Many companies have been severely affected by the spread of Coronavirus which has caused an unprecedented shift in consumer behavior and consequently the disruption and subsequent closure of high street stores in towns and cities across the world.
Virgin Media, which employs 12,000 people, continues today to offer some of the most impressive broadband and television packages in the world, however the spread of Coronavirus has been a turning point. As such, the company has decided to disappear from the UK high street, shifting away from (declining) store sales to online and phone sales, according to reports.
In July 2006, NTL Telewest purchased Virgin Mobile UK, creating the first “quadruple-play” media company in the United Kingdom; providing customers with broadband internet access, telephone, television and wireless services across the United Kingdom. It also provides exceptional experiences and on demand entertainment. This makes Virgin Media one of the biggest telecommunications and media players in the UK.
Virgin Media will offer 341employees alternative jobs in customer services and sales, while leaving its 53 stores closed after lockdown ends. Around 300 of the alternative jobs will be in customer care with most workers staying home – after the success of call centre staff who have been working remotely during the lockdown. Another 50 newly created roles will be related to field sales.
According to reports, plans to reduce the number of stores and kiosks it operates from were already put place before the virus. In addition, Virgin Media is speeding up its plans to move away from high street sales as more enquiries come in online and over the phone.
“We are focused on delivering the services customers want, in the ways they want it and at a time and place that suits them,” said Rob Orr, Executive Director at Virgin Media. “By creating new jobs in our most popular care and sales channels, we will be better able to provide our customers with the top service and support they rightly expect while retaining our talented workforce.”
The company is currently in the early stages of a merger with the mobile operator O2 to create a new TV, broadband and mobile powerhouse to challenge BT and Sky.
AI to shape telecom investments in 2021
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.
AI to enhance healthcare system and improve COVID-19 treatment in Britain
The pandemic has shifted the focus regarding many areas in our lives by changing our norms and finding it vital to always search for new ways to improve care, especially as we fight Coronavirus.
While the vaccine is being rolled out around the world in order to fight the virus, artificial intelligence (AI) has also proved to be an effective tool in this scope.
As such, the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) will use AI to help improve the outcome for COVID-19 patients and reduce their time spent in hospital.
Benefits of AI
Before the series of lockdowns began, artificial intelligence is being used extensively in many countries to help detect, diagnose and prevent the spread of the virus.
This new-old method includes algorithms that identify patterns and anomalies that are already working to detect and predict the spread of COVID-19, while image recognition systems are speeding up medical diagnosis.
Some of the ways AI can help medical centers and hospitals are:
- Help identify virus transmission chains and check broader economic impacts. AI technologies demonstrated their potential to deduce epidemiological data more rapidly than traditional reporting of health data, following several cases.
- Institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the OECD (oecd.ai) also included interactive dashboards that track the virus’ spread through live news and real-time data on confirmed coronavirus cases, recoveries, and deaths.
- Artificial intelligence has an early warning system that can help detect epidemiological patterns by digging mainstream news, online content amongst other information channels to provide early warnings related to healthcare networks and data flows.
- Data collection of populations is key to ensuring scalability and accuracy which is followed by rapid diagnosis to limit contagion and understand the disease spread.
AI could help to rapidly diagnose COVID-19 cases by quickly analysing large volumes of research data. This technology’s text and data mining tools can uncover the virus’ history, transmission, and diagnostics, management measures, and lessons from previous epidemics.
Monitor COVID-19 cases
On the other hand, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “The use of artificial intelligence is already beginning to transform patient care by making the NHS a more predictive, preventive, and personalised health and care service.”
Many countries are using population surveillance to monitor COVID-19 cases (In Korea, algorithms use geolocation data, surveillance-camera footage and credit card records to trace coronavirus patients).
In addition, AI imaging database will improve diagnosis of patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, whilst increased speed and accuracy in diagnosis can lead to early medical intervention and save lives.
Contact tracing systems to identify possible infection routes is a method being implemented in many countries such as Austria, China, Poland, Singapore and Korea.
The power of artificial intelligence is employed to treat one of the most crucial health crises that humans are facing and will have a huge potential for future treatments.
WhatsApp delays privacy update until May 15
After a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp announced on Friday that it will push back its privacy update till May 15, the delay is intended to allow users ample time to review the new conditions.
“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a statement.
User backlash was driven further forward due to the spread of misinformation which stated that WhatsApp could now read people’s conversations and other personal data. “There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the statement read.
The controversy around the update instantly 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. That’s 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 saw the previous week.
WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.
Facebook execs, such as Instagram head Adam Mosseri and WhatsApp lead Will Cathcart, attempted to quell the bleeding, as they took to Twitter to clear up the confusion, but with little to no avail.
It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply routed 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.
Since its acquisition by Facebook in 2014, Zuckerberg left WhatsApp to operate as an independent entity, which would take advantage of its parent company’s infrastructure and resources.
That arrangement allowed the instant messaging app to flourish, gaining billions of news users worldwide.
However, the approach has changed over the years, as both of WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left the company in 2018 due to a falling out with the Facebook CEO. Since then, efforts of stitching together messaging services of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have increased, in the hopes of strengthening their e-commerce presence online.
The fact that WhatsApp has, over time, turned its sights on monetizing the platform for its large international user base, has eroded trust in the chat app, which, in turn, has had the effect of turning a relatively mundane update into a worldwide controversy.
While Facebook has doubled down on its mission to combat misinformation on the platform, the furor over WhatsApp’s privacy changes is bitterly ironic, seeing that its hands are tied due to the closed and private nature of the service.
“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms…We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the statement highlighted.
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