Dr. Sunil Kumar Vuppala: Solving Challenging Problems in the Telecom Domain Using AI

Dr. Sunil Kumar Vuppala | Director | ERICSSON
Dr. Sunil Kumar Vuppala | Director | ERICSSON

When we asked Dr. Sunil Kumar Vuppala about what the next significant transition in the Managed Services sector could be, he answered, “Networks will evolve into global digital infrastructures, supporting a much more evolved digital society.”

Dr. Vuppala is currently the Director of Global Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (GAIA) at Ericsson, one of the leading providers of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to service providers.

From visual intelligence of drone images to forecasting difficulties with underlying causes from terabytes of data for huge Telco operators throughout the world, Dr. Vuppala is solving challenging problems using AI.

CIO Look caught up with Dr. Vuppala to learn about his role and contribution in the Data Science sector for the edition, “The 10 Most Intelligent Leaders in Data Science & Analytics, 2022.”

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Ericsson. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

My journey started as an applications engineer at Oracle after my Master of Technology from IIT Roorkee, India. Thereafter, I accepted the role of the researcher in Infosys R&D Labs and worked there for 11 years on cutting-edge technologies such as IoT, Automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Data Science. I completed my Ph.D. at IIIT Bangalore as a working professional. Managing time for both work and Ph.D. is a significant problem, even though the learnings from applied research are fantastic. Later as a principal scientist at Philips, I solved challenging problems in healthcare.

After completing my senior management program at IIM Ahmedabad, I transformed from a core researcher to a business leader, as my overall perspective changed to think beyond technical to overall organizational business perspective. I was able to influence thousands of learners as a visiting faculty at premier institutes teaching data science, AI, and analytics. As a director of data science at Ericsson, my key focus areas include how to accelerate the AI adoption in the organization, Return on Investment, understanding the vision for AI in Telecom, setting the right expectations of stakeholders in terms of AI, and providing the right guidance to the team to deliver solutions.

Tell us something more about Ericsson and its mission and vision.

Ericsson is a leading ICT (Information and Communication Technology) provider to telecom service providers. The Sweden-based firm maximizes the value of connectivity by developing game-changing technology and services that are simple to use, adapt, and scale, ensuring our customers’ success in an increasingly connected world. With its cutting-edge 5G technologies, Ericsson is leading the way in revolutionizing industry and society. 5G networks provide high throughput, ultra-reliability, low latency, and security, which are required for mission-critical services such as telemedicine, autonomous linked vehicles, and smart factories that run on 5G networks. Our purpose is to create connections that make the unimaginable possible. We believe in a world where limitless connectivity improves lives, redefines business, and pioneers a sustainable future.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted IT Services and IT Consulting through your expertise in the market.

With my strong background in IT services and consulting experience from Infosys, I could contribute to how AI can impact the IT services in Ericsson. The contributions include proposing and executing strategic projects, various decisions on build vs. buy, building chatbots for the IT support teams, Cloud vs. Edge AI for the deployment, choosing the right business use cases with intelligent automation, optimizing the solutions beyond software, and how to leverage best out of available hardware by partnering with the hardware vendors. Development efficiency is a strategic theme for us at Ericsson Global AI Accelerator (GAIA).

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

I completely agree with you. Technology is changing very rapidly, and it is playing an important role in addressing business challenges. As a thought leader in data science, my role is to connect the dots in identifying the right technology to solve specific business problems. Building AI models which are fair, explainable, robust, trusted, secure, and ethical are the need of the hour using the latest technologies in the literature. We need to think of end-to-end model development, deployment, and maintenance of these solutions to make them resourceful. Our solutions focus on automation and standardization with MLOps and deployments in the hybrid cloud.

What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the Managed Services sector? How is Ericsson preparing to be a part of that change?

The next significant change in the managed services sector is in intent-based cognitive networks. Networks will evolve into global digital infrastructures, supporting a much more evolved digital society. Because of the intricacy of running these networks, cognitive networks will emerge. In evolving intentbased network operations, cognitive technologies combine large data with unique network domain expertise to enable unparalleled speed, scale, and accuracy. We are using AI in telecom to help us achieve our vision of future zero-touch networks by automatically determining which actions to take with minimal human intervention.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for Ericsson?

In the long run, I envision that the penetration of AI and data science will be pervasive in telecom and other industrial sectors. I want to continue leading and building solutions with Trusted AI, Ethical AI, Green AI, and Metaverse for the adoption of AI in solving real business problems and building frameworks to democratize AI and data science. With my strong academic connections and being an active member of IEEE and ACM, I wish to contribute to bridging the gap between academia and industry.

The intelligent network platform will be redesigned to satisfy new requirements and to incorporate features beyond connectivity. We aim to ensure that today’s powerful 5G network foundation evolves into the 6G era, bringing new capabilities and the kind of extreme performance demanded by application areas such as the internet of things, intelligent machine communication, and the internet of senses.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Network sector?

The Telecom network is a very complex domain. My advice to budding entrepreneurs is to check the gap which they wish to address in the network sector and make it their core business to solve the needs of the customers. It can be at any layer in the network. Having the right partnerships is another important aspect the entrepreneurs need to keep in mind due to the complexity involved in the network sector, eventually leading to delivering “cost-effective” solutions “in time” while meeting the quality requirements.