Distributed data and AI are opportunities for carriers

Jouko Ahvenainen/Grow VC Group
Vision 2019

Blockchain and AI will be important technologies in 2019, and they develop beyond the initial hype stage to real business cases. They also offer significant new opportunities for telcos that have huge ‘distributed’ networks and are near the customers.

Development is fast and carriers need technology partners to catch these opportunities.

Blockchain and AI can be the most significant new technologies in the mobile and internet during the next five years. They can change many internet services, and even the fundamental structures and business models of the current internet services; from very centralized services to much more distributed models.

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Let’s focus just on a few opportunities of those technologies for telcos:

  1. Distributed AI solutions, e.g., consumer has AI solutions at home and work to assist in work, make shopping and control things.
  2. Consumers get better control on their own data. 
  3. Blockchain solutions especially for smart contracts and mutual agreements and settlements.

Professor Mahadev Satyanarayanan from Carnegie Mellon University made a strong case at MWC2018 for edge computing and how its time is now. Wikipedia defines edge computing as “a method of optimizing cloud computing systems by performing data processing at the edge of the network, near the source of the data. Reasons to use this local AI is especially bandwidth, latency, privacy, and availability.”

Carriers have an excellent opportunity to have a major role in these local AI and edge technologies and businesses. All devices are linked to carrier’s network and the carriers are in a position to offer services to each consumer near them. But carriers should find a business model to do this, rather than try to do everything themselves.

This has been a year of data breach and privacy scandals. Consumers have also started to see the data in a new way, although attitude changes always take some time. Companies have also had such serious issues that they are starting to realize that data is not only asset, it is also a liability. The time when all companies just tried to collect all data and trade it is over.

Utilizing blockchain

The industry is now seeing a lot of development of totally new data solutions, where consumers and businesses can really own and manage their own data. Many of these utilize blockchain. Carriers can carve out a good position also in this data model disruption when they can offer these new solutions and even storage models for each consumer.

In a way carriers missed the chance to adopt business models that really utilize data, as Google, Amazon and Facebook have done, but now this can be to their benefit. They have more credibility to offer new solutions. But again, the carriers should not do this alone, but with the right technology partners.

Smart contracts can be a more important outcome from blockchain than cryptocurrencies. It is an area where telcos can really offer new solutions to consumers and businesses, but also utilize them for their own business. This can really enable digitization of many services, and mean huge savings in IT and back office costs. It can start from telco’s own customer care and billing systems and end with new ways to also offer financial services to customers.

A challenge for telcos has been often that they try to make too much inhouse. In the services mentioned above, telcos should really take a role to orchestrate the ecosystem with open APIs and truly multiparty open framework. It is also fundamental that telcos have a business model that not only defines how they make money from the ecosystem, but the model also motivates all other parties to invest in and develop the ecosystem. Telcos have destroyed too many previous business opportunities by trying to get too large share to themselves and control everything too much. It is now time to orchestrate things in a new way with these new opportunities.

Jouko Ahvenainen is chairman and co-founder of Grow VC Group

 This article first appeared in Telecom Asia Vision 2019 Supplement

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