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AI to shape telecom investments in 2021

Inside Telecom Staff

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As the world came to a screeching halt due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the tech world adopted a full steam ahead approach

This has rapidly pushed technological advancements to the forefront.

Everything from augmented reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and the like were propelled forward and began integration within our lives.

While the pandemic heavily impacted service providers’ spending plans, technology never stopped, and several key areas of telecom IT will demand attention in 2021.

Overall, telecom IT vendor revenue is expected to grow by 2.3 percent in 2021, a welcome improvement on this year’s anticipated 0.6 percent decline although still below 4 percent CAGR for the period 2025, according to a study by Omdia.

While telcos took notes of the on-going tech developments and participated some, they found themselves keen on the prospect of adding AI within their systems to better optimize the way they deliver their services.

In parallel, the broader AI industry is witnessing a migration of AI to the edge. For example, the edge AI training and inference market for chipset sales is expected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2020 to $10.7 billion in 2025, at a CAGR of 35 percent. 

Omdia’s research indicates that 80 percent of service providers see the use of AI and analytics, when it comes to the automation of network activities, as an “important” or “very important” IT project for 2021. Nearly 60 percent of them are planning to increase investment in AI tools.

AI presents telcos with the ability to shed human-intensive networks in favor of an intelligence-driven ecosystem, in order to go along with the ongoing quest to drive new growth, the report added.

Latecomers, telecoms are actively expanding the utilization of AI/Machine Learning (ML) beyond merely digitizing internal and external interactions. “Many Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are already on a journey to become augmented service providers where AI augments human decision making for prediction, analysis, and new revenues,” Don Alusha, Senior Analyst at ABI Research, said in the report.

An example of this could be seen by the changes made by Japan’s Rakuten, who renamed its Network Operations Centers (NOCs) to Service Experience Centers (SECs) as it implements extreme automation for self-aware networks.

In addition, Spanish telecom giant Telefónica established a new wing called Telefónica Tech Ventures which plans to incubate new growth based on AI/ML, cloud, and IoT/Big Data, as well as cybersecurity.

“AI/ML capabilities enable the industry to leverage IT-oriented nimbleness and scale as they seek to manage the complexities of today’s networks and establish new commercial models,” Alusha added.

The integration of AI/ML within these industries will aid existing asset-intensive environments where cost of goods sold, inventory turns, managing factories, and supply chain are the area of focus and success.

In parallel, the Omdia report suggested that service providers should make “targeted use of AI to better orchestrate customer journeys, as well as invest in well integrated central data repositories and robust data management capabilities.”

In the new world of cloud, AI/ML, and software, tech providers do not manufacture a product and sell it, the report highlighted.

“They sell a capability. They sell knowledge. They create it at the same time they deliver it. The business model is different and so are the economics. DriveNets, Enea Openwave, Ericsson, HPE, and Nokia are some vendors among many others that are building software-centric ways of marketing and selling solutions. The point is that AI/ML-based platforms are re-shaping existing commercial models. The winners will be those who act decisively and thoughtfully,” Alusha explained.

According to ABI Research, the consistent and continuous maturity and development of AI/ML will pave the way to enable new value creation in CSPs’ journey in becoming digital service providers.

“Technology is a key pillar of that journey, but there are other key dimensions, that if not considered part of the overall digitalization journey, may limit CSPs’ ability to capture the full value at stake,” the report added.

Under that pretense, change management is considered vital to the alteration, since it represents the bulk of the effort to push for new ways of working and conducting business.

ABI Research found that CSPs who are investing in AI/ML-based platforms must take into consideration the root of efficiency will be derived from knowledge sharing and embracing open platforms where APIs and data can be easily accessed.

Alusha stressed that AI/ML, big data and open APIs offer agility and the ability to drive innovation and enable faster and better decision making.

Consequently, CSPs must realize that the new world in cellular must start with a foundation on software and API-led connectivity.

“The ability to harness the power of software platforms and AI/ML is bound to be a defining feature of CSPs of the future. This may well mean that, in addition to bolting on software and intelligent capabilities, CSPs need to learn how to build them as cloud-edges, Open RAN, and 5G core proliferate in the ecosystem,” Alusha concludes.

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South Africa bars WhatsApp from sharing private user data with Facebook

Yehia El Amine

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private user data

South Africa’s Information Regulator (IR) barred Facebook Inc. from sharing any information it collects from WhatsApp users in the country without prior authorization from the regulator, Reuters reported on Thursday.

“WhatsApp cannot, without obtaining prior authorization from the IR, process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies,” the regulator said.

The regulator added that its decision was in accordance with section 57 of the Protection of Personal Information Act, South Africa’s data protection law. The agency also said that it has written to Facebook South Africa outlining its concerns regarding its privacy policy.

The IR is also “very concerned” that citizens of the EU will receive significantly higher privacy protection than people in South Africa and Africa generally.

“Our legislation is very similar to that of the EU. It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions,” Chairperson of the IR Pansy Tlakula said.

“We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa,” she said.

According to Reuters, WhatsApp is currently reviewing the regulator’s letter while downplaying the privacy update, suggesting that it “does not expand the company’s ability to share data with Facebook, or affect the privacy of users’ messages with friends or family.”

Earlier in January, the popular instant messaging app announced a change in its privacy terms and conditions that would allow parent company, Facebook, to collect users’ data from the app such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, product interaction, payment info, crash, performance, and other diagnostic data, customer support, and metadata.

However, after a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp pushed back the update till May 15 to allow users ample time to review the new conditions. The controversy spread worldwide, as many users began to migrate to rival alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. Representing a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week.

Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it experienced the previous week.

South Africa joins the line of countries expressing concern over the use of private user data, such as India – a key market for WhatsApp – who asked the company to withdraw the new update from the country.

In parallel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan completely dropped the app as a presidential communication tool in favor of homegrown instant messaging app BiP.

Many Turkish citizens also called for the boycott of the app on Twitter, using the hashtag #DeletingWhatsApp.

Even the head of the Turkish Presidential Digital Transformation Office, Ali Taha Koc, took to Twitter to voice his criticism over the instant messaging app’s privacy policy, and the exemption from the new data-sharing rules for users in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply rooted problem of trust, or lack thereof.

Facebook has a notorious track record when it comes to digital privacy, to the extent of which its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently testified in front of the U.S. Congress and EU Parliament for that matter.

While the company has clarified time and again that the update will not affect users when talking to friends and family, many refuse to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.

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Soul App provides a glimpse into a wave of AI-powered social networking

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Of the various social networking apps that have made it easier to stay connected amid the pandemic, one of the social platforms that stands out is Soul App; a Shanghai-based application has recently come to North America, Japan, and South Korea.

The latest trend, such the fast-growing Clubhouse app highlights an emerging social media trend featuring technology-driven social platforms. Yet it still uses the basic model as Facebook, which involves circles of friends, with the distinction that Clubhouse requires only an invitation from an existing member to join the Club.

A social platform that is a little bit different is veteran, Soul App, launched in 2016 which would make it something of an antique, but for the fact it kept its backroom tech updated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) matching of members.

SOUL has benefited from the technological tide of the increasingly matured tech of big data and AI, a trend that helps transform social networking products.

“At a time when Internet-based technologies have penetrated every nook and cranny of life – and social life in particular – nearly 90 percent of Gen Z surveyed want to expand the ways they socialize,” SOUL said in a statement.

This was highlighted in Soul’s Generation Z’s Social Life Report.

SOUL noted that “most social networks fail to move away from the traditional model centered on pre-existing social circles putting younger users under social pressure who would otherwise express themselves freely and honestly.”

Albeit, with slow growth, the AI-powered social networking app has become quite popular, with more than 100 million registered users, and more than 30 million monthly active users, making it the top five most downloaded free social networking apps on the China App Store.

Unlike Chinese dating apps competitors Momo and Tantan, SOUL offers an alternative to superficial swipe culture. By taking profile pictures out of the equation, the Chinese dating app helps its Gen Z users find matches based on common interests, Jing Daily reported.

The AI-powered social networking platform offers users an “explore” feature to post personal statuses and to browse through other people’s posts. The simplicity of the platform’s interface is the main reason for its popularity. Additionally, the application has become a social media hub based on an algorithm-based recommendation system. 

The speedy algorithm-enabled interaction models cater to young people’s social needs. As the younger generation falls into the habit of spending fragmented, sporadic time online, their desire to seek a lifelong friend has been replaced by the pursuit of temporary, but equally meaningful, companionship. 

SOUL also uses a decentralized content distribution mechanism that balances popularity and matching influences, so that everyone’s contents can be fairly viewed and shared with reduced interference on traffic distribution for users and their posts.

On SOUL, users can tag their posted contents to define their topics of interested and enable their contents to reach others with the same interests and hobbies, including music, literature, history, movies and games, according to the company.

Users can strike up a conversation about shared interests or play online games as a team. In this regard, SOUL capitalizes on its accurate and efficient recommendation system to build a “wonderland” of freedom, openness, and enjoyment as a path for its users to have pleasant companionship 24/7, which betrays the core secret of Soul app’s exponential growth.

“The app’s algorithm-enabled friend recommendation system Planet and personalized content feeds allow users to spot someone after their own hearts,” SOUL said in a statement.

Specifically, Soulers can tap their Planet to make matches and interact directly with their friends through various features including Audio Call and Soul Cam.

There is no swiping left or right as is familiar the world over with user of such dating apps as Tinder, instead users look for comonality.

“They can  find potential like-minded friends as they scroll through intriguing posts made by others, where shared interests lead to blossoming friendships,” SOUL said.

Predictably, amid the deeper integration of new technologies and social networking services, stress-free and interest-based social networks represented by the Soul app are set to play an ever-important role down the road.

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New device to help protect athletes from traumatic brain injury

Karim Hussami

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traumatic brain injury

A new device that could help reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury during head impacts was given approval this week by the Food and Drug Administration. The device is authorized for athletes 13 and older, and can be used during football, soccer and other high-impact sports.

The device is intended to protect athletes from sub concussive injuries, by protecting the internal jugular veins, thereby increasing the volume of blood to vessels of the skull.

The additional blood restricts the movement of the brain inside the skull. As the brain moves less, it may be protected from the negative effects of the “slosh” movement that occurs in unprotected athletes who suffer heavy impacts to the head.

The C-shaped device, called the Q-Collar, fits around the back and side of the neck. It works by clamping compressive protection on blood vessels in the neck.

A CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) analysis found 2 million children visited emergency departments because of TBI sustained during sports and recreation activities from 2010 to 2016.

TBI can have emotional, physiological and cognitive effects, while negative health outcomes can stem from sub concussive injuries that alter tissue but do not cause diagnosed concussion.

The researchers used advanced imaging techniques to look at changes in the brains of nearly 300 study participants before and after the season. They found changes in deep structures of the brain in 73 percent of participants in the no-collar group, while no significant changes in these same structures were found in 77 percent of participants in the collar group.

Carolina Panthers’ Linebacker Luke Kuechly, who retired at 28 after suffering a series of head injuries, was seen wearing the Q-Collar in his final seasons with the NFL.

“Today’s action provides an additional piece of protective equipment athletes can wear when playing sports to help protect their brains from the effects of repetitive head impacts while still wearing the personal protective equipment associated with the sport,” said Dr. Christopher M. Loftus, acting director of the Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

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