The telecommunications industry has been revolutionizing for decades, enabling everything from phones and television to online streaming and self-driving cars. However, this industry has long been considered a driver of evolution in its own business.

A recent survey of more than 400 telecom professionals from around the world found the same cautious tone in how they plan to define and execute their AI strategies.

To paint a more complete picture of how the telecom industry is using artificial intelligence and where it’s headed, NVIDIA unveiled the first Survey “The state of artificial intelligence in telecommunications”. consisted of questions covering a range of AI topics, infrastructure costs, top use cases, biggest challenges and deployment models.

Among the survey participants were heads, managers, developers and IT architects of mobile, fixed and cable companies. The survey was conducted over eight weeks from mid-November 2022 to mid-January 2023.

Dial AI for motivation

The survey results revealed two consistent themes: industry players (73%) see AI as a tool to increase revenue, improve operations and sustainability, or increase customer retention. Despite skepticism about 5G’s potential for revenue, telcos see AI-driven efficiencies as the most likely return on investment.

However, 93% of those asked about implementing AI projects in their companies appear to be significantly underinvesting in AI as a percentage of annual capital expenditures.

About 50% of respondents reported spending less than $1 million on AI projects last year; a year earlier, 60% of respondents said they had spent less than $1 million on AI. Only 3% of respondents will spend more than $50 million on AI in 2022.

The reasons for such cautious spending? About 44% of respondents reported an inability to adequately quantify return on investment, indicating a mismatch between aspirations and the reality of implementing AI-based solutions.

Technical challenges—whether due to a lack of sufficiently skilled personnel or poor infrastructure—also hinder the adoption of AI. Among respondents, 34% cited insufficient numbers of data processing specialists as the second biggest problem. Given that data scientists are sought after across industries, the answer is that the telecommunications industry needs to push harder to attract them.

With 33% of respondents also citing a lack of budget for AI projects, the findings suggest that AI advocates need to work more with decision makers to develop a compelling case for AI adoption.

Similarly, for a technology solution that relies on data, concerns about data availability, processing, privacy and security were critical issues that needed to be addressed, especially in light of data privacy and data residency laws around the world such as GDPR.

Involvement of AI

About 95% of telecom industry respondents said they are involved in AI. But only 34% of respondents reported using AI for more than six months, and 23% said they were still exploring different AI options. Eighteen percent reported being in the trial or pilot phase of an AI project.

For respondents in the testing or implementation phase, a clear majority agreed that it had a positive impact on both revenues and costs. About 73% of respondents reported that the implementation of artificial intelligence led to an increase in revenue in the past year, and 17% noted a revenue increase of more than 10% in certain parts of the business.

Similarly, 80% of respondents reported that implementing AI had reduced annual costs in the past year, with 15% reporting a reduction of more than 10%—again, in specific parts of their business.

AI, AI is everywhere

The telecommunications industry has a deep and multi-layered view of where AI resources can best be allocated: reducing costs, increasing revenue, improving customer experience and improving operational efficiency have been cited as key priorities.

However, in terms of deployment, AI focused on improving work efficiency has emerged as the clear winner. This is to some extent expected as the operational complexity of new telecommunications networks such as 5G lends itself to new solutions such as AI. The industry is responsible for critical national infrastructure in each country, supports more than 5 billion customer endpoints and is expected to consistently deliver over 99% reliability. Telecom companies have also discussed AI-enabled solutions for network operations, planning of cell sites, truck route optimization and machine learning data analysiswith. To improve customer interactions, some use recommendation engines, virtual assistants, and digital avatars.

In the near term, the focus is on building a more efficient telecommunications infrastructure and opening up new opportunities for profit, especially with partners.

The trick will be to move from early testing to widespread adoption.

Download “State of Artificial Intelligence in Telecommunications: Trends 2023” to get detailed results and statistics.

Learn more about how telecom companies are using AI optimize work and improve interaction with customers.