AT&T experimenting with artificial intelligence as a ‘key enabler’ of next-gen wireless

DALLAS—“We are experimenting with AI to make our processes more efficient,” said AT&T’s Brian Daly here at the 5G North America trade show. “There’s a lot of emphasis [within the wider tech industry] being put on it.”

Daly listed artificial intelligence as one of a handful of “key enablers” of a next-generation wireless network. Daly, director of AT&T’s core, government and regulatory standards, placed AI technology alongside SDN, NFV, cloud, big data and mobile edge computing as technologies and techniques he said would help AT&T and other top wireless carriers move toward next-generation network designs.

For AI specifically, Daly said the technology could provide “efficiencies that may not exist today.” In a presentation, Daly said AI was a “powerful tool for making networks more reliable and secure.” He noted AI technologies are already impacting sectors including health care, transportation and the environment.

Further, Daly pointed to the White House’s recent “Frontiers” conference in October as highlighting the progress the tech industry in general has made in artificial intelligence. The Frontiers conference, held in Pittsburgh, covered topics from robotics to machine learning, and included $300 million in research awards.

To be clear, Daly didn’t provide much in the way of specifics on AT&T’s exploration into artificial intelligence. He said only that, coupled with the carrier’s work to virtualize its operations through software-defined networking, AI might help automate various processes and thus make the carrier’s systems cheaper to run and more responsive.

AT&T’s interest in AI comes as little surprise; AT&T has been among the first carriers to embrace a number of cutting-edge technologies. For example, the operator expects that fully 75 percent of its network will be virtualized by 2020. AT&T is also deploying wireless network technologies ranging from three-carrier channel aggregation to Voice over LTE technology.

While AT&T is one of the few telecom companies to discuss artificial intelligence, other tech companies have made AI a driving theme. IBM for example continues to push its Watson AI service, while Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others have also discussed how AI might make a major impact across a wide variety of industries.

Indeed, according to Android co-founder Andy Rubin, artificial intelligence might eventually be the key not just to smartphones but to all connected things. "If you have computing that is as powerful as this could be, you might only need one," Rubin said at a conference earlier this year. "It might not be something you carry around; it just has to be conscious."