What’s up with… Bharti Airtel, AI platforms, AWS

  • Bharti Airtel bucks telco growth trend
  • GenAI news from Google, OpenAI and Anthropic
  • AWS unveils new CEO

In today’s industry news roundup: Bharti Airtel reports enviable increases in revenues and earnings; Google, OpenAI and Anthropic have all unveiled new GenAI developments; cloud services giant Amazon Web Services has appointed a new CEO; and much more!

Bharti Airtel, the telco with operations in India and across Africa, has bucked the telco sector trend of slow (or non-existent) growth with a 7.8% increase in annual revenues to almost 1,500bn rupees ($18bn) and an 11.5% rise in earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to almost 393bn rupees ($4.7bn) for the full financial year that ended in March. The operator, which is the second-largest telco in India after Reliance Jio, ended March with 562 million customers across 16 markets, including just over 406 million customers in India (across all service offerings) and 152.8 million in Africa. But this doesn’t mean the operator is satisfied – it wants to be able to raise its tariffs and generate greater revenues from its large customer base but it knows it can’t do this unilaterally, as it would likely suffer significant churn if it ramped up prices and its competitors didn’t do the same. Airtel’s managing director, Gopal Vittal, stated in the telco’s earnings announcement: “We ended the year on a strong note with consistent performance across all businesses, both on customer metrics as well as financial parameters… Our relentless focus on improving customer experience has resulted in 20% churn reduction during the quarter. Our simple and clear strategy coupled with razor-sharp focus on execution enabled us to end the quarter with life-time high market share across all businesses. Our efforts on digitising Airtel are now gathering velocity and is being visibly felt across all parts of our operations. At the same time, our return on capital employed continues to remain low due to the absence of tariff repair in the industry.” That “tariff repair” scenario (hiking up prices) doesn’t seem too likely, but Vittal has stuck his flag in the sand and will likely look to leverage his position to gain some kind of respite from regulators. In the meantime, Airtel will try to grow the operator’s enterprise market revenues in India by launching cloud and generative AI services in partnership with Google Cloud.       

It will come as no surprise that the Google I/O 2024 developer conference opened with some generative AI (GenAI) updates from the big tech giant. Specifically, it unveiled Gemini 1.5 Flash, the latest version of its GenAI system that follows only a few months after the launch of Gemini 1.5 Pro. “Developers and enterprise customers have been putting 1.5 Pro to use in incredible ways and finding its long context window, multimodal reasoning capabilities and impressive overall performance incredibly useful. We know from user feedback that some applications need lower latency and a lower cost to serve. This inspired us to keep innovating, so today, we’re introducing Gemini 1.5 Flash: A model that’s lighter-weight than 1.5 Pro, and designed to be fast and efficient to serve at scale,” noted Google, whose CEO Sundar Pichai provided more context in his address to the conference on Tuesday. There’s a lot of online coverage of this development, of course, but if you want a quick, punchy take on how Google’s latest move fits into the broader AI landscape then check out this Radio Free Mobile blog post from veteran tech sector analyst Richard Windsor, who believes Google is struggling to communicate clearly what it is doing in the AI world, especially when compared with the messaging coming from ChatGPT developer OpenAI (about which more below). “Google continues to struggle with its messaging as OpenAI was able to deliver more in 30 minutes than Google did in a long, rambling and discombobulated two hours,” noted Windsor. “If Google intended to amaze and astound then it failed badly.” Ouch. Despite its marketing shortcomings, the tech giant “did manage to deliver a solid set of updates that will ensure that its ecosystem services remain the best available, which is crucial as these are the engine of its revenue generation.” And that’s worth remembering, of course – AI is the key to a lot of opportunities but equally important is the broader end user engagement ecosystem, where Google is still the king of search and where it has direct daily contact with billions of users via its Android smartphone OS. “When one looks under the surface of this disjointed performance, it is clear that Google is one of the leaders in AI, and given the ecosystem that it already has, it has the best shot at dominating this space… Despite another clumsy performance, Google has a strong position in the AI ecosystem,” noted Windsor. Currently, though, Microsoft-backed OpenAI is “punching well above its weight and has global user recognition of the ChatGPT brand.” Ah yes, ChatGPT…

Google’s news follows the launch earlier this week by OpenAI of ChatGPT-4o, which it describes as “our new flagship model that can reason across audio, vision, and text in real time.” The new version of the world’s best known generative AI (GenAI) platform “matches GPT-4 Turbo performance on text in English and code, with significant improvement on text in non-English languages, while also being much faster and 50% cheaper in the API,” according to OpenAI. “GPT-4o is especially better at vision and audio understanding compared to existing models,” it added. What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things in the AI world? Fortunately, Richard Windsor is monitoring all of the major proceedings and noted in his Radio Free Mobile blog that ChatGPT-4o “has very little to do with improving raw performance and everything to do with making it easier and more fun to use, in a move designed to drive engagement and establish OpenAI as the premier AI ecosystem… I see this as a deliberate move to capitalise on the market awareness that it has and to drive engagement with the model, clearing the way for it to become the development platform of choice for generative AI.” 

And yet more from the world of AI… Anthropic, the large language model (LLM) developer in which the likes of AWS and SK Telecom have invested billions of dollars, has made its Claude AI assistant available to users in Europe. Earlier this year, Anthropic made the Claude API available to developers in Europe to enable them to integrate the AI specialist’s models into their own applications. 

Matt Garman will succeed Adam Selipsky as CEO of the world’s largest provider of cloud infrastructure services, Amazon Web Services (AWS), effective from 3 June. Selipsky was appointed AWS CEO in 2021, when his predecessor Andy Jassy was elevated to the CEO role at Amazon.com. In a message to staff, Jassy noted that Selipsky has “deftly led the business” for the past three years, launching “new services at a rapid clip, including several impactful generative AI services, such as Amazon Bedrock and Amazon Q. Adam leaves AWS in a strong position, having reached a $100bn annual revenue run rate this past quarter, with year-on-year revenue accelerating again. And, perhaps most importantly, AWS continues to lead in terms of operational performance, security, reliability, and the overall breadth and depth of our services. I’m deeply appreciative of Adam’s leadership during this time, and for the entire team’s dedication to deliver for customers and the business,” noted Jassy. Garman, who some had tipped to take the lead AWS role in 2021, has been with AWS since 2005, and has an “unusually strong set of skills and experiences for his new role,” stated Jassy. “He’s very customer focused, a terrific product leader, inventive, a clever problem-solver, right a lot, has high standards and meaningful bias for action, and in the 18 years he’s been in AWS, he’s been one of the better learners I’ve encountered. Matt knows our customers and business as well as anybody in the world, and has senior leadership experience on both the product and demand generation sides. I’m excited to see Matt and his outstanding AWS leadership team continue to invent our future — it’s still such early days in AWS.” The appointment comes as AWS faces some criticism for not being as aggressive as it might have been in the generative AI (GenAI) sector, where it is perceived to be lagging behind Google and Microsoft, both of which have also been growing at a faster pace than AWS in the cloud infrastructure services sector in recent quarters.

The €5bn sale of Vodafone Spain to Zegona, unveiled only last October, has received final approval from the Spanish authorities and the deal is set to be completed at the end of May, Vodafone Group announced in a London Stock Exchange note to investors. Vodafone will bank €4.1bn in cash from the deal and €900m worth of stock: The telco will use some of the funds to kickstart its planned €2bn share buyback scheme that will run over the next 12 months. The news gave Vodafone’s share price a 4% lift to 76 pence, valuing the international telco, which has just reported its full year results, at almost £20bn.   

CMC Networks, the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region operator that was recently acquired by center3, has been expanding its service portfolio in recent weeks. The operator, which provides connectivity, security and cloud services to large enterprises, governments and other service providers in more than 60 countries in the MEA region, has just launched its CMC Marketplace platform “to simplify on-demand connectivity pricing, automation and service procurement across Africa and the Middle East.” The company claimed the platform “is the largest connectivity marketplace in the wholesale market for businesses operating in, or looking to enter these regions, with firm access pricing at over 10 million locations across 60 countries… [it is] an on-demand service catalogue that provides businesses with automated pricing and procurement for a wide range of network services,” the company added. The move comes only weeks after the network operator launched CMC Cloud, an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) edge computing solution “designed to bring workloads closer to the end user and improve the performance of applications and services, without the need to invest in physical hardware. CMC Cloud provides a decentralised edge infrastructure to reduce latency and bandwidth use, helping to enhance the performance and reliability of digital services across Africa.” 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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