AT&T and Big Blue team up on transforming post-Covid business operations by using 5G, MEC and AI

The Covid-19 pandemic has evolved into a fluid situation for businesses, but IBM and AT&T have a few ideas on how they can adapt going forward.

AT&T and Big Blue will leverage the telco's 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) technologies and IBM's artificial intelligence and cloud capabilities to help businesses transition into new, post-Covid-19 work environments. 

AT&T and IBM announced a cloud partnership last year that included the co-development of business solutions. In a bog post on Tuesday, Mo Katibeh, chief product and platform officer at AT&T Business, and Steve Canepa, general manager of the global communications sector at IBM, fleshed out how both companies are working together to help businesses adapt to their new work environments.

The collaboration will take place at IBM’s Watson research lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. and include AT&T 5G+ (mmWave) and MEC technologies. MEC, which is a private cellular, low latency solution, can process data on a business premise instead of routing traffic over public networks.

RELATED: AT&T CFO Stephens says IBM, Microsoft cloud deals a two-way street

AT&T and IBM plan to apply these technologies, along with artificial intelligence, to showcase the possibilities across industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, energy and utilities.

"In coping with the coronavirus crisis, organizations around the world have been using digital technology to continue operating their businesses remotely while they wait for the world to return to normal—or at least to settle into the next normal," Katibeh and Canepa said in the blog. "From that crisis has come an opportunity: to accelerate the business world’s digital transformation. That’s why AT&T and IBM, building on our long-standing collaboration, are now focused on the use of 5G wireless networking and edge computing as key ways to help enterprises emerge smarter, more efficient and more resilient as they get fully back to business."

Combining the low latency of 5G, security and MEC with IBM's Watson AI at the Watson research center will lead to new use cases for businesses as employees start to return to their work locations

One of the scenarios the two companies are exploring at Yorktown Heights includes enabling a researcher to remotely adjust locations of IoT network devices in a laboratory. Another includes enabling a systems administrator to remotely rewire machines in a data center to provide a more agile environment.

At Yorktown Heights, IBM and AT&T will be deploying Watson Works, which is a set of return-to-work solutions for businesses. Watson Works, which also includes Workday's consulting service, embeds AI models to help businesses decide when it's safe for their employees to return to work. It also uses AI to manage facilities while adhering to new protocols such as social distancing in the workplace.

Watson Works could also be used to stagger entry and exit times of employees, and trace potential exposures if there's a Covid-19 infection.

"The low latency of 5G allows for remote operations in industrial settings, helping to keep workers from harmful situations," according to the blog. "And if any dangerous situations do arise, edge computing is designed to let businesses capture and analyze data quickly without extra storage or processing on a central cloud.

"That same processing ability can help employees look after their health with devices to monitor their temperature, oxygen levels, blood pressure with instantaneous feedback. Hospitals can even take advantage of similar advances to make their current infrastructures more reliable, while implementing advances like wireless surgery, robotics, virtual reality simulations."

Some of the same 5G and edge solutions could also be used to analyze supply chain data, detect spills or spoilage, or monitor metrics such as crowd density.

"The COVID-19 crisis is not over, but it won’t last forever," Katibeh and Canepa said. "By spurring the accelerated adoption of technologies that are vital to any organization’s digital transformation—particularly AI, 5G and edge computing—the response to this crisis can help businesses not only survive, but be poised to thrive in the future."