Yang Jie, chairman of China Telecom, laid out his vision for the future of telecom providers yesterday at the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai. He believes the next logical stage for a connected society is to use smart services to go beyond the boundaries of the human mind.
Jie pointed to three main phases of societal evolution. First, the agrarian civilization, where humans developed tools for sowing and reaping crops. Then came the Industrial Revolution, from the 17th century onwards, where the steam engine was invented. Man became dependent on machines for production in this era, but was able to exceed his physical limits by using them.
Now we are in the information age, where society has undergone a huge transformation. Already we are seeing huge leaps in artificial intelligence (AI), such as the defeat of a professional human player by computer program AlphaGo earlier this year. Jie sees this as the third stage of AI evolution starting with computing (code that simulates human calculations) to sensing (reading and recognizing data) and now to cognition (thinking and operating).
According to Jie, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has been able to deliver machine cognition for a few years now. So has IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), with its diagnosis tools that can present multiple treatment plans for patients in 17 seconds, based on their records and test results.
Jie described the requirements of this age as "3c+d=I." The three "c" are computing, connections and conversation, and the d is for data. This equals the intelligence required for decision making. Jie equates this to the five senses used by humans to make decisions.
For China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) to grow substantially in the coming years, Jie believes the operator has to focus on this 3c+d formula. He believes that pure ICT services will not get them there. He points out that China Telecom started life as a fixed-line operator but has evolved over the past 11 years adding services and nearly doubling its annual revenue. But now, to keep up growth it must become an "integrated intelligent information provider," focused on providing intelligent services.
He defines intelligent services as cloud computing, big data, IoT, AI and the mobile Internet. In order to be successful with these services, Jie sees three major steps China Telecom needs to take.
Firstly, it must embrace SDN, virtualization and standardized hardware. Secondly, it needs to consolidate its data systems and create efficient and intelligent data collection and mining tools. And, lastly, it needs "multiple terminal cross-border convergence," so that all devices can interact intelligently, from smartphones to IoT terminals, smart home gateways and so on.
Jie went from the very abstract to the fairly specific in his presentation, but the clear theme was to focus on developing an intelligent network where the smarts would be in the software running on commoditized hardware. In that sense, he echoed every operator looking at virtualization and SDN. However, he was a little different in that he didn't once reference applications/services themselves; there was no talk of IPTV or the bundle etc. His focus is on the network and on getting it to be as smart as possible rather than focusing on revenues lost to OTT providers or launching new services.
To me, he seemed to be saying that networks should become about personalized interactions that facilitate whatever humans want to do by interpreting historical data. In a sense, the network becomes a guide, using statistics to provide recommendations and automated functions to help us go about our lives in more efficient and rewarding ways.
Sounds a bit like Yoda's brain in C3PO's body, and who wouldn't be up for that?
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation