What’s up with… Network APIs, SK Telecom, NTT

Source: GSMA

Source: GSMA

  • The GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative is bearing fruit
  • SK Telecom invests in yet more AI specialists
  • NTT to invest in self-driving vehicle startup

In today’s industry news roundup: Sri Lanka is a proving ground for the network API developments underway under the auspices of the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative; SK Telecom adds to its growing AI ecosystem with two further investments; NTT’s driverless vehicle strategy shifts up a gear; and much more!

With digital service provider (DSP) technology and strategy stars now aligning, the era of network API services, along with new business models for progressive telcos, is upon us, Juan Carlos Garcia Lopez, SVP of technology innovation and ecosystem at Telefónica, stated earlier this year during a DSP Leaders World Forum address. One of the industry developments enabling the potential in that new era is the GSMA’s Open Gateway initiative, which was launched earlier this year. That initiative now has more than 36 mobile operator groups, representing 214 mobile networks and 60% of mobile connections worldwide, and it’s making tangible progress in a relatively short time. One notable example is a development in Sri Lanka, where all four mobile network operators – Bharti Airtel Lanka, Dialog Axiata, Hutchison Telecommunications Lanka and SLT-Mobitel – have prioritised and launched three APIs – One Time Password (OTP) Validation, Device Location and Carrier Billing – that give “developers and enterprises a standard way to technically and commercially reach over 21 million Sri Lankans, regardless of their network operator.” For further details, see this announcement.    

SK Telecom continues to invest in artificial intelligence companies as it morphs from a telco into an AI company. The South Korean operator has invested 5.4bn Korean won ($4.1m) into Allganize, a large language model (LLM) solution developer, and 4bn Korean won ($3.1m) into ImpriMed, which is developing an AI-based anticancer drug prognosis model for pet dogs. The operator noted in its press release (in Korean) that both Allganize and ImpriMed are now members of the K-AI Alliance, which was formed earlier this year and now has 16 members. SK Telecom has been partnering with, and investing in, a growing number of AI developers for the past couple of years but ramped up its efforts this year with the development and unveiling of its AI pyramid strategy – see New partnerships fuel SK Telecom’s AI aspirations.

Japanese telecoms giant NTT is reportedly planning to invest around ¥10bn ($68m) into May Mobility, a US-based start-up for autonomous vehicle technology. According to a report by local newspaper Nikkei, NTT is looking to support the company with its goal of developing driverless buses and taxis by 2025. The startup is also financially backed by automaker Toyota, which is to produce the autonomous vehicles. Nikkei also reported that through the investment, NTT will obtain exclusive rights to sell the self-driving system, developed by May Mobility, in Japan.

Global radio access network (RAN) equipment revenue is expected to exceed $40bn per year in 2030, according to new research from Dell’Oro Group. However, the market is set to advance at a slower compound annual growth rate (CAGR) than during the 4G era (when CAGR was 2%), and it is expected to increase at just 1% CAGR between 2020 and 2030. The research house reached this conclusion based on an assumption that RAN revenues have already peaked in 2021 and will shape a downward trend before picking up momentum in the outer part of the forecast period. According to the forecast, growth prospects in the RAN market remain challenging, and a potential upside will come from emerging opportunities, including fixed wireless access (FWA) and private wireless, as they are set to play “a crucial role” in compensating for tepid mobile broadband advancements. Dell’Oro Group further predicts that small cells will comprise around 15% of the total RAN market in 2030, and that macro RAN and cloud RAN deployments will play a key role at the start of the 6G wave. Find out more.

The AI market has a new contender in the form of Elon Musk’s AI chatbot Grok, which he has launched via his new company xAI. Grok, according to xAI, is modelled on the notorious “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”, meaning it aspires to “answer almost anything and, far harder, even suggest what questions to ask”. The company also noted that the system is designed to offer responses “with a bit of wit and has a rebellious streak”. The new service will use “real-time knowledge of the world” via the X platform (previously known as Twitter). Still in a “very early beta” stage, Grok is initially available to a select number of users, but there are plans to integrate it into ‘X Premium+’ , one of the social media giant’s new subscription options, recently introduced by Musk.

Chip design giant Arm has made an unspecified “strategic investment” for a minority stake in low-cost computer platform developer Raspberry Pi as the companies “collaborate to deliver critical solutions for the internet of things (IoT) developer community,” the duo have announced. “As the demand for edge compute accelerates, with the proliferation of more demanding IoT and AI applications, Raspberry Pi’s solutions are putting the power of low-cost, high-performance computing into the hands of people and businesses all over the world,” noted Arm in this announcement. “This investment further cements a partnership that began in 2008, and which has seen the release of many popular Arm-based Raspberry Pi products for students, enthusiasts and commercial developers.” Raspberry Pi technology is used in many different applications – it is at the heart of the Open RAN 5G network-in-a-box developed by Vodafone, for example.  

What role might neutral hosts play in 5G densification plans? Boldyn Networks (formerly BAI Communications) hopes it will be a substantial one, as building and running shared wireless communications infrastructure is its raison d’etre. The company is encouraged by the results of a recent survey it commissioned, which found that “92% of telecoms decision-makers across operators and the public and private sector in the US, UK and Ireland are likely to work with neutral hosts to remove the challenges associated with 5G densification”. The results, while of course very favourable to the very company that paid for the research, do make sense, as while the pace of 5G rollouts has been reasonably fast, the full potential value of 5G services, especially for low-latency applications that would suffer from having to fall back onto a 4G connection, will only really come into play once near-ubiquitous coverage is achieved, particularly in key locations, such as shopping centres and sports/leisure centres and stadiums, and it’s not going to be possible for every operator to invest in their own dedicated network infrastructure to achieve that dense coverage. In some ways, it’s surprising that 8% do not think it is likely they will use neutral host networks to achieve their coverage goals, particularly as there are many locations where it is either very tough to roll out wholly owned infrastructure or where that approach doesn’t make economic sense. “Our industry has made great progress in rolling out 5G networks globally and confidence in its performance by business customers has rocketed. But to create the truly interconnected communities of the future, it is essential that we close the gaps in 5G connectivity – indoors, outdoors, in urban, suburban, and rural environments,” noted Justin Berger, group chief strategy officer at Boldyn Networks. “That’s what network densification is all about… operators and public and private organisations face serious challenges in achieving ubiquitous connectivity. So how do these decision-makers go about this? Our report reveals that neutral hosts will play a crucial role in network densification strategies,” he added. For more on the results of the survey, see this press release. Of course, it’s also worth noting that Boldyn isn’t the only neutral host infrastructure player that will be aiming to help operators and public bodies, such as national governments and metropolitan authorities, achieve their coverage goals. 

With so much focus on data and video traffic these days, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are still a lot of voice calls running over telecom networks and that traffic needs to be managed in an increasingly efficient and cloud-oriented fashion. One of the companies enabling that is cloud communications platform specialist Alianza, which has just raised $61m in new growth equity and debt financing that will be used to expand its sales team and go towards the $200m the company has pledged to invest in R&D over the next five years. “Future market opportunities remain substantial for [Alianza] with more than 100 million voice lines in North America nearing end-of-life and primed for transition from legacy TDM and softswitch infrastructure to the cloud… the cloudification of core communications networks is foundational for service providers to offer innovative retail solutions, as well as a prerequisite to leverage the future benefits of generative AI,” noted the company in its funding announcement. Brent Kelly, principal analyst in Omdia’s digital workplace team, noted: “Service providers are seeking next-gen voice and unified communications solutions as their existing infrastructure reaches end of life, and they look to improve their positioning in an increasingly competitive market. In order for service providers to thrive, they must become more than broadband network operators. They must reduce their cost-of-service delivery while improving the end-user customers’ experience. They need to transform from telcos to techcos. Alianza is well positioned to help service providers as they navigate this transition.” 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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