Entering the Age of Intelligent Connectivity

This week at Mobile World Congress, two technology developments will be front and centre and they are setting the stage for our mobile future: 5G and artificial intelligence (AI).

The mobile industry continues to make strong progress with 5G. Most of the 5G pioneers are planning their commercial launches for 2018 and 2019, including South Korea, the US and the UAE. GSMA Intelligence estimates that by 2025, there will be 1.2 billion 5G connections worldwide, with 5G networks covering approximately 40 per cent of the global population by that time.

I recently had the opportunity to see the first pre-standard deployments of 5G firsthand at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Developments in 5G era technologies and solutions delivered a 360-degree, immersive on-site video experience to spectators. It was a very impressive demonstration of the technology and a harbinger of the developments to come.

Artificial intelligence is another exciting new area of innovation, fuelled by the availability of high-speed connectivity, the mass-market adoption of smartphones and the power of machine learning. AI will deliver a new category of products and services, many of which will not be tied to existing devices.

We’re already seeing AI in use for virtual agents and chatbots across a number of channels including the web, in apps or on messaging platforms, such as Rich Communications Services (RCS). Of course, we are already familiar with AI-based virtual assistants, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, to name just two.

But the impact of AI goes beyond us as individuals – it is transforming industries. Self-driving cars are a great example, where AI will help to process the enormous quantities of data gathered, making critical decisions in a fraction of a second. AI also supports business transformation across many dimensions, including devices, networks and services.

Introducing Intelligent Connectivity
To be truly life-changing, though, artificial intelligence requires hyper-connectivity, offering ultra-high speed and ultra-low latency. These two megatrends, combined, are ushering in a new era for our industry – an era of ‘intelligent connectivity’. This era will be defined by highly contextualised and personalised experiences, delivered as and when you want them.

Personal assistants of the future will understand our every need and will have a deep understanding of our environment and surroundings. They will be able to better understand the context of our requests, and provide us with information and services that greatly enhance our lives. Conversation-driven AI assistants could replace the screens that dominate our lives today, and looking ahead to the future, conversational technology will continue to improve, helping to bring robots into the mainstream, working hand-in-hand with our virtual assistants.

For industry, billions of inexpensive connected sensors and cameras will provide streams of real-time data, providing information on practically aspect of an operation. Using massive processing power and storage, this data can be processed and acted upon in real time to drive improvements in areas such as industrial automation systems, factory operations, security systems, agriculture, traffic and transportation, to name a few.

The collection of data and the application of AI will lead to great advances for society. The GSMA’s Big Data for Social Good initiative is a great example of the impact that intelligent connectivity will have on society. We launched the initiative last year and the early results of the trials underway demonstrate encouraging progress.

For instance, in Brazil, Telefónica has been using the Big Data for Social Good model to address air pollution in São Paulo. It is now possible to predict pollution problems up to two days before they happen, allowing the city to take precautions to protect public health. And in India, Big Data for Social Good has been backed by the World Health Organisation and the ITU, which are working with Bharti Airtel to monitor human movement patterns to limit the spread of tuberculosis.

But, of course, to unleash the full power of intelligent connectivity we need a regulatory environment that is fit for the digital age, one that fosters innovation and spurs investment. This will include the timely release of harmonised spectrum with the right conditions, but perhaps more importantly, the application of same regulation for equivalent digital services and the ability to harmonise international privacy and data protection rules. Without these elements, we will not be able to fully leverage the capabilities of connectivity, big data and artificial intelligence, which are crucial to the development of a rich and vibrant digital economy.

 At Mobile World Congress this week, the future of mobile is clear: it’s not just about connectivity, but intelligent connectivity and how this will impact individuals, society, industries and the world’s economy.