What’s up with… ETSI, KT & SKT, VMO2 & Starlink

Jan Ellsberger will be ETSI's next director general.

Jan Ellsberger will be ETSI's next director general.

  • ETSI has a new director general
  • KT and SK Telecom invest in AI specialist 
  • Virgin Media O2 turns to Starlink for backhaul

In today’s industry news roundup: Former Ericsson and Huawei executive will be ETSI’s new director general; South Korean operators invest in AI specialist Upstage; UK telco Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) will use Starlink satellite broadband links for backhaul in some rural areas; and more!

European industry specifications body ETSI has elected former Ericsson and Huawei executive Jan Ellsberger as its new director general during its general assembly held on 16 April. The Swede told Euronews that he is “committed to working with all members and stakeholders to re-establish ETSI’s role in the European Standardisation System, and to further strengthen ETSI’s role as a global platform for technology innovation and standardisation in the best interests of European industry and policy makers.” Ellsberger will start the role in the summer, when he takes over from Luis Jorge Romero. According to Euronews, the European Commission was pushing for another of the candidates, Frenchman Gilles Brégant, to be elected for the job as he does not have any foreign business connections. 

Korean telcos KT and SK Telecom (through its subsidiary SK Networks) have led a $72m funding round in South Korean AI company Upstage, alongside investors such as Korea Development Bank, Shinhan Venture Investment, Hana Ventures, Mirae Asset Venture Investment and Industrial Bank of Korea. Exact sums were not disclosed for the Series B funding round. The AI startup’s portfolio includes large language models (LLMs), such as Solar LLM, and its Document AI solution. With the new investment, the company has now raised more than $100m since its establishment in October 2020 and, according to Upstage, this makes it “the most-funded South Korean AI software company in history”. The new financing will be used to accelerate the development of purpose-trained LLMs for global enterprises, with Upstage opening a new office in the US. Read more.

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has chosen Starlink as a partner for providing mobile backhaul in remote locations across the UK, based on low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite technology. In a statement, the UK telco noted that the tie-up is aligned with its goal to boost signal in rural areas as part of the government-backed Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme. The announcement comes in the wake of deployments of Starlink’s mobile backhaul solution across sites in the Scottish Highlands which, the telco operator noted, are “extremely difficult, prohibitively costly or impossible to connect using standard technologies, such as fibre or microwave connections.” The move has been enabled through a collaboration with its shareholder, Telefónica Global Solutions (TGS), which is an official Starlink reseller. “We’re leaving no stone unturned when it comes to improving rural connectivity and are continuously looking for new ways to boost signal in remote areas,” said Jeanie York, CTO of VMO2. In the UK, Starlink technology is also being explored by BT to enhance its connectivity, though there was no deal signed upon confirmation of the collaboration in January. BT also partners with OneWeb and Stratospheric Platforms on various solutions to provide connectivity in hard-to-reach locations. And on a group level, UK-based telco Vodafone is collaborating with Amazon to provide LEO-based connectivity in Africa and Europe, and is among the big-name investors in satellite-to-smartphone network provider AST SpaceMobile.

Mexican operator group América Móvil has booked an overwhelming 55.2% decline in net profit for the first quarter of 2024, to 13.5bn Mexican pesos (MXN) (US$797m). The reason, it claimed, was currency fluctuations due to a strong Mexican peso that has affected revenue from outside of its domestic market. It added that the Mexican peso has risen against all currencies in its region of operation, except for Colombia. Its total revenues amounted to MXN 203bn (nearly $12bn), down 2.7% year on year. Service revenues rose slightly by 1.1% to MXN 171bn ($10bn), while what it refers to as ‘other revenue’ sank by 71.7% year on year to MXN 2.4bn ($141m). “The latter figure reflects extraordinary revenue in the first quarter of 2023 on account of the sale of towers by Dominican Republic and Peru; this quarter there were practically no tower sales,” the company explained. In the first quarter, it added 1.5 million wireless subscribers, bringing the total to 311.6 million by the end of March, and more than 562,000 new broadband connections, to a total of 74 million by the end of the quarter. Alongside its financial results, América Móvil announced that it is no longer a shareholder in Dutch operator KPN after a bond that was exchangeable for KPN shares matured in March. Prior to this, the Mexican telco had been the largest shareholder in KPN for twelve years.

A1 Telekom Austria Group has reported modest growth for the opening quarter of 2024, with its total revenues up 0.7% year on year to €1.3bn. The main contributor was a 3.1% year-on-year growth in service revenue in local currency in all markets except for Slovenia, offsetting an almost 10% drop in equipment revenues. The telco group noted that its service revenue growth was driven by solutions and its connectivity and mobile business but that it was also affected by negative currency, declining interconnection and fixed voice business. Its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) was up 4.2% to €454m, despite “higher core opex [operating expense] driven mainly by higher workforce and product-related costs,” the company noted. A1 Group CEO Alejandro Plater acknowledged there were challenges in some segments in Austria, while its markets in central and eastern Europe (CEE) demonstrated “a stable performance”. “In an environment of rising costs, especially workforce, we continue to focus consistently on the implementation of efficiency measures. The outlook for 2024 is stable,” he added. The company is targeting revenue growth of 3% to 4% in the current year and capital expenditure (capex), excluding spectrum, of around €800m.

Samsung and Qualcomm are claiming a wireless data transmission breakthrough, having “successfully completed 1024 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) tests for both frequency division duplex (FDD) and time division duplex (TDD) spectrum bands, marking an industry first for FDD.” The partners, who conducted the tests using Samsung’s 5G virtual RAN (vRAN) software and radios (each supporting the 2.1GHz FDD and 3.5GHz TDD spectrum bands) and a Qualcomm test device equipped with its Snapdragon X75 5G Modem-RF System, say the results “demonstrate the companies’ dedication to supporting operators increase 5G throughput and boost spectral efficiency of their networks.” Samsung called the achievement a “significant milestone”, explaining that it is “the first time the industry has accomplished 1024 QAM for FDD band. By using 20MHz bandwidth, the companies reached 485 Mbit/s, achieving near-theoretical gain. This downlink speed is more than 20% higher than what is possible with the current 256 QAM.” Read more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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