AT&T Corp. and NVIDIA today announced a collaboration in which AT&T will continue to transform its operations and enhance sustainability by using NVIDIA-powered AI for processing data, optimizing service-fleet routing and building digital avatars for employee support and training.
AT&T is the first telecommunications provider to explore the use of a full suite of NVIDIA AI offerings. This includes enhancing its data processing using the NVIDIA AI Enterprise software suite, which includes the NVIDIA RAPIDS Accelerator for Apache Spark; enabling real-time vehicle routing and optimization with NVIDIA cuOpt; adopting digital avatars with NVIDIA Omniverse Avatar Cloud Engine and NVIDIA Tokkio; and utilizing conversational AI with NVIDIA Riva.
“We strive each day to deliver the most efficient global network, as we drive towards net zero emissions in our operations,” said Andy Markus, chief data officer at AT&T. “Working with NVIDIA to drive AI solutions across our business will help enhance experiences for both our employees and customers.” He said it’s AT&T’s goal to make AI part of the fabric of the company, to have “all parts of the business leveraging AI and creating AI” rather than limit its use to creation of AI by its specialist data scientists.
“Industries are embracing a new era in which chatbots, recommendation engines and accelerated libraries for data optimization help produce AI-driven innovations,” said Manuvir Das, vice president of Enterprise Computing at NVIDIA. “Our work with AT&T will help the company better mine its data to drive new services and solutions for the AI-powered telco.”
The Data Dilemma:
AT&T, which has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035, has instituted broad initiatives to make its operations more efficient. A major challenge is optimizing energy consumption while providing network infrastructure that delivers data at high speeds. AT&T processes more than 590 petabytes of data on average a day. That is the equivalent of about 6.5 million 4K movies or more than 8x the content housed in the U.S. Library of Congress if all its collections were digitized.
Telecoms aiming to reduce energy consumption face challenges across their operations. Within networks, the radio access network (RAN) consumes 73% of energy, while core network services, data centers and operations use 13%, 9% and 5%, respectively, according to the GSMA, a mobile industry trade group.
AT&T first adopted NVIDIA RAPIDS Accelerator for Apache Spark to capitalize on energy-efficient GPUs across its AI and data science pipelines. This helped boost its operational efficiency across everything from training AI models and maintaining network quality and optimization, to reducing customer churn and improving fraud detection.
Of the data and AI pipelines targeted with Spark-RAPIDS, AT&T saves about half of its cloud computing spend and sees faster performance, while enabling reductions in its carbon footprint.
Enhanced Field Dispatch Services:
AT&T, which operates one of the largest field dispatch teams to service its customers, is currently testing NVIDIA cuOpt software to enhance its field dispatch capabilities to handle more complex technician routing and optimization challenges. AT&T has a fleet of roughly 30,000 vehicles with over 700 million options in how they can be dispatched and routed. The operator would run dispatch optimization algorithms overnight to get plans for the next day, but it took too long and couldn’t account for the realities that would crop up the next morning: Workers calling in sick, vehicles breaking down, and so on.
“It wasn’t as good at noon as it was at 8 in the morning,” Markus said. Using Nvidia GPUs and software, he said, AT&T was able to speed up its processing 60x so that it could run the scenario in near-real-time, as often as it needed to and achieve more jobs in a day (as well as reduce its cloud-related costs by 40%).
Routing requires trillions of computations to factor in a variety of factors, from traffic and weather conditions to customer change of plans or a technician’s skill level, where a complicated job might then require an additional truck roll.
In early trials, cuOpt delivered solutions in 10 seconds, while the same computation on x86 CPUs took 1,000 seconds. The results yielded a 40% reduction in cloud costs and allowed technicians to complete more service calls each day. NVIDIA cuOpt allows AT&T to run nearly continuous dispatch optimization software by combining NVIDIA RAPIDS with local search heuristics algorithms and metaheuristics such as Tabu search.
Pleasing Customers, Speeding Network Design:
As part of its efforts to improve productivity for its more than 150,000 employees, AT&T is moving to adopt NVIDIA Omniverse ACE and NVIDIA Tokkio, cloud-native AI microservices, workflows and application frameworks for developers to easily build, customize and deploy interactive avatars that see, perceive, intelligently converse and provide recommendations to enhance the customer service experience.
For conversational AI, the carrier also uses the NVIDIA Riva software development kit and is examining other customer service and operations use cases for digital twins and generative AI.
Markus added that AI-powered Nvidia tools are also helping AT&T to both serve its customers better through various channels, from sales recommendations to customer care; and that its internal processes are leveraging AI as well, to help employees be more efficient. The company is embracing Nvidia’s AI solutions as a foundation for development of interactive and intelligent customer service avatars.
In the past 12 months, AI has created more than $2.5 billion in value for AT&T. About half of that came via Marcus’ team, but the other half came from what he calls “citizen data scientists” across the company who have been able to leverage AI to solve problems in their respective areas, whether than was marketing, network operations, software development or finance.
“As we mobilize that citizen data-scientist across the company, we’re doing that via a self-service platform that we call AI-as-a-service, where we’re bringing a unified experience together. But behind the experience, we’re allowing those users to leverage AI in a curated way for their use case,” he explained. “So they bring their subject matter expertise to the problem that they’re trying to solve, and we … enable the technology [and processes for them to create] robust AI. But we also govern it with some guardrails, so the AI we’re creating is ethical and responsible.”
In AT&T’s automation development, 92% of its automation is created by employees via self-service to solve a problem. “The goal is that over time, we bake in incredible functionality like Nvidia, so that AI-as-a-service is delivering that self-service functionality so that we do most of our routine AI creation via the platform, where you don’t have to have a professional data scientist, a code warrior, to be your sherpa,” Markus concluded.