Monetising AI and the unintended consequences of automation

Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at operators’ optimism around AI and SKT’s success so far, Elisa’s original thinking regarding 5G and enterprise, and automation’s potential to amplify things when they go wrong

A global survey commissioned by Ciena shows that, unlike 5G, most operators think they will be able to monetise AI. The survey carried out Censuswide recorded responses from more than 1,500 telecom and IT engineers, and managers at operators in 17 countries. More than half believe AI will improve network operational efficiency by 40% or more.

Almost half (49%) think they can improve performance by upgrading networks with new traffic and network analysis software. Not far behind, 43% chose modernising switches and routers and 40% opted for investing in 800G technology. Almost all (99%) respondents believe they will need to upgrade fibre-optic networks to support more AI traffic.

However, the survey found that 85% of respondents are confident they will be able to monetise AI traffic across networks. The respondents see the sectors that will generate the most AI traffic being financial services (46%), media and entertainment (43%), and manufacturing (38%).

As telcos mull moving more core network elements into the public cloud, opinion are divided about the best location for AI functions. Some 43% of respondents favour private cloud deployment for AI services, while 37% opted for public cloud providers’ data centres. Only 21% intend to adopt a hybrid cloud model.

Source: Ciena survey on AI in telecoms, May 2024


SK Telecom pioneers AI

SK Telecom is already demonstrating some success with AI services. In the same week that the survey results were published, the Korean pioneering telco made public some details of its ambitious AI strategy in action. It reported that its enterprise business was driving growth outside telecoms, with sales of enterprise AI expanding by more than 10% year on year.

It announced [in Korean] that it has developed and commercialised an AI Orchestrator to automate its fixed network operations management. It says it is the first to apply Infrastructure-as-a-Code (IaaC) to the fixed networks that support 4G and 5G and believes this will boost the efficiency of network operations and stability of the network. Put another way, it has automated the software-defined network processes.

The orchestrator automatically translates scripts in a programming language, entered by network staff, into commands for each device, which have integrated inspection and control capabilities. This translates to automated control of many tens of thousands of devices across the country.

The Orchestrator automatically manages software updates tracks changes, detects potentially harmful commands and can modify code templates if errors are picked up.


Automation and the blast radius

Rapid detection of errors and suitable, fast responses are key, given the story that just emerged from Lumen Technologies’ Black Lotus Lab. It revealed that more than 600,000 small office/home Free A Firework in the Night Sky Stock Photooffice (SOHO) routers were taken offline in a 72-hour period between 25-27 October – and they all belonged to one, unnamed ISP. The attack has been described as one of the most serious ever against the US’ telecom industry, although it was not disclosed at the time.

Reuters linked the outage to Windstream. The internet routers were disabled by a malicious firmware update sent to the company’s customers. It deleted elements of the routers’ operational code, making them effectively inoperable and they had to be replaced. It is not known exactly how the firmware update was sent to users but as BT Global’s Colin Bannon observed in this exclusive interview, automation typically magnifies the blast radius when things go wrong, whether accidental or deliberate.


Elisa wants to change enterprise

Finland’s Elisa is offering businesses and other organisations mobile broadband and mobile phone services on its 5G Standalone (SA) network. The 5G SA fixed wireless access operates through an external router and network slicing. Mobile working is through a 5G SA dongle. Later in the year, organisations will also be offered 5G SA networks running on network slices

Petteri Svensson Elisa OyjPetteri Svensson, Director of Mobile Business within Elisa’s Corporate Business division, says, “We have mapped out Finnish companies’ needs for the way they use their subscriptions, and many companies already require more stable connections.”

He adds, “Devices are steadily getting new capabilities that require more and more bandwidth.…When you can use a device to help you search for product information, place orders and manage customer contacts smoothly by using AI alongside the physical work, it makes the work more efficient and improves the customer’s experience.”

Petteri Svensson from here

Further, Svensson concludes, “Better connections offer new ways of working. For example…maintenance personnel can use augmented reality apps or devices while in the field and receive instructions in real time from a centralised control centre.”


Telefonica Germany moving 5G customers onto AWS

Reuters reports that Telefonica Germany started moving 1 million 5G customers onto AWS’ cloud in May. This is the first time an established – as opposed to green field – mobile operator has moved its core network to the public cloud. It is also a milestone for AWS in the European telecoms market.

Mallik Rao, CTIO at Telefonica Germany (which operates under the O2 Telefonica brand), is quoted by Reuters saying, “I want to see it working for at least one to two quarters and have a roadmap to move at least 30-40% of my customer base by 2025-2026”. Telefonica Germany has 45 million customers.

An interview with FutureNet World quotes Rao outlining how he always saw cloud as the way to compete against larger rivals with ‘superior’ infrastructure, since he took up his post in 2019. The plan is that public cloud cuts operating costs, enables scaling, and ensures repairs and maintenance don’t disrupting services.

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