Earlier this month, Norwegian telco Telenor teamed up with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and research organization SINTEF to open the doors on a new artificial intelligence lab.
The lab, which is based at NTNU's campus in Trondheim, Norway, will conduct research on theory and methods within machine learning as well as pursue applied research at an international level. (See Telenor Backs Artificial Intelligence R&D Center.)
The ultimate aim is the creation of new artificial intelligence (AI) products, services, business and workplaces that will benefit Norwegian society while propelling the country into one of the worldwide leaders in the field. (See Telenor Throws Support for AI, Big Data Into Norway Lab.)
Telenor ASA (Nasdaq: TELN) is kicking in 50 million Norwegian kroner (US$5.9 million) into the lab, with NOK40 million ($4.7 million) slated to fund professorships, post-doctoral positions and scholarships as well as hardware and software for the lab.
The rest of Telenor's funding is being used to building an Internet of Things (IoT) network that will provide data for the lab's research work. In addition to the funding, Telenor will provide large and anonymous datasets from its mobile and IoT networks. On the IoT front, Telenor has deployed LoRaWAN in parts of three cities to date and is also conducting urban IoT pilots.
During the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Bjørn-Taale Sandberg, head of Telenor Research, said Telenor sees AI and next-generation IoT as "two sides of the same coin."
"IoT will produce data that will enable new applications within AI, so we need to look at them together," Sandberg said. While Telenor isn't interested in competing against the likes of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Sandberg said there were a lot of other opportunities for Telenor to make its mark with AI and IoT.
While Telenor is working out the commercial or production side of AI at the lab, it has also embraced AI internally. Sandberg said that a big challenge for Telenor was "to digitize our operations in all matters and respects." There are three key areas for digitizing Telenor's operations; virtualization of core network operations, which is underway and will accelerate with 5G, digitizing distribution, and AI.
"The third is AI or big data analytics; to really make that an integral part of all we do," Sandberg said. "Not just sales or marketing, which is a pretty obvious place to start, but putting it into our products, putting it into customer care and, over time, into networks. We operate the networks and then have the networks operate themselves. So that's the third part of sort of the big change that's coming, and to some extent perhaps the most difficult one because of the skill sets that are needed."
With more than 36,000 employees worldwide, Sandberg said re-training employees was perhaps the most important part of the digital transformation equation. While Telenor plans on hiring an additional 1,000 employees to further accelerate its digital transformation, most of that push will come from re-training current employees.
"It's really those three things right now in terms of what we actually do," Sandberg said of the three key areas for digitization. "And then in order to be able to do that, you have to transform your company, your culture, your way of working to deliver on that agenda. That's really accelerated over the last year driven by our new CEO, Sigve Brekke, who has that on the top of his agenda -- to change the culture in Telenor."
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation