Generative AI: From the Manufacturing Plant to the Car – Six Five In the Booth with IBM and AT&T

By Patrick Moorhead - March 4, 2024

On this episode of The Six Five In the Booth, hosts Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead welcome Dan Kusel, GM and Managing Partner at IBM and Usman Zafar, Assistant Vice President, Product Management & Development at AT&T at MWC 2024 for a conversation on the influence generative AI has on transforming the telecom industry.

Their discussion covers:

  • An overview of the latest partnership between IBM and AT&T
  • Generative AI use cases emerging in connectivity
  • The opportunities for AI as connected devices and access to real-time data increases
  • Thoughts on what role generative AI will play in AT&T working across different verticals

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Patrick Moorhead: The Six Five is live here at Mobile World Congress 2024 in Barcelona. We are here in the IBM booth. Dan, what has the show been so far? It’s been the network core, it’s been the edge, it’s been devices and everything in between, making it more intelligent with AI.

Daniel Newman: AI?

Patrick Moorhead: There we go.

Daniel Newman: Did we say it together?

Patrick Moorhead: It’s almost like we planned that.

Daniel Newman: I was thinking about a workout, like I ran and then I did core.

Patrick Moorhead: There we go.

Daniel Newman: Then, I came here and talked about AI.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, but it’s been amazing though, over the last 18 months, how much AI has been part of the conversation. Yes, the initial algorithms for AI were built in the 1960s. We had machine learning, deep learning, and now we’re at this advent of generative AI.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, look, it’s risen into the conscious of society, and now every technology event, but really every industry, is being impacted by the power of AI. It’s going to help make us more sustainable, it’s going to help make us more productive, it’s going to change the world. Of course, we’ve got a continuum of governance, and ethics, and considerations, and trust-

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Daniel Newman: That we have to build, Pat. But, look, here at this show… By the way, the show is back, in full effect.

Patrick Moorhead: Oh.

Daniel Newman: I heard, 95,000-

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Daniel Newman: … people are going to be here. Look, it’s an exciting year, and now we’re going to see AI and telecommunications-

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Daniel Newman: … come together.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah. Great time to introduce our guests, Dan from IBM, Usman from AT&T. Great to have you on The Six Five.

Usman Zafar: Thank you.

Patrick Moorhead: First-timers.

Usman Zafar: Excited to be here.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes. We hope it’s not the last.

Usman Zafar: Yep.

Patrick Moorhead: But, we’ll see. You can grade us at the end.

Daniel Newman: Well, it’s interesting. First, Dan, you look great.

Dan Kusel: Yea, listen-

Daniel Newman: That’s two Dans on the end.

Dan Kusel: Bald or Beauty.

Daniel Newman: Very brotherly, I’m just saying.

Dan Kusel: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: I think a couple of years ago, or maybe it was last… No, about two years ago, Pat, you and I actually talked to AT&T and IBM.

Dan Kusel: That’s right.

Daniel Newman: On The Six Five, in this booth, two different guests.

Dan Kusel: Yes.

Daniel Newman: We were talking about a 5G partnership. This year, so we already hit on this rotation to AI.

Dan Kusel: Yes.

Daniel Newman: But, here we are again. Dan, I’ll start this one with you, but talk a little bit about what’s going on in this partnership between AT&T, IBM. I’m betting it’s around AI.

Dan Kusel: Yeah. Look, the partnership is multifaceted and it’s deep. I like to refer to it in two venues. One is, we have a three-tiered partnership. We see tremendous value in AT&T as a company, and we are a buyer of AT&T’s products, as IBM. AT&T sees value in what we do as IBM and buys from us, and then we partner together. That’s a lot of where Usman and I work together, is around that partnership side. We work across AT&T’s business, and the value both from a product, technology, and consulting perspective of what IBM does for AT&T is extraordinarily important.

Daniel Newman: Usman?

Usman Zafar: Yeah, absolutely. As Dan indicated, this partnership is three-fold. First of all, we bring our own competence together to see how our organizations can take advantage of what we do. Secondly, collectively, we take our competencies and technology to our customers to see how, collectively, we can benefit our customers with what we are doing. For instance, as an example, many of our business solutions, they run on IBM infrastructure, and many of our business applications.

When it comes to the workload orchestration, we use Red Hat from IBM. When it comes to IBM, they take advantage of our Wireline Wireless, and Edge Compute and Edge Cloud capabilities, to offer their services to their customers. So, it’s a long-standing partnership. Not only this, but we have started to collaborate on many new venues like Generative AI, which is one of them, and we look forward to it.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah, sounds like a very strategic, multifaceted relationship, which by the way, IBM is very strategic, and so is AT&T. So, it makes perfect sense. Loosely speaking, all right, AI can help companies drive more revenue, help them on the cost side, making employees more efficient, more effective, but there’s also capabilities on the network. I’ll ask you, Usman, what is your vision or how do you see AI helping the network? AI and network is nothing new, but this flavor of generative AI, it is new. How do you see it improving the network?

Usman Zafar: Yeah, that’s a great question. You see, as AT&T, our mission is to serve our customers and our partners at the same time, and to serve the community. To do all this, we are building a very open, robust, advanced, and intelligent network. AT&T is the only global carrier that is heavily investing into fiber and our wireless infrastructure. On top of that, we are building all the advanced network capabilities that will govern and control the next-generation technologies. For instance, generative AI.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah.

Usman Zafar: So, this is us at AT&T, where we are. All these capabilities are part of our network today. For example, Ask AT&T, we are already using this capability into our network.

Patrick Moorhead: That makes, yes.

Usman Zafar: Yeah. Yeah. To answer the second piece of your question, is that, what are those services that will be delivered by our network? I would say, in the next five years, it is expected that 70% of the data will be generative, from the original 30% of the data sets. That generative data will help us to create new foundational models.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Usman Zafar: Those foundational models will be consumed to create new products and services. For example, safety as a service, predictive performance as a service, or you can have quality as a service, or you can have product discovery as a service. All this will be delivered through AT&T’s Next Generation Networks. Some of that, we have already established, and we are consistently expanding on the capabilities of the network.

Patrick Moorhead: I love it. By the way, starting off with customer service is a very hardcore, impactful place where a lot of people are seeing success. It is amazing, chatbots were popularized about five or six years ago, but only now with this technology, I’ll just say they’re most effective now, and I’ve seen some really impressive results. That’s good.

Usman Zafar: Right Pat. Yeah, absolutely.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, one of the consequences, though, of all this connectivity and all these connected devices is going to be massive data. We’ve talked about this for a long time. I feel like the big-data problem, the big-data opportunity has been a multi-decade-long conversation. I think AI is making this exponential, and of course having so many connected devices is an opportunity. Dan, I’d love to get your take. What do you think are some of the bigger opportunities, maybe the untapped ones that are going to come from all this explosion of connected devices and data, especially as it pertains to AI?

Dan Kusel: Yeah. The data piece also has another requirement, which is the volume of data that’s going to be applicable, if you take connected vehicles or manufacturing as examples, the amount of storage that you’re going to need to provide for that data, that’s part of where IBM is able to bring in a unique point-of-viewing capability. The connectivity to be able to access that storage, whether on the Edge via 5G, 6G, that’s where AT&T brings in phenomenal capabilities. Then of course, you get to the AI itself. In the case of automotive and manufacturing, image segmentation is critically important. That’s being able to look at it at a pixel level.

When you’re in an autonomous vehicle, being able to understand, what’s a pedestrian, where are the lines in the road, what does that sign mean? In the case of manufacturing, we at IBM have a product around Maximo that specializes in the ability to identify defects using generative AI within the product set, you can imagine in a supply chain, before it goes out to the end customer. Those are some use cases that, I would say, we are just scratching the surface on. Where we will be five years from now, we could all guess on that. I don’t know that any of us have the crystal ball, but we have a hypothesis about where we should be headed. It starts with the simpler and very impactful use cases like care, but very quickly goes into these enterprise use cases. For example, the two I highlighted.

Patrick Moorhead: There’s a lot of industry use cases, verticals, that telecommunications has become important in. Particularly when you get there on the edge. Energy, right? Having a sensor every few meters to be able to know exactly what’s going on out there. To cars, cars today. We actually track the technology in cars as an analyst firm. They’re becoming incredible data creators, but also, very reliant on data outside the car.

We have electrification, we have autonomous. Quite frankly, you can see a scenario when a few years down the road, it becomes an extension of your living room or your office, when you’re not doing all the driving, and you can do other things. AT&T has been very involved in automotive connectivity, and I’m curious, any thoughts on generative AI and connectivity in the car that you guys are working on?

Usman Zafar: Yeah, absolutely. Let me give you a little background. Overall, AT&T currently supports more than 75 million connected cars. All right? We hold more than 80% of the market share in the United States. There is a reason behind it, because we have developed and we are consistently developing our infrastructure in a way that we can serve the automotive customer for today and for tomorrow. Now, today’s car brings three main capabilities. You can have telematics data-

Patrick Moorhead: That’s right.

Usman Zafar: You can have head-unit application data, or you can have the wifi. But the car, this connected car has really transformed into many new verticals, as you indicated. For example, autonomous cars, software-driven cars, shared mobility, electrification, robotaxis, and I keep naming them.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Usman Zafar: All these segments, they have their own unique set of requirements. But, there is one thing common, that they need to talk to each other and they need to talk to the infrastructure.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Usman Zafar: At the same time, the infrastructure needs to talk back to these vehicles. This is how this connected-car industry is changing, and this is going to generate a lot of data.

Patrick Moorhead: Yes.

Usman Zafar: What to do with this? We cannot store this data into our data centers. We really need to take that data at the edge of the network, where in the close proximity of the sensors, the vehicles, and the infrastructure devices. Like IBM brings in their strength on gen AI through Watsonx, how we can take the insights of data and create some purposeful action, and send it back to the vehicles or devices, so actions can be taken. It has really started to shape up, but I tell you, this car of the future is very different than the car of today.

Patrick Moorhead: Oh, absolutely.

Dan Kusel: I will say there are aspects to that communication and the data, from a use-case perspective, that even go beyond. You think about troubleshooting.

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Dan Kusel: If it’s an autonomous vehicle, and suddenly one of the tires loses air, there’s not a person driving it to say, “Oh, my PSI is low. Let me slow down.” The car has to be able to interpret that data, communicate what the next steps, actions are. That’s important. Then, you could think of the future where real gen AI analysis-

Patrick Moorhead: Right.

Dan Kusel: Maybe there’s a snowstorm that’s coming.

Patrick Moorhead: Yeah.

Dan Kusel: I live in the mountains of Colorado, it happens often. I will know in advance by looking at the weather, and I’ll throw my car into four-wheel drive, knowing that there’s going to be a blizzard. Well, that kind of intelligence, that’s where you really connect gen AI with autonomous, and you make it true autonomy.

Patrick Moorhead: Great example.

Daniel Newman: We bring it down to the real-time level, and you think about the fact that when the car rapidly loses tire pressure, that it can actually talk to the car next to it, and the car next to it knows that the car to its right could very… You know what I’m saying? Because that’s when it gets really unique.

Dan Kusel: Yes.

Daniel Newman: Is when you start to see it being-

Dan Kusel: C to V to X.

Daniel Newman: V to V, C to V to X.

Dan Kusel: Yep.

Daniel Newman: To make sure, and then notifying for help, because it’ll know a crash is going to happen well before it actually happens. Gentlemen, this has been a lot of fun. We’ve got to get back to MWC here. I’m sure if your calendars look anything like ours, you’re jammed wall to wall. It’s been a great conversation. Generative AI, of course, is going to change many industries, and it sounds like it’s going to help shape the next era of a very successful IBM and AT&T partnership. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dan Kusel: Thank you.

Usman Zafar: Thank you for having us.

Patrick Moorhead: Thank you. Thanks.

Daniel Newman: All right, everybody, hit that subscribe button. Join us here for all of our coverage at MWC 2024, and of course, join us for all of our Six Five episodes all the time. For this episode, for Patrick Moorhead and myself, it’s time to say goodbye. See you all later.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.