BBWF webinar says ISPs can learn from telco buzzword blunders

Speakers during a webinar hosted by the Broadband World Forum trade show started speaking our language this week, with two industry experts taking turns to shred apart the jargon commonly used in discussions around network buzzwords – while aiming to provide a framework for avoiding falling into the easy trap of misleading customers.

This was ironic considering the webinar was marketed as a fixed broadband network webinar hence our attendance, but it quickly transpired to be a heavily mobile network-focused presentation focused on debunking easy targets like 5G and AI. However, the warnings do overlap.

Broadband service providers can learn from the mistakes of telcos when it comes to buzzword syndrome, with speakers slamming the telco sector for over-engineering and having a propensity towards perfection while remaining innately monopolistic in behavior. On the contrary, internet service providers are often guilty of under-engineering, while providing a multitude of solutions only some of which actually work, according to Director of Hjul Consulting, Paul Hjul.

Once Hjul was quite finished bashing telcos the world over for harmful behavior as a result of over-engineering, Orange’s SVP of Digital Innovation, Patrice Slupowski, entered to take a crack at traversing artificial intelligence in supporting the digital transformation of operators. He began by breaking AI down into what he views as only four domains – natural language processing (i.e. digital assistants), computer vision (i.e. self-driving cars), games with well-known rules (i.e. Go), and data pattern and correlation identification (i.e. data used in trading). These are really application domains. Machine learning comes into all of them, as does knowledge to varying degrees.

Our heart sank when the phrase “AI is the new UI” flashed across the webinar screen. Thankfully, Slupowski intervened swiftly before he too fell afoul of buzzword syndrome. “I still have strong doubts that AI is close to achieving anything in the areas I mentioned, with the exception of games,” he said, referencing of course the infamous crumbling of 18-time world champion Go player Lee Sedol to Google’s DeepMind computer program in 2016.

In danger of veering off topic, Slupowski dropped in Djingo, Orange’s perpetually delayed smart speaker and AI-powered assistant developed in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, although frustratingly could only say Djingo would be launching “soon.”

Circling back briefly to 5G, Hjul was eager to view the technology from a more holistic perspective. He claimed that while arguments focus on 5G networks enabling lower latency and higher bandwidth, above all else it introduces a situation where it isn’t possible for telcos to avoid participation in a wider ecosystem – implying 5G will enable applications and industries far and wide. And while we have previously pledged to avoid covering 5G until it enables anything genuinely innovative in the video space, this sentiment of a wider ecosystem indeed offers a promising prospect.

“It’s no longer enough to just have a great network. Consumers do not want to be in a position where they feel like they are in a dystopian situation,” argued Hjul, suggesting that sometimes, just sometimes, buzzwords are a necessary evil and perhaps we should cut some companies a little slack. However, he didn’t reserve quite the same sympathy for operators jumping into 5G early, criticizing telcos in his home country of South Africa for being on the precipice of falling off the wagon.

The Gigabit Realities: disaggregating fact from fiction was the first in a series of webinars leading up to BBWF in Amsterdam in mid-October. It didn’t get off to a particularly great start.