The Evolution of Telecom

By Darryl Hawkins, Senior Vice President – West Region Network Engineering Organization, T-Mobile

The Telecommunication industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, with consistent change driving the sector forward. From the early days of landline phones to the current state of 5G technology, telecom connectivity has evolved rapidly. The industry has moved from copper lines to fiber optics and from 1G to 5G, with 6G already on the horizon. Each generation of connectivity has brought new opportunities, improved voice and data connections, and paved the way for smartphones and advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). 

Advancements in connectivity over the years have allowed for an increased level of communication between devices. 1G laid the foundation, allowing for the first wireless communication between devices. 2G built on this, allowing for SMS, while 3G provided high-speed internet capabilities which paved the way for smartphones as well as WIFI Calling. 4G improved the experience even further, allowing for HD video calling. Now, with 5G, the opportunities are endless, providing high throughput and low latency, which is vital for the growth of future technologies. Companies are now focused on leveraging strategic uses of AI and ML. There is broad alignment across investors and executives that technology investments are not a cost center but a way to continue to focus on monetization, specifically after the tech vulnerabilities exposed during the pandemic. As network and products converge and for large telecom operators, we are making bets on being cost/efficiency focused, experience-centric, or ecosystem players. AI use cases specific to each bet can help hypercharge and leapfrog competition. 

Automation partnering with AI at the Core will lead to a lean mindset. One benefit of AI is leveraging processes that can lead to improved Customer Experience. Focusing on the core can cut across the entire operations of a telco. The commitment is to design a network that can get companies closer to zero downtime and the most intelligent network vision. It’s imperative to create a predictive maintenance model that can help to isolate network concerns. AI currently provides predictive and preventative maintenance; however, in the future, it could scale operations to support strategic network architecture with 100 times the number of network elements that are interchangeable and fully redundant (i.e., Open Ran).  AI is also helping with workforce allocation and scheduling although, in the future it will help to create a flexible gig economy style marketplace for talent from all sources. 

AI can help improve customer experience, predictive maintenance, and workforce allocation. Advancements in technology, like AI, can help operators become cost/efficiency focused, experience-centric or ecosystem players.

Leading Engineering teams at T-Mobile responsible for deploying, building, and maintaining the nation’s largest 5G network has provided a deep understanding of the superior capabilities of 5G. Our success in 5G coverage leadership can be attributed to our disruptive spectrum strategy, which has revolutionized the 5G paradigm. Our multi-layered approach, with mid-band as our core asset, sets us apart from competitors. We have prudently formed and tested all bands, and our quest for spectrum assets has resulted in unmatched mid-band spectrum holdings of 327 MHz, allowing us to deliver exceptional speed and coverage. T-Mobile has consistently demonstrated extraordinary prudence – we are often 1st in the world at technologies/features – VOLTE, VONR, Stand Alone, etc. with respect to 5G technology. By pursuing the world’s top pace and reach of 5G standalone architecture, we have been able to dissolve our reliance on LTE. This has allowed us to both outpace and redefine the development speed across the global ecosystem. Our leading pace on VoNR (Voice over New Radio) and Converged Core has been vital to this achievement. We are encouraged by our triumphs and look forward to continued advancement in this field. 

So, what’s next? Although, telecoms are still in the deployment phase of 5G globally, conversations are being started regarding the next generation of this innovation 6G. This next evolution promises to deliver seamless, omnipresent wireless intelligence. With significant studies and research underway the 6G journey has started and is slated to become available in the beginning of the 2030’s. The Internet of Senses has been promoted by Ericsson for a while now, and although the concept isn’t new, the strategy regarding 6G capabilities is unique. The concept leverages IoS and moves into an ecosystem that includes taste, smell, sight, touch, sound, and mind. IoS promises an augmented digital experience that will allow users to use their senses to get them closer to their everyday physical world. The immersive communication of 6G will deliver the full telepresence experience, removing distance as a barrier to interaction. One example is the ubiquitous use of mixed reality in public transport, offering separate virtual experiences for each passenger, enabling them to run virtual errands, get XR guidance, and have games overlaid on the physical world.

 It is essential to leverage strategic uses of AI and ML in the telecommunication industry. AI can help improve customer experience, predictive maintenance, and workforce allocation. Advancements in technology, like AI, can help operators become cost/efficiency focused, experience-centric or ecosystem players. One of the benefits of AI and ML is its ability to manage large amounts of data. Traditional methods of sifting through data can be time-consuming and ineffective. However, AI and ML can quickly analyze and process vast amounts of information. This can help businesses make more informed decisions and improve efficiency. It’s truly remarkable what these technologies can achieve.

The telecom industry has undergone massive changes in the past 100 years and with future innovations on the horizon possibilities are endless! As companies compete for the latest technology that can give them an edge in growth, the potential for transformation is inevitable. As Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning evolve, companies must plan carefully on how to use and implement the technology. As the US leads the way in rolling out 5G, there will be a challenge to keep up with our global speed advantage while meeting the needs of an ever-demanding ecosystem!