its way to becoming No. 1 in mobile broadband penetration in the coming months.

We aim to answer the following questions about top four Indian telecoms Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and BSNL:

  • What is the level of AI adoption in the top Indian telecoms?
  • What are the kinds of AI and related technologies that are already being deployed?
  • What does the future hold for AI in the Indian telecom sector?   

Vodafone’s SuperIoT Uses AI to Optimize Networks

Globally, Vodafone has been using AI to optimize its networks and meet the needs of its customers. Given that India is a high-growth market for the telecom major, it can be assumed that these AI initiatives are also being used in the country.

“As the task of managing networks becomes more complex, our engineers can use machine learning to release themselves from routine tasks that are very time consuming to focus their effort on more critical and strategic projects,” Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone Group’s Head of Network Strategy & Architecture said.

Last year, Vodafone launched its AI chatbot, TOBi, a virtual service agent powered by IBM Watson, which helps customers seeking answers to basic questions over web chat. TOBi is currently exploring integration with Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa as well as more advanced machine learning features, according to a report from the Drum. Vodafone claims TOBi will be adopted across all markets, the report said.

As part of its technology initiatives, Vodafone India recently launched an integrated solution known as “SuperIoT” which includes IoT applications like vehicle tracking, asset tracking and people tracking. It is an industry-first solution that enables end-to-end management of device, application, connectivity, service platform support and security, the company said.   

The core applications are explained below:

  1. Vehicle tracking: A solution that allows customers to have real-time visibility of their fleet, monitor vehicle condition, receive alerts about faulty vehicles, reduce unplanned vehicle downtime and help maintain asset value, thus reducing overall operational costs, ensuring safety and improving customer satisfaction.
  2. Mobile asset tracking: With this solution, customers can completely transform their supply chain and logistics operations, and deliver goods faster with more operational efficiency. It enables them to track the location and status of their assets, be it healthcare equipment, building materials, construction equipment, etc. thus enabling effective management of business.
  3. People tracking (for both employees and students):
    • Employee safety: A set of smart solutions that offers safety of employees in and out of the workplace, by combining RFID + GPS + GPRS enabled ID cards and wearables along with emergency call facilities to a central Emergency Response Team.
    • Student safety solution for schools: Helping parents, school authorities and school bus transport managers keep track of children’s location through RFID + GPS + GPRS enabled ID cards and bus and campus readers, integrated with vehicle tracking and camera facilities.

Bharti Airtel – AI to Enhance Customers’ Experience

In September 2017, Bharti Airtel partnered with SK Telecom, Korea’s largest telecom company latter to use its specialized network operating system. SK Telecom has developed “T Advanced Next Generation Operational Supporting System,” also known as TANGO, which is an AI-assisted network operating system with big data analytics and machine learning capabilities, a result of SK Telecom’s two-year-long development efforts.

The system delivers the automated detection of issues on the network, troubleshooting of problems and optimization of performance, SK Telecom said.       

It enhances the accuracy of network management by measuring the quality of network operations that customers experience while using the network, based on real-time analysis of performance, the company said. It features virtualization capabilities, helping mobile carriers to adopt new network capabilities, which include IoT and 5G, SK Telecom added.    

“The partnership will bring a dramatically improved experience to Airtel customers in India by leveraging the expertise of a company that has built one of the best mobile broadband networks in the world,” Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Airtel

Bharti Airtel in November 2017 partnered with software firm Amdocs to deploy machine learning and AI-based technologies across Airtel’s multiple lines of business. Airtel said it would “leverage Amdocs’ innovation centres, delivery expertise and its ecosystem of startups to help pre-empt and self-heal operational issues, introduce smartbots into digital channels, and quickly launch and activate new services, thereby enabling a seamless customer experience.”

The partnership would create an “innovation foundry” to bring new services to Airtel’s customers in India.

Last year, Airtel rolled out its digital innovation program Project Next aimed at transforming customer experience across all its services and touch points. It also plans to launch several digital innovations to simplify and enhance interactivity of the Airtel customer experience. Airtel said Project Next complements Airtel’s massive investments in building a future-ready network under Project Leap for which the telecom major has committed an investment of 600 billion rupees in the next 3 years.  

Reliance Jio – ‘Data Is the New Oil’ – Mukesh Ambani, MD

Mukesh Ambani, MD
Vodafone’s Mukesh Ambani, source – Vodafone

Reliance Jio is on a mission to include the 500 million feature phone users of India (out of 780 million) who have been left out of the digital revolution. “We shall achieve this in three ways – connectivity, data affordability and device affordability,” Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, said in a letter to shareholders.

Jio’s network connectivity enables its customers to participate on multiple digital platforms, including e-commerce, financial services, manufacturing, agriculture, entertainment, education and healthcare, Ambani said.

“These will be powered by mobile-based software as a service (SaaS), big data analytics, artificial intelligence and automation tools, cloud services and blockchain technologies, to name just a few.” However, a company spokesperson told Emerj that Jio is in a very nascent stage to talk about specific AI deployments.        

“Data is the new oil,” Ambani said in the first edition of the India Mobile Congress held in New Delhi in September 2017. India needs to instil confidence in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, IoT and big data analytics, which will be the enablers of a new wave of wealth and employment creation, he added.     

BSNL – Coriant to Collaborate for 5G and IoT

Anupam Shrivastava
BSNL’s Anupam Shrivastava, source – The Sen Times

Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India’s state-owned telecom company, is looking to enhance customer experience by deploying the latest communication technologies. Recently, BSNL entered into an agreement with network solutions provider Coriant to collaborate on the deployment of 5G and related technologies in the India networking ecosystem. Coraint said:

“Coriant and BSNL will cooperate to accelerate network architecture and service innovation leveraging 5G, Internet of Things (IoT), SDN/NFV (Software Defined Network/ Network Function Virtualization), and Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) technologies.”

As part of its strategic collaboration, BSNL and Coriant will work together to develop 5G and IoT use cases such as rural connectivity, connected healthcare, industrial automation, public safety, video surveillance, energy and agriculture.   

Anupam Shrivastava, chairman and managing director of BSNL, states: “5G represents an enormous leap forward in capacity and throughput speeds, and we are pleased to team with our long-term technology partner Coriant to tap into these capabilities and explore real-world use cases for next-generation services and applications.” 

Future Applications of AI in Indian Telecoms

Pankaj Lamba Amdocs
Pankaj Lamba of Amdocs, source – Tele-Talk

With a population of 1.3 billion India is a humongous telecom market. As telecom companies are adopting technologies like virtualization, SDN-NFV (Software Defined Networking/ Network Functions Virtualization) and orchestration, AI may play a significant role in seamless integration of these technologies and automating the networks. AI adoption is also set to increase in India with the introduction of the much-awaited 5G network which will result in much faster internet speed, driverless cars, and more machine-to-machine conversations.  

Some Indian telecoms are already using AI to solve issues related to customer care, network coverage, billing and service/product offering. Pankaj Lamba, customer business executive, (India) Amdocs told Emerj:

“Business processes such as network operations were performed manually, resulting in delays and errors, which negatively impact customer experience. Many operators are now automating business processes using AI capabilities such as machine learning and deep learning, and natural language processing.” 

Some operators have also introduced smartbots or chatbots into their digital customer care channel, enabling quick resolutions of customer issues. Another area is subscriber intelligence — operators are using AI to understand their customers better and offer personalized services and products such as tailored data packs or recommendations while watching a movie.

“AI-enabled networks can think beyond their correlative programming and suggest outcome-based scenarios (what would you like to happen). In the future, AI will be able to differentiate between correlative and causal, and proactively pursue their own choice of outcomes beyond the scope of human programming, and before any problems are noticed by subscribers (I can take care of myself),” Lamba said.    

Indian telecoms are beginning to make AI deployments through strategic partnerships such as Airtel’s partnership with SK Telecom and BSNL’s collaboration with Coriant, which help the telcos leverage the technology expertise of these companies to build smarter networks. At present, the pace of innovation seems to be lagging their US telecom counterparts, but we can expect to see successful US use-cases make their way to India as the are fleshed out and brought to market in the years ahead.


Header image source: The Telegraph

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