AI in the network ‘will help the network become autonomous’
Big Interview

AI in the network ‘will help the network become autonomous’

Alex Wangyufeng.jpg

Alex Wang of Huawei’s Wireless X Labs says carriers have to simplify their networks and optimise them for people’s connections. The most challenging issues are broadband issues, he tells James Pearce

Why are telecoms vendors investing billions in developing future technology? Microsoft founder Bill Gates put it accurately: “I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and learn the basic facts.”

Among these vendors is Chinese company Huawei, which launched its X Labs division in 2016.

So what is Huawei’s Wireless X Labs? It looks at use cases for innovative new technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) and 5G. And it bring, together the operators, vertical industry partners and industry leaders to jointly drive innovation in business and technology.

Speaking to Capacity, X Labs CEO Alex Wang says the goal of the division is to promote an open industry ecosystem to discuss cutting-edge technologies, such as AI, cloud and IoT.

“The digital world and the physical world are becoming more connected because of AI and the cloud. AI will be everywhere, but this will run on the cloud. How can we introduce AI with me, with everyone, so it can instantly process data with no latency?”

At a briefing in Huawei’s office in London, Wang – who is usually based in China – demonstrates three examples of projects Huawei is working on. These are in autonomous vehicles, cloud-based AI and virtual reality.

What I want to know is what the demands for this kind of work will be on the underlying network. Are we ready for these cutting-edge processes? Or does the carrier community need to up its game? 

He replies by pointing to a need to simplify the network. “Through the whole networks there are so many issues to resolve. But what we propose is a simple network idea. We want in future to simplify the carrier network and optimise it for people’s connections.” 

This, at least in part, reflects a change in the core purpose of telecoms networks. We’ve already seen the main uses of networks change from voice calls to data, but this is, for the moment at least, primarily driven by the individual user.

The internet of things will generate a staggering 400 zettabytes (ZB) of data a year by 2018, according to a report from Cisco. A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes. This is up from 113.4ZB in 2013.

Wang adds: “In the future, 99% of the network will be used by things – by cars, by robots, by drones, by aeroplanes. So we need to totally rethink and re-optimise the whole network. So we call it ‘simplify IoT’.” 

He is discussing the bits behind Huawei’s wireless technology – the bits the vendor is working on with carriers and other vendors in order to optimise, to make sure the connected world it envisages has the infrastructure in place to work. 

He says: “This is a broadband network, not a narrowband network. Much of IoT is going to be supported by narrowband IoT but the most challenging network issues are broadband issues. We are focussing on these challenges and, step-by-step, by focussing on the core and transit networks, and the backbone and transmission, we can optimise all of this to overcome these issues. Also we have different milestones for different network elements. But ultimately we need to optimise the entire network.”

The last question is how this will happen and the answer is simple, says Wang. Automation, AI and making networks smart and innovative enough that they can overcome the challenges brought about by a greater volume of complex data.

He concludes: “We believe automated networks plays a key role in improving networks. Take autonomous vehicles – we propose the idea of an autonomous network. If there is an issue, the network should identify it itself. This is why Huawei is sternly focussed on AI in the network. But it helps the network become autonomous.”