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A week in telecoms: AT&T seeks startups, South Korea gets new 5G entrant

This week, South Korea gets a fourth 5G operator, AT&T Ventures seeks developers of connectivity-centric technologies, Jio Platforms unveils latest AI play, and Eutelsat hits delays.

Michelle Donegan
02 Feb 2024
A week in telecoms: AT&T seeks startups, South Korea gets new 5G entrant

A week in telecoms: AT&T seeks startups, South Korea gets new 5G entrant

New mobile operator in South Korea

South Korea, one of the world’s most advanced mobile markets, is set to get a fourth operator to deliver 5G services after 28GHz spectrum was awarded to a consortium called Stage X in the country’s auction that concluded this week.

Stage X is a consortium led by Stage Five, a communications arm of Korean Internet firm Kakao Corp, according to local media reports. It is one of three entities that bid for the 28GHz frequencies, which included the Vodafone Group-backed My Mobile consortium.

Reports noted that Stage X’s bid of KRW 430.1 billion ($322 million) for the 28GHz spectrum was far higher than when the frequencies were first auctioned in 2018 to the countries three mobile operators KT, LG U+, and SK Telecom. The three operators had lost their licenses and handed back their spectrum last year because they did not use it.

The newly licensed operator will need to build 6,000 base stations within the first three years of operation. To help with the availability of 5G devices that support the frequency band, Stage X has said that it has a strategic partnership with a mobile device manufacturing affiliate within Foxconn.

Jio Platforms unveils AI platform “Jio Brain”

Jio Platforms, the digital arm of Reliance Industries, introduced an artificial intelligence (AI) platform called Jio Brain that is designed to enable operators and enterprises to “institutionalize” ML in their day-to-day operations.

Described as an industry-agnostic, 5G-integrated distributed machine learning platform, the product aims to support new 5G, and even future 6G, use cases. It is integrated into Jio’s existing network automation platforms, which suggests it adds a new dimension to the tech companies AI offerings.

Aayush Bhatnagar, Senior Vice President at Jio Platforms, revealed the platform in a LinkedIn post and said this latest addition to its 5G/6G product lineup was a “significant milestone”. Indeed, hundreds of engineers have worked on developing the platform over the last two years, he said.

Jio Brain integrates ML capabilities in telco and enterprise networks as well as any IT environment, “without undergoing network or IT transformation”, he explained.  AI features and large language models (LLMs) are delivered “as a service”. Examples include training, feature engineering, ML chaining, and algorithms, that can be delivered as a service.

The platform includes more than 500 REST APIs and data APIs for developing such applications.

“Jio Brain will help create new 5G services, transform enterprises, optimise networks, as well as set the stage for 6G development - where ML is a key capability,” he said.

Open APIs are a key part of Jio’s software platform development. Bhatnagar recently discussed how Jio uses TM Forum’s Open API program in its OSS/BSS platforms

AT&T Ventures seeks new startups 

AT&T said it is stepping up efforts to fund more startups through its venture investment arm, AT&T Ventures, specifically ones that are “developing connectivity-centric technologies.”

Vikram Taneja, Head of AT&T Ventures, announced the outreach push in a company blog and said the operator is looking for companies “creating products and services that can be used in our core markets.”

He also shared the six technology areas where the operator is most interested in investing, which are linked to the operator’s own network plans and developments. The investment priorities are in the areas of network and edge computing, industrial Internet of Things, connected home and consumer solutions, next-gen transportation, cybersecurity, and Generative AI (GenAI).

AT&T did not share the size of its fund but said the early-stage investment amounts would range from seed to Series B funding.

Recent examples of AT&T’s venture investments include direct-to-device satellite operator AST SpaceMobile, data intelligence platform Databricks and venture capital firm TitletownTech.

OneWeb ground network delays hit Eutelsat

Eutelsat Group said its OneWeb low-Earth-orbit services are behind schedule due to delays in ground network availability and, as a result, lowered revenue and earnings expectations for its financial year ending 30 June 2024.

The lack of ground networks in “certain geographies” affects the satellite operator’s ability to generate mobility service revenue. Although all the LEO satellites are in place and the ground network rollout was “progressing towards a 90% completion rate” at the end of last year, Eutelsat said this was not enough to “close the gap” on its stated financial expectations.

Eutelsat lowered full-year revenue to a range of €1.25bn to €1.3bn, down from previous target of €1.32 bn to €1.42bn. The update comes after a review of the first three months since the completed merger of Eutelsat and OneWeb in September 2023.

However, the operator noted “strong momentum” in commitments from major customers and said it is on track to meet longer-term targets.

Telco partners for OneWeb LEO services include Airtel, AT&T, BT, Orange, Softbank, Telefonica, and VEON.

Tele2 preps customer experience overhaul

Tele2 Group signaled it had returned to top-line growth across major business areas in 2023 and outlined a new three-year program to reduce costs through an optimized go-to-market initiative.

Kjell Johnsen, President and CEO and of Tele2, said the operator was entering a new chapter.

“If 2020-2023 was heavily tilted towards fixing legacy, 2024-2026 will increasingly shift more resources towards ease of use, better customer understanding, automation, and business-led service development,” he said.

The legacy he referred to is related to IT and network modernization projects, such as IT infrastructure consolidation and shutting down 3G in 2025. Now, the new Strategy Execution Program will focus on “radical improvements in customer experience and value” with a targeted SEK 600 million in cost savings over the program’s three-year period.

In Q4 2023, Tele2 reported organic end-user service revenue growth of 3% year-on-year to SEK 5.4bn, with a boost from international roaming. Underlying EBITDAaL (earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation and amortization, after leases) was up 4% to SEK 2.6bn. Looking ahead to full-year 2024, Tele2 said it expects organic growth of end-service revenue of 3% to 4% and underlying EBITDAaL growth of 1% to 3%.