What’s up with… European investment, GSMA & IBM, AT&T

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Jan 30, 2024

  • ETNO reignites the fair share debate
  • GSMA gets jiggy with IBM on telco GenAI training  
  • AT&T to invest in startups developing game-changing tech

In today’s industry news roundup: ETNO rekindles the fair share debate in Europe and calls for a pro-innovation and pro-investment industrial policy in the region; the GSMA and IBM unite to prepare telco leaders for the era of generative AI (GenAI) developments; AT&T is looking to fund developers in ‘game-changing tech areas’ with new initiative; and much more! 

The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) is reigniting the fair share debate and is piling additional pressure on lawmakers in the region to support telcos by making it easier for them to invest in 5G and fibre networks, so that they can increase their return on investment (ROI) from capital expenditure (capex) on network deployments. ETNO, which represents Europe’s main telecom operators, has always been a vocal supporter of a relaxed regulatory framework, and now the association is using the fair share debate as a new approach to support its case. In its new State of Digital Communications 2024 report, based on research by Analysys Mason, ETNO concluded that telcos have invested around 50 times more than tech companies (also known as content and applications providers, or CAPs) into digital infrastructure. It found European telcos invested €56.3bn in digital infrastructure (mostly access networks) in 2021, while CAPs invested roughly €1bn in infrastructure, such as large international and undersea routes, peering, transit and caching. The remainder of their investment (approximately €16bn) was on datacentres. The report also suggested that the €460,000 revenue per employee made by telcos in 2021 is far less than the €2.33m reaped by Netflix, €1.46m by Alphabet and €2.33m by Meta. ETNO also noted that CAPs have, so far, invested “almost nothing in European physical networks that are closer to end users than caches, and certainly nothing at all in European fixed access or the physical RAN [radio access network]”. At the same time, ETNO noted that Europe is lagging behind Asia and North America on edge cloud offers, and that deployments of 5G standalone (SA) across the continent are carried out in a slow manner – and such “weak fundamentals should be reason for alarm”. The association stressed a need for “a pro-innovation and pro-investment industrial policy addressing Europe’s connectivity ecosystem,” reiterating Vodafone’s recent call for European lawmakers to revamp legacy regulations – see Vodafone issues red alert over Europe’s digital future.

Industry association the GSMA and IBM have joined forces to train the telecom industry in new skills needed for the generative AI (GenAI) era. The pair will launch two initiatives, one of which is the GSMA Advance’s AI Training programme, which is designed to “prepare telco leaders for the AI-era and bridge skills gaps in the telecom industry” by equipping them with skills and knowledge to help “effectively leverage Gen AI technologies” utilising watsonx, IBM’s AI and data platform with AI assistants. The programme will span a broad range of topics, including fundamental AI principles and specialised GenAI applications in telecoms. The other initiative, the GSMA Foundry Generative AI challenge and programme, will enable GSMA members to access IBM’s watsonx, so they can explore industry-specific GenAI use cases. The end goal is to “improve cost leadership, revenue growth and enhance customer experience” delivered by GSMA members. GSMA CTO, Alex Sinclair, cited figures suggesting that AI could contribute $15.7tn to the global economy by 2030 – but he deemed it “critical” to democratise AI to ensure that “all parts of the connectivity industry and their customers, wherever they are in the world, benefit”. Find out more.

AT&T is to launch an initiative that will see it fund startups with a focus on “game-changing tech areas”, such as connectivity, the internet of things (IoT) and AI. While the US operator did not disclose figures, its early-stage investments will range from Seed funding up to Series B stage companies. AT&T’s aim is to find organisations worldwide that are “creating products and services that can be used in our core markets,” explained Vikram Taneja, head of AT&T Ventures in this blog. He added that with the move, the company is expanding the reach of its venture investment arm, AT&T Ventures. Taneja noted that in recent months, the company has worked with several companies to push “the boundaries of what’s possible,” including investing in Databricks (a data intelligence platform powered by generative AI), partnering with TitletownTech (an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in solutions for industries across Wisconsin and the north-central region of the US) and recently made a $155m investment, alongside Google, into satellite-to-smartphone communications player AST SpaceMobile. AT&T is far from the only telco looking to discover the next big AI developments: In November 2023, German operator Deutsche Telekom and its US subsidiary, T-Mobile US, unveiled an international competition aimed at investing in AI-driven solutions designed to improve the management of the network and the customer experience.

Juniper Networks has developed what it claims to be the industry’s first AI-native networking platform, “purpose-built to leverage AI to assure the best end-to-end operator and end-user experiences”. The solution has been trained on seven years worth of insights and data science development, and unifies all campus, branch and datacentre networking solutions with a common AI engine and Marvis, an AI-driven virtual network assistant. According to the company, this allows end-to-end AI for IT operations (AIOps) to be used for “deep insight, automated troubleshooting and seamless end-to-end networking assurance”, and is capable of cutting operation expenditures (opex) by up to 85%, network trouble tickets by up to 90%, and reduces IT onsite visits and network incident resolution times. “At Juniper, we have seen first-hand how our game-changing AIOps has saved thousands of global enterprises significant time and money while delighting the end user with a superior experience,” explained Rami Rahim, CEO of Juniper Networks. Furthermore, he argued that the company’s platform is “a bold new direction” for Juniper and for the industry, and a major step towards “making network outages, trouble tickets and application downtime things of the past.” The launch comes soon after it was confirmed that Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) will acquire Juniper Networks in a $14bn deal – a move that has been seen by analysts as beneficial for HPE as it aims to improve its presence in the AI realm.

Tele2 unveiled a Strategy Execution Program as it announced its fourth-quarter and full year 2023 financials. The Swedish telco’s president and group CEO, Kjell Johnsen, noted in the company’s earnings report that Tele2 is to “gradually allocate more resources directly to our go-to-market efforts and less to maintaining and replacing legacy systems.” For the period 2024-26, the telco will be “building better and more digital tools for addressing customer needs. When we benchmark Tele2 on efficiency, we generally come out very well. However, we do see room for improvement in terms of the costs we incur to attract and retain customers, whether that be in terms of commissions in physical retail or cost of customer interactions with our staff and support services.” As a result of its new focus, Tele2 believes it can reduce its annual operating costs by 600 million krona ($58m). Johnsen added: “We will be working actively towards realising these savings as an effect of a reshaped go-to-market carried out through an internal Strategy Execution Program. Directionally, we have already started adjusting our go-to-market execution, from being too dependent on volumes in external retail to building stronger and more long-term customer relationships. Building on our portfolio of assets, which include mobile, broadband, streaming and TV, we can deliver whatever mix of services and hardware our customers would like, and the task going forward is to make their interactions with us more convenient, reducing friction and complexity. This transition will happen gradually over the next three years and build a stronger Tele2 overall. If 2020-2023 was heavily tilted towards fixing legacy, 2024-2026 will increasingly shift more resources towards ease of use, better customer understanding, automation, and business-led service development.” Tele2 reported full year revenues of SEK29.1bn ($2.8bn), up by 2%, and an operating profit of SEK5.47bn ($525m), down by 17%. 

Serial telecom sector entrepreneur Xavier Niel, who owns and runs the still-growing Iliad empire, has confirmed his NJJ Capital investment vehicle is to acquire Ukrainian mobile operator Lifecell for $500m. The deal had been previously announced by Lifecell’s current owner, Turkcell, at the end of last year but a price tag was not confirmed at the time. Niel told journalists in Paris this week that the deal was subject to clearance from the Ukrainian authorities but that he was hopeful it could be completed within the next six months. Niel is also busy elsewhere on the M&A front: Iliad is currently engaged with Vodafone over a potential merger of their operations in Italy – see Iliad courts Vodafone with €10bn Italian merger offer. 

Turkcell is to spin out its datacentre assets into a wholly owned datacentre unit to “operate in the areas of data processing, data analysis, data storage, server hosting, server leasing, and computer programming with cloud solutions.” The Turkish operator says all of its current datacentre operations will be “transferred to this newly established datacentre company… by demerger.”

- The staff, TelecomTV

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