In the next few years, mobile network operators might be using artificial intelligence to put the right infrastructure in the right place, according to research conducted by Bain & Company. Wireless infrastructure has an important place within the universe of mobile network infrastructure, which also includes a core switched network for voice calls and text, a packet switched network for mobile data and the public switched telephone network to connect subscribers to the wider telephony network. Wireless infrastructure includes the radio base stations, antennas and their support structures, and cables and optical fiber that connect antennas, base stations and network cores.
According to IBM Cloud Education, at its simplest form, artificial intelligence combines computer science and robust datasets to enable problem solving. It also encompasses machine learning and deep learning, which are frequently mentioned in conjunction with artificial intelligence, IBM’s description reads. These disciplines are composed of AI algorithms that seek to create expert systems that make predictions or classifications based on input data, IBM said.
Bain & Company said it expects 5G to enter the mainstream during the next five years, gaining popularity through accelerated deployment by telecommunications companies, affordable handsets and other major uses for the technology. According to its analysis, the firm expects the adoption of 5G to be faster in its first seven years — 2018 to 2025 — than the adoption of 4G in the seven years following its market debut in 2009.
Research from Bain & Company shows that the number of 5G connections worldwide will triple from less than 700 million today to more than 2.1 billion by 2025. The company said that this strong momentum reflects heavy operator investment in 5G infrastructure, a gradual expansion of 5G use cases and a global hunger for data connectivity, which it said has increasingly surged during the pandemic. Yet, despite this insurgence, many telecommunications companies still struggle to reap the full rewards that 5G has to offer, the company said.
A telecommunications company that uses artificial intelligence in its 5G rollout could develop a differentiated capability for putting the right infrastructure in the right place, with surgical precision and at dizzying scale, Bain & Company said.
“For instance, one major return on investment challenge with 5G stems from the spectrum bands that the technology uses,” the company said. “5G’s higher-frequency signals do not travel as far or penetrate buildings as well as the lower-frequency signals used by 4G, requiring operators to deploy as many as 100 times the number of cells used by 4G for their 5G services. Artificial intelligence can help solve this engineering conundrum, and one of the sector’s toughest challenges, by accelerating decisions from months and weeks to days and minutes, with a precision and scale that exceeds what is humanly possible.”
To what extent artificial intelligence would make decisions on behalf of mobile network operators for site selection speaks to the level of the technology. IBM cites two classifications: weak and strong. Today’s artificial intelligence is called weak, which IBM said is a misnomer — it would be better to call it narrow. Narrow artificial intelligence, IBM said, is the level that enables autonomous vehicles.
Strong artificial intelligence is entirely theoretical with no practical examples in use today, IBM said. It said that one form of strong artificial intelligence would have intelligence equal to humans. This form would have a self-aware consciousness with an ability to solve problems, learn, and plan for the future, IBM said.
Darryn Lowe, a leader in Bain & Company’s Communications, Media and Entertainment practice, said that even digitally native telecommunications companies are not immune to the complexities brought by 5G adoption, particularly if they still rely on a labor-intensive workflow.
“In the coming years,” he said, “winning telcos will be operators that use 5G and other high-stakes business areas as a proving ground for the deeper artificial intelligence capabilities they’ll need to gain to remain competitive.”
Today’s problem would not necessarily be tomorrow’s problem. However, the problem employers face these days in filling job openings might lead to surprising uses of artificial intelligence in the world of deciding where to place 5G wireless infrastructure, from towers to small cells to closely spaced millimeter-wave access points.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.