What’s up with… AT&T, Telecom Italia, Orange and MásMóvil

Source: AT&T

Source: AT&T

  • AT&T has developed a GenAI tool for its staff
  • Telecom Italia (TIM) looks close to an M&A decision
  • Orange and MásMóvil in line for merger disappointment

In today’s industry news roundup: AT&T is embracing generative AI; Telecom Italia’s board is reportedly set to choose a buyer for its NetCo unit; Europe’s competition watchdogs are set to dampen the merger ardour of Orange and MásMóvil; and much more!

US operator AT&T is jumping on the generative AI (GenAI) bandwagon with the introduction of a GenAI tool for its employees. The rollout will take place over the next few weeks and the telco, which claims the move is one “few companies” have taken so far, believes its staff will “be part of the first generation of true corporate users of this new capability”. “We think this technology will make them more effective, more efficient and more creative at their jobs,” AT&T’s chief data officer, Andy Markus, noted in the statement unveiling the move. The first iteration of the tool, dubbed Ask AT&T, uses OpenAI’s ChatGPT functionality and is designed to be interoperable with other GenAI technologies that are being created. “We’ve worked with Microsoft to make Ask AT&T secure and safe for our employees and our corporate data. It runs in an AT&T-dedicated Azure tenant that’s been pressure tested for leakage. AT&T employees can bring company data and information into Ask AT&T without worrying about that material leaking into the public domain,” said Markus. Furthermore, according to the US telco giant, its new tool has a lot of “special sauce”, which consists of the company’s “knowledge and processes that focus the system on responsibly delivering accurate results.” Some of the use cases for the GenAI tool include being used by AT&T’s coders and software developers to allow them to “become more productive”, being used to translate and simplify customer and employee documentation from English to other languages. AT&T is also exploring the use of AI to optimise its network, upgrade its legacy software code and environments, reduce the amount of time employees spend in meetings, and provide quick and simple answers to HR-related questions from employees. “We’re training Ask AT&T in a deliberate and measured way, so we can ensure that the system returns useful, accurate and, maybe most importantly, responsible responses,” Markus said. Other recent moves by telcos in this space include Veon’s development of a GenAI technology tool targeting automated customer care functions across its digital services in Kazakhstan, as well as Japanese telco SoftBank’s plan to run co-hosted generative AI, 5G and 6G applications on multi-tenant Nvidia-powered servers – see Nvidia and SoftBank team on GenAI, 5G/6G platform. South Korean telco SK Telecom has also recently made strides in exploring the technology by collaborating with FriendliAI, which has developed a platform that enables companies to build their own GenAI models – see New partnerships fuel SK Telecom’s AI aspirations.

Telecom Italia (TIM) is close to reaching a decision regarding the destiny of its NetCo fixed line unit, with the operator confirming that its board met yesterday, 19 June, to examine the two offers it has received – one from state lender CDP (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) and investment fund giant Macquarie, and the other one from private equity company KKR. A decision on its preferred bidder has not been made yet but is expected to be announced at the board’s next meeting on 22 June when the assessment is set to be completed, the Italian telco giant explained in a statement. Meanwhile, Reuters has reported that the operator’s preference is tilting towards holding further discussions with KKR as its offer was seen as more appealing. According to media speculation, KKR was ready to spend €23bn, which is significantly more than the reported bid by CDP and Macquarie of €19.3bn. However, given that CDP and Macquarie own rival fibre optic provider Open Fiber, it could raise antitrust issues if they were to go into partnership with TIM. The decision will be crucial for Telecom Italia’s leadership as the company is struggling with a €25bn debt. Its biggest investor, French media giant Vivendi, has also added fuel to the fire by previously stating that it would not accept any offer short of €31bn which, it claims, is NetCo’s actual value – see Crunch time for Telecom Italia as NetCo bids fall short.

And it seems like this week could be a big one for European telco M&A…  Orange and MásMóvil are set to receive a “statement of objections” from the European Commission’s competition bureau that will lay out a number of reasons why their proposed €18.6bn merger in Spain should not be allowed, according to Reuters. The EC opened an “in-depth investigation” into the deal in March, with the region’s telecom sector watching closely to see if there are any signs that European regulators will look more kindly on consolidation in the communications services market and allow the major operators to gain greater economies of scale. But the commission made it clear earlier this year that “the transaction may reduce competition in the retail supply of mobile and fixed broadband services as well as of multiple-play bundles in Spain,” given that Orange and MásMóvil are close competitors, being the second and the fourth largest Spanish operators, respectively, and that appears to still be a major hurdle to overcome. The competition bureau is not due to issue a final ruling on the deal until early September, so it is perhaps not a good sign that concerns are being shared this early. 

The US government has boosted its efforts to offer reliable connectivity across the country, announcing plans to stump up $930m for fibre projects. The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will oversee the allocation of the funding for the expansion of “middle mile high-speed” internet infrastructure across 35 states and Puerto Rico. The aim for the programme is that it brings about the deployment of more than 12,000 miles of future-proof fibre. The funding will go towards the construction, improvement or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure, and will cover any associated administrative costs. “Much like how the interstate highway system connected every community in America to regional and national systems of highways, this programme will help us connect communities across the country to regional and national networks that provide quality, affordable high-speed internet access,” said secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo. Companies will be given five years to complete any funded projects. Read more.

Pan-African telecommunications group Smile, which delivers 4G LTE services in East Africa, has provided an explanation for an almost 15-month lack of service in Uganda. In a statement, it noted that the outage which began on 31 January 2022 was because of its network was disconnected by American Tower Corporation (ATC), a move it described as being carried out “illegally”, contrary to the tower company’s “licence obligations, industry best practices, and most importantly, the well-being of the Ugandan people”. The telco group added that tensions between the two companies began in 2018 in the form of commercial disputes over “discriminatory pricing practices, as well as unfair and illegal power billing practices” which saw American Tower “collecting around fifty percent more than the tariffs set by the Electricity Regulatory Authority of Uganda”. Smile revealed that the two companies have been in legal challenges and despite “attempted settlement negotiations”, it has not been successful in reinstating its services. It has “terminated all contracts with ATC and requested the return of its equipment to resume its services with an alternative Tower partner. However, ATC has been adamant, effectively continuing to illegally and with impunity hold Smile hostage.” Describing the situation as “unprecedented” in the African market and across the international telecoms industry, Smile added that it is persevering with legal action against the tower company and is challenging the service shutdown and “refusal to return its equipment”. Read more.

Staying in Africa… Airtel Africa’s unit in Nigeria has reportedly launched 5G in the states of Lagos, Rivers, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, which includes the capital city of Abuja. According to a report by Vanguard, users of 5G-capable devices will now be able to use Airtel Africa’s next-generation network, which promises faster and more reliable connectivity, with the potential to unlock new opportunities in areas such as cloud computing, telemedicine, autonomous vehicles, cloud gaming, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), internet of things (IoT) and more. According to the report, Airtel Nigeria is working with Samsung on options for affordable 5G-capable smartphones. The telco is the latest player in the market to join the 5G party: MTN released a pilot 5G service in August 2022 prior to a broader commercial launch a month later, while Mafab Communications, the only other company in the country to have a licence to deploy 5G, launched its network commercially in January this year.

- The staff, TelecomTV