What’s up with… SK Telecom and Singtel, metaverse patents, Bullitt

TelecomTV Staff
By TelecomTV Staff

Nov 29, 2022

SK Telecom and Singtel have signed a metaverse memorandum of understanding.

SK Telecom and Singtel have signed a metaverse memorandum of understanding.

  • SK Telecom and Singtel team up on metaverse developments
  • Companies from Asia Pacific and US dominate metaverse patents scene
  • Bullitt fires starting gun on satellite-to-smartphone messaging

In today’s industry news roundup: SK Telecom is taking its ifland metaverse platform to Singapore… and beyond; device vendors from South Korea and China dominate the top of the metaverse patent application leaderboard; British niche communications device maker aims to be first with a two-way satellite-to-smartphone messaging device; and more.  

Only days after unveiling its global metaverse ambitions, South Korean operator SK Telecom (SKT) has cemented its relationship with Singtel, which had been identified as the operator’s main metaverse partner for south-east Asia. SKT says it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the operator to “jointly grow the metaverse business in countries where Singtel operates, starting with Singapore”. SKT, which has had its ifland metaverse platform up and running in its home market for more than a year, will work with Singtel to develop “virtual spaces of real-life places in Singapore and avatars customised to the Singaporean culture,” and the duo will engage in joint marketing activities. The two telcos will also “explore collaborative opportunities in areas such as quantum cryptography, or advanced data encryption, to build safer networks against emerging threats,” noted SKT. “This partnership will help showcase the Singtel network’s ultra-low latency, high-speed and stable connectivity, which is critical to creating an optimal immersive experience in the metaverse,” stated Anna Yip, CEO of the Consumer division at Singtel. “Together with SKT, we will help drive innovation and unlock new digital use cases in ifland, creating growth opportunities for enterprises and enriching experiences for consumers. We’re excited to kick this off in Singapore and, in time, expand across the region,” she added.  Singtel has a number of telco group operations in the region, including Optus in Australia, AIS in Thailand, Globe in the Philippines and Telkomsel in Indonesia. 

But there’s more than one way to build a metaverse business, of course… According to the newspaper Nikkei Asia, companies from South Korea and China are prominent amongst those amassing metaverse-related intellectual property, mainly related to the products (such as immersive 3D headsets, displays and specialist semiconductors) that will enable extended reality experiences. South Korea’s LG Electronics has submitted the most patent applications since 2016, followed by its local rival Samsung Electronics, according to a ranking put together by Nikkei and survey specialist Cyber Creative Institute. US giant Meta (formerly Facebook) ranks in third place, followed by China’s Huawei Technologies and then Microsoft in fifth position and Japan’s Sony in sixth. The top-20 companies have submitted a total of 7,760 patents since 2016, with US firms accounting for 57%, followed by South Korean firms at 19%, Chinese firms at 12%, and Japanese firms at 8%. European companies are notable by their absence. And if research firm IDC is in any way accurate, there’s plenty to play for, as it expects the virtual and augmented reality sectors to generate revenues of almost $75bn by 2026, a fivefold increase in five years.

As anticipated, niche British communications device maker Bullitt, which designs and manufactures mobile phones under brand licences from Cat (Caterpillar Inc) and Motorola, is getting into the increasingly hot non-terrestrial communications market with the launch of what it claims is the “world’s first satellite-to-mobile messaging smartphone”, a device that has been developed in partnership with chip giant MediaTek and that will launch in the early months of 2023. The company is laying it on thick in its marketing, stating that the device is “at the edge of technical innovation, surpassing plans of other satellite communications players named in the mobile space race.” Could the Bullitt team be referring to a certain Mr E Musk, who earlier this year struck a satellite-to-smartphone messaging services deal with T-Mobile US? We think so. “Bullitt and MediaTek have worked together over the last 18 months to enable the addition of direct to satellite communication in the next generation of Bullitt-designed 5G smartphones,” stated the UK firm in this announcement. “Bullitt is the first to use MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN (non-terrestrial network) chipset. Proprietary software and service components have also been developed in parallel to provide the OTT satellite messaging service,” the announcement added, which also makes the case for devices that can still communicate beyond the reach of traditional cellular networks. “Over 13 years, we have developed a deep understanding of our customers who, due to the nature of their lifestyle or job, often find themselves in the great outdoors and frequently on the fringes of cellular coverage,” states Bullitt’s CEO, Richard Wharton. “Globally, mobile phone users lose signal for tens of billions of hours each year… Americans alone lose cell coverage for over 22 billion hours annually [according to OpenSignal]. Loss of signal is something we have all experienced at some time. Depending on the situation, that can mean inconvenience, frustration, anxiety, lost productivity or even loss of life. We have known for a long time that the answer was in satellite but an ‘invisible’ and seamless integration into a smartphone creates enormous technical challenges. MediaTek and Bullitt share a pioneering spirit and a history of innovation so now, nearly two years into our relationship, we jointly stand at the forefront of a new era in telecommunications and the quickest, simplest way for our carrier channel partners to offer total peace of mind to their customers.” Let’s see what this new era might deliver…

German operator Deutsche Telekom (DT) has partnered with a plethora of automotive and tech giants to demonstrate how 5G standalone (SA) network slicing performs to meet various quality of service (QoS) demands in an automated driving scenario. Claiming the move as the world’s first, the telco unveiled it has relied on automaker BMW Group, automotive supplier Valeo, mobile networking equipment vendor Ericsson and wireless tech giant Qualcomm Technologies for a series of trials. The companies have explored how 5G SA network slicing with different QoS features support end-to-end automotive applications and use cases. What they found was that indeed, a device using network slicing based on a 5G SA network, combined with features such as user equipment route selection policy (URSP), could “dynamically select and connect to multiple slices simultaneously”. Additionally, the features examined within the tests have demonstrated an ability to meet “the QoS demands of mission-critical applications under various network load situations”. Claudia Nemat, board member for technology and innovation at Deutsche Telekom, described the “close cross-industry collaboration” between participating companies as an “enabler for future services”. Learn more.

Back at work after the long-weekend Thanksgiving break and a surfeit of turkey and pumpkin pie, US regulators at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have published details of the annual data returns that telcos and service providers participating in the US Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will have to submit. This includes details of the speed, latency, and “bundle characteristics” of the subsidised services they provide as well as “certain aggregated subscriber data”. Additionally, if designated as applicable, they will have to provide a “unique identifier associated with a broadband label”. In November last year, the US Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act became law. It provided US$14.2bn to fund what became the ACP to subsidise eligible low-income households with a $30-a-month discount on broadband services and connected devices. The subsidy rises to $75 a month for those on “tribal lands” who are adjudged to be eligible. ACP subsidies can also be awarded to defray some of the costs of “a broadband device, such as a computer”. Simultaneously, the FCC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) asking service providers and other interested parties to submit their views on the collection of additional information, including more granular aggregated data, and details of enrolment processes and connected device offerings. The NPRM also wants telcos and ISPs to comment on the collection of subscriber-level data and on whether the FCC itself should collect data identifying whether the recipient of the ACP subsidy is a first-time or existing broadband subscriber, or is subscribed to multiple plans. The FCC says such information will enable the agency to determine if the ACP is instrumental in helping to narrow the still yawning digital divide in the US. In a statement, the chair of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, wrote: “We need to know where we have been with this program to better understand where we need to go. With this order, we are standardising the way we collect information about the ACP. We are also considering proposals in a further rulemaking to see what other data points may help paint a fuller picture of how eligible households participate in this program.” She added that the ACP has now enrolled more than 15 million participants.

This summer, Pietro Labriola, the CEO of the incumbent Italian operator Telecom Italia (TIM), came up with a turnaround plan for the troubled telco. It certainly needs one. TIM is mired in €26bn of debt and the central objective of Labriola’s plan was to break up the company, sell TIM’s fixed network infrastructure (FibreCop) to the state lender CDP and use the money raised to reduce the huge debt and try to make TIM a viable service provider. However, this story is as much about the volatility and impermanence of successive Italian governments as it is about telecoms. The government before the new right-wing coalition was headed by Mario Draghi, who strongly favoured combining TIM's network assets with those of Open Fiber, which is currently owned by CDP (60%) and investment firm Macquarie (40%): Indeed, the plan to merge FiberCop with Open Fiber was agreed earlier this year. Draghi saw the merger as the way to create a single, powerful broadband provider for the entire country. However, in September, following yet another general election, Italy got a new government, the country’s 70th since the end of World War II. Italian governments have a life expectancy of 1.11 years. The new prime minister, Georgia Meloni, wants to reassess the proposed deal and “seek new options” even as Treasury-owned CDP gets cold feet about stumping up the money. The deadline for ratifying the proposal is tomorrow, Wednesday, 30 November 2022. The deadline will be missed. The CDP (Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) was founded in 1850 to finance public works, such as roads and waterpipes, during the reign of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, King of Sardinia-Piedmont! It is now Italy’s National Promotional Institution fostering economic development through long-term investments at local, regional and national level and acts as the government's arm for carrying through public policy mandates. It transpires that, despite tomorrow’s deadline, the CDP has not yet even gone so far as to schedule a board meeting to discuss the project. Meanwhile, Meloni has assigned her cabinet undersecretary Alessio Butti to manage the affair: Butti wants the CDP to take over all of TIM’s assets, lock, stock and barrel, and then sell off its service operations, including TIM’s Brazilian arm, which is highly profitable. Labriola calls TIM Brazil (which he used to run) Telecom Italia’s “jewel in the crown” and points out that its contributions to the group balance sheet are what are keeping the Italian network afloat. Italian analysts opine that just to devise and agree a new plan to amalgamate TIM and OpenFiber will take at least 18 months and that’s before the inevitable time-consuming wrangling and politicking kicks in. And, by then, Italy will almost certainly be onto its 71st government in 78 years. 

 The latest pronouncement from Elon Musk, made from his throne of infallibility on the roof of 1355 Market Street, San Francisco, is that Twitter is at the epicentre of no less than “a battle for the future of civilisation”. He added: “Tyranny is all that lies ahead” should Twitter’s version of what constitutes free speech in the US be curtailed or lost. To prevent such an eventuality, Musk tweeted: “The Twitter Files on free speech suppression [are] soon to be published on Twitter itself. The public deserves to know what really happened…”. This seems to be about the discredited old chestnut of a story about the contents of a laptop computer belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of US President Joe Biden. It relates to an unfounded Biden-Ukraine corruption conspiracy theory. Responding personally to a tweet by a user of the platform saying: “Raise your hand if you think @ElonMusk should make public all internal discussions about the decision to censor the @NYPost's story on Hunter Biden's laptop before the 2020 Election in the interest of transparency”. Musk came back with: “This is necessary to restore public trust”. When he eventually bought Twitter, Musk made much of his determination to make Twitter a wide-open forum. He wrote: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” Humility personified. Musk is also continuing his spat with Apple, saying that it is anti free speech and he is thus asking Apple to publish details of all the ‘censorship’ it has applied in the past. Actually, it’s really about money and Twitter’s not-so-invisible hand of self-interest. It is massively reliant on advertising revenues and will remain so despite efforts to make a few bucks via its on-off subscription-based ‘Blue Tick’ verification badge system. The new system is supposed to go live by the end of this week but, then again, it may not, especially if Musk continues to pursue his vendetta against Apple. He is particularly exercised by the 30% Apple charges as a ‘tax’ on purchases made through its App Store and yesterday declared, (in a tweet, natch) that he’s prepared to “go to war” rather than pay it and that Apple has threatened “to withhold Twitter”, which presumably means it has ceased to post its advertising on the platform. Musk also tweeted: "Apple has mostly stopped advertising on Twitter. Do they hate free speech in America?" Strangely, the bellicose message was deleted a matter of hours after he sent it. Twitter’s Grand Panjandrum has also aired his views on Twitter users who tweet too often, saying: “I think people who tweet a lot are addicted – and possibly narcissistic. No single person has enough interesting things to say to the entire world to tweet more than five times a day." How’s that for insight? Just to point out, according to the good old BBC, Musk currently sends a Tweet every 15 minutes “during normal waking hours”. Hours he does not keep: 16-hour days (and more), seven days a week are the norm for him, apparently. So, at the bottom end of the scale, he is spending at least 64 tweets a day, the reticent and self-effacing fellow that he is. 

- The staff, TelecomTV

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