What’s up with… Verizon & AST SpaceMobile, Singtel, KPN

  • Verizon gives AST SpaceMobile a $100m boost 
  • Singtel teams up with KKR for datacentre stake bid
  • KPN targets private 5G network sector with campus offering

In today’s industry news roundup: Verizon signs up to use the AST SpaceMobile network for satellite-to-smartphone services and provides vital financial support for the satellite newcomer; Singtel and KKR eye share of up to 20% in STT Global Data Centres; KPN unveils 5G private network offering for business customers; and much more!

Verizon is to use the AST SpaceMobile network to provide satellite-to-smartphone services across the US using 850 Mhz spectrum, with the giant operator committing $100m to the satellite firm in the form of commercial prepayments and convertible note funding (a loan that be converted into equity at a later date). The news comes only weeks after AT&T, already an investor in AST SpaceMobile, struck a six-year commercial services deal with the satellite firm, which is set to launch its first five commercial satellites into orbit from Cape Canaveral this summer. “This new partnership with Verizon will enable AST SpaceMobile to target 100% coverage of the continental United States on premium 850 MHz spectrum with two major US mobile operators in the most valuable wireless market in the world, a transformational commercial milestone,” stated Abel Avellan, founder, chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile. “This partnership will enhance cellular connectivity in the United States, essentially eliminating dead zones and empowering remote areas of the country with space-based connectivity.” Srini Kalapala, senior VP of technology and product development at Verizon, added: “Verizon has always been strategic and efficient with our spectrum strategy… By entering into this agreement with AST, we will now be able to use our spectrum in conjunction with AST’s satellite network to provide essential connectivity in remote corners of the US where cellular signals are unreachable through traditional land-based infrastructure.” The $100m Verizon commitment comprises $65m ​of​ commercial prepayments ($45m of which are subject to certain conditions) and $35m of convertible notes. The news sent AST’s share price shooting up by almost 19% in pre-market trading on Wednesday to $6.33, showing just how important a vote of confidence from a major service provider such as Verizon can be to a fledgling company that is asking its partners to rely on technology and a service that, while tested and trialled, is as yet unproven in a commercial setting. AST has been building up support from operators around the world, and now has more than 45 agreements with mobile operators and counts the likes of Vodafone, Rakuten Mobile, Bell Canada and American Tower among its other investors. The major domestic mobile rival to Verizon and AT&T, T-Mobile US, has opted to work with Elon Musk’s SpaceX/Starlink for its satellite-to-smartphone service. T-Mobile US struck a deal with Starlink to offer satellite-to-smartphone services in August 2022 and it looks like they are ahead of their rivals: Starlink, the LEO operating unit of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, launched its first direct-to-cell satellites at the start of the year and has been undergoing service tests with T-Mobile US since then. Starlink and T-Mobile US recently completed a video call via the Starlink low-earth orbit (LEO) direct-to-cell satellite constellation using regular smartphones, the satellite giant has announced on X. “We’re excited to go live with @TMobile later this year,” noted the satellite firm in its post.

Singtel and private equity firm KKR have teamed up to bid for a stake in datacentre operator ST Telemedia Global Data Centres (STT GDC) and is the frontrunner to buy a share of up to 20% for $1bn, according to a report from Reuters. STT GDC operates datacentre facilities across Singapore, the UK, Germany, India, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam: It recently formed a joint venture in Vietnam with local technology company VNG. STT GDC says global demand for data and AI services is driving increasing demand for its cloud and datacentre services, a claim backed by independent research from firms such as Synergy Research Group. Other bidders interested in taking a stake in STT GDC include investment firm Stonepeak. Singtel noted in a stock exchange filing, published on Wednesday in direct response to the Reuters article, that it “regularly explores and reviews business opportunities, projects and proposals relating to its business and enters into discussions with various parties from time to time. When such discussions occur, there is no certainty that any transaction will arise from these discussions or that any definitive or binding agreement will be entered into pursuant to these discussions, and Singtel confirms that there is no definitive or binding agreement at this time.” Singtel recently outlined its new strategy, dubbed Singtel28, that included plans to expand its Nxera datacentre operation.  

Dutch national operator KPN has launched its 5G private network offering, KPN Campus, in response to “growing demand from large business customers for mission- and business-critical voice and data applications via the mobile network.” The service, which can be provided using public, private (4G and 5G) or hybrid 5G networks, will include a package of communications and IT products and services, including 5G connectivity, on-premises computing, localised indoor applications and local area network (LAN) capabilities. “KPN is responding to the growing need for more autonomy, reliability and guarantees with regard to the infrastructure on location,” the operator states. “Business customers in, for example, industry, logistics and healthcare can meet the demands that new technologies, such as AI and hyperautomation, place on the digital infrastructure. Many of these applications require more than just speed and connectivity. This includes a high degree of security, high-quality (indoor) coverage, availability guarantees and fast response times,” it added. For further details, see this announcement (in Dutch). 

AT&T has joined the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) board of directors, with Rob Soni, VP of RAN technology, as the US telco’s board representative. “This appointment supports AT&T’s effort to deploy 70% of our wireless network traffic across open-capable platforms by late 2026 and aligns perfectly with our commitment to efficiency and innovation,” noted Soni, referencing the operator’s decision to source Open RAN-capable technology from Ericsson for its next phase of 5G rollouts. “As a global mobile operator, we see TIP as a critical part of realising our strategic intent of leading industrialisation of open and disaggregated solutions,” added Soni. Yago Tenorio, TIP chairman and fellow and network architecture director at Vodafone Group, noted in an emailed update to the media: “AT&T has been a trailblazer of open and disaggregated technologies. Rob’s appointment to TIP’s Board of Directors further reflects the global profile of our community, and we look forward to deepening our collaboration with the company and benefitting from Rob’s extensive experience.”

Orange has teamed up with d.light, a developer of low-cost solar-powered products, to offer the vendor’s range of goods to its customers in 11 countries across Africa via its Orange Smart Energies platform. The partnership is already up and running in Ivory Coast, where Orange has 30 million customers, as well as Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It will later expand into five additional African countries in which Orange operates – Senegal, Mali, Burkino Faso, Guinea, and the Central African Republic (CAR). Nick Imudi, CEO at d.light (which is not in any way linked to the group of almost the same name that had a smash hit in 1990 with Groove Is In The Heart), stated: “Mobile operators are natural partners for off-grid solar providers like d.light as they have the scale and the resources to reach rural communities in remote locations which are not connected to the energy grid. In addition, operator billing-based mobile money services like Orange Money give low-income households the flexibility to make payments for solar products as and when they can afford to do so. People can access affordable renewable solar energy solutions via simple mobile prepayment.” Read more

South Korea’s SK Telecom has been “monetising and measuring the social value” created by its various activities, including product/service development, process operation, human resource management, business partner cooperation, and social contribution activities” since 2018 and believes it created social value of almost 2.8tn won ($20.5bn) in 2023, up by 12.1% year on year. Among its various efforts to create social value are its decommissioning of legacy networks and a focus on more sustainable modern infrastructure, its deployment of sophisticated security systems that block phishing and other fraudulent communications, and the development of AI care services for the elderly. For further details, see this announcement (in Korean). 

SK Telecom has also launched its AI-based veterinary X-ray image diagnosis assistance service, dubbed X Caliber, in Australia, where it previously formed a partnership with ATX Medical Solutions, the country’s largest medical device distributor. SK Telecom noted that as X Caliber, which uses AI to analyse X-ray images of dogs and cats within around 15 seconds, is provisioned using ATX’s cloud-based software service, the solution will be made available immediately to about 100 Australian animal hospitals. SKT has also struck a deal with Indonesia's largest premium veterinary hospital chain, Medivet Pet Hospital & Clinic, for the use of the solution. The Korean operator, which is transforming itself into an international AI company, says it is also in beta trials with X Caliber in other Asia markets as well as in Europe and North America. For more details, see this announcement (in Korean). 

Colt has expanded the availability of its unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) offering to seven additional European markets – Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – taking the total in Europe to 20. The service “delivers new automation and AI features that save employees time, remove the need to manually switch between screens and applications, and help them work together more productively and effectively,” according to this announcement. Tyler Hemmen, VP for enterprise products and solutions at Colt noted: “AI and automation present tremendous opportunities for business to secure a competitive advantage, but the reality is that many organisations are still in the early stages of exploring their potential. By integrating AI and automation features into Colt Intelligent Communications, we’ve made it easy for them to dip their toes into the water and create an outstanding connected employee experience, which transforms and amplifies productivity.” 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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