Mobile World Congress was, as ever, an interesting and educational experience this year, featuring some novel technologies that provided a sense of what life could be like in future. Robots, for example, were everywhere, thrusting their advice and offers of help upon you as you walked between halls.
The event has always been something of a festival of acronyms, and this year was no exception, although the terms now causing most interest have undergone a sea change compared to only a few years ago. 4G barely gets a look-in these days, for example, as 5G, AI, AR, VR and others dominate keynotes and conference agendas.
Momentum is certainly gathering behind 5G, but concerns and doubts still persist with regard to future use cases for this latest generation of mobile technology. Nevertheless, operators are making firmer statements on when they expect to launch commercial services, and many clearly expect 5G to solve capacity issues in the early stages before more innovative use cases come along.
Perhaps one of the standout themes at MWC was artificial intelligence or AI, which seems to have moved beyond the hype and into the realms of what could actually be possible. That’s partly because of advances in computing power, the emergence of big data — and some massive investments by major industry players.
One of the biggest concerns with AI — certainly a concern that produces the greatest amount of mainstream media coverage — is that AI and robots will put us all out of a job. Why employ ten people to do a job that a robot can do on its own? Why use humans to solve customer service problems when you’ve got a virtual assistant instead?
For sure, developments such as voice-based digital assistants are a big focus for telecoms operators right now — and with good reason. Indeed, some keynoters at MWC called on operators to take “immediate action” on the development of AI-powered voice services, warning that technology giants, including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google, are stepping on mobile operator toes by forming their own relationships with mobile customers through their digital assistants.
We would agree that operators should be taking action here. To be sure, maintaining a customer service management tool without a recommendation engine to automate the process is laborious and error prone. Technologies such as sentiment analysis and natural language processing (NLP) technology are important elements in any customer service management tool.
But we at Etiya have long emphasised that it will also be crucial to retain the human touch in any customer service environment. A robot should not be running everything; instead we should use a combination of autonomous machines and a hybrid/human enrichment mode. In this way, humans are able to enrich the data and the learning experience, and guide the recommendation programme to a successful outcome.
Perhaps this hybrid model can apply in other scenarios too, as industries begin to embrace the advantages that greater automation can bring. In the world of telecoms, it will be interesting to see the extent to which operators will invest in AI, and in which environments it will be deployed. More should be revealed by the next MWC. Who knows what robots could be up to by then.