What’s up with… AI chip R&D, Netomnia, Telecom Italia

  • South Korea boasts AI chip breakthrough 
  • UK altnet raises new funds
  • Telecom Italia sees a bright future ahead

In today’s industry news roundup: South Korean scientists claim to have developed an AI chip that uses 625 times less power than Nvidia’s technology; UK fibre access altnet Netomnia accesses additional rollout funds; Telecom Italia has a new post-NetCo plan; and much more! 

Scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) claim to have developed an AI chip that, by using neuromorphic computing technology that mimics the human nervous system, can process a large language model (LLM) using a lot less power than Nvidia’s market-leading products. According to the Korea JoongAng Daily media outlet, South Korea’s Science Ministry noted that the “Complementary Transformer AI chip”, developed using Samsung Electronics’ 28 nanometer process, consumes 625 times less power than Nvidia’s A-100 GPU (graphics processing unit), which requires 250 watts of power to process LLMs compared with the 400 milliwatts needed by the KAIST team’s chip, which is also 400 times smaller than Nvidia’s product. There was no mention of when such a chip might be made available commercially, though. 

Netomnia, which refers to itself as “one of the fastest growing altnets in the UK”, along with its sister ISP company YouFibre, has raised additional capital of £147.5m. The company explained that with this round of funding, led by DigitalBridge, its total committed debt financing has increased to £377.5m. The latest round is courtesy of three new lenders: Barclays, Alpha Bank and Nord/LB, with support from all incumbent lenders. A year ago, Netomnia announced it had raised £230m in committed debt financing from a group of six banks – HSBC UK, ING, NIBC, RBC, Standard Chartered and UKIB. Now, the fresh funding of £147.5m will be used by Netomnia to “continue its rapid ascent to become one of the UK’s leading fibre providers.” The company has now passed 850,000 premises with ready-for-service fibre, while YouFibre has 80,000 customers. The sister companies have raised a total of £795.5m over three years. “With this latest round of funding, we are well positioned to accelerate our network deployment efforts and continue delivering best-in-class internet services and customer experience,” said Jeremy Chelot, CEO at Netomnia and YouFibre. Read more.

The Telecom Italia (TIM) board has approved the new ‘Free to Run company strategy for 2024-26 proposed by CEO Pietro Labriola that, once the national operator completes the sale of its NetCo fixed access network unit to private equity firm KKR for up to €22bn, envisages greater financial flexibility due to a reduced debt pile, growing revenues and improved margins. The operator has also nominated Alberta Figari as its new chairman to replace Salvatore Rossi, who is not seeking re-election to the post. Read more

Deutsche Telekom (DT) has secured a first customer for its enterprise generative AI (GenAI) service, dubbed Business GPT. Wind and solar energy specialist UKA Group chose the solution to gain “access to a secure, data protection-compliant tool for generative AI”, the German telco noted in a statement, adding that it is hosted “securely” in European cloud environments, and offers GenAI as well as the option of integrating internal company documents. “The application is tested for IT security and data protection”, and is hosted on DT’s cloud environments, it added. The main benefit from tools such as Business GPT are that repetitive tasks will require less  effort and workflows will be accelerated, which results in enhanced efficiency and innovation opportunities, noted DT.

Telefónica Tech, the Iberian telco giant’s digital technology and services division, has boosted its AI services portfolio by partnering with Teradata, a US-based cloud analytics and data platform provider. According to the Spanish operator, this will help it go to market with “an advanced proposition” that aims to help the digital transformation of companies and organisations in Spain. Among the products that Telefónica Tech will start offering, as a result of its collaboration with Teradata, is a solution called ClearScape Analytics, which pledges to facilitate the use of AI models and reduce development time and cost; and VantageCloud, which leverages “the elasticity and scalability of the cloud” to optimise data analysis in cloud and hybrid environments. Customers of Telefónica Tech will also be able to use QueryGrid, which is designed to run queries without moving the data, “facilitating unified integration and management of data and reducing risks”.

Swisscom has enhanced the appeal of its IT services portfolio with the acquisition of a majority stake in Camptocamp, a Switzerland-based developer and integrator of open-source solutions. The purchase, for an undisclosed value, will help the Swiss telco offer IT services that are “even more closely tailored to the needs of Swiss businesses.” The operator believes the partial acquisition will also help it broaden its expertise in the open-source market, which is recording “significantly stronger growth worldwide than the market for proprietary software.” Camptocamp’s portfolio includes open-source solutions for the rollout of geo-information systems (GIS), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and IT infrastructure management (cloud transformation). Camptocamp will continue to operate as an independent company. Read more.

Voxi, the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) owned and operated by Vodafone, has become the first UK telco to develop and deploy an LLM chatbot for customer service use, according to Vodafone. The telco noted that the chatbot was built in collaboration with Accenture and is powered by the ChatGPT framework. The solution is expected to improve the user experience by engaging in “human-like interactions” with customers and managing “more sophisticated” customer requests. It is also said to be using an AI safety framework to ensure “the responsible and ethical deployment of AI technology”. Initially, the chatbot will be available to only a small number of customers so that Voxi can address any issues before a wider release is launched. This is not the first move by Vodafone in the AI space: At the start of this year, it struck a 10-year partnership with Microsoft to “transform the customer experience”, using the tech giant’s GenAI technology. As part of that agreement, Vodafone will invest $1.5bn in cloud- and customer-focused AI services with Microsoft over the next decade – see Vodafone makes its digital services, GenAI bed with Microsoft.

Ciena has reported revenues of $1.04bn for its fiscal first quarter that ended 27 January 2024, down slightly (by 1.8%) from the same period a year ago, which is no mean feat given how much telco capex budgets were cut last year. But Ciena doesn’t just sell to the telcos – many big tech giants are among its largest customers, especially Google and Meta but also Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS), and investments by those companies appear to be helping Ciena to avoid any major dips in sales. In fact, non-telco customers (datacentre operators, enterprise and government users, and cable companies) accounted for 54% of its first-quarter revenues, a record high. For further details, see this earnings release.     

- The staff, TelecomTV

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