SK Telecom invests in GenAI search startup Perplexity

  • SK Telecom and generative AI search engine developer Perplexity have been partners since February
  • Now the Korean telco has taken a small equity stake in the US startup
  • SK Telecom plans to integrate Perplexity’s search tool into its AI personal assistant
  • Perplexity is also working with Deutsche Telekom and SoftBank

SK Telecom has invested $10m in Perplexity, a San Francisco-based generative AI (GenAI)-enabled conversational search engine developer with which the South Korean telco struck a strategic partnership in February. SK Telecom, which has been positioning itself as an ‘AI company’ for almost two years (during which time it has made investments in multiple AI-related startups), said the investment will strengthen the partnership and lead to further joint development work on large language model (LLM) developments. “We will map the global AI ecosystem together,” stated SK Telecom in this announcement (in Korean). As part of the new enhanced relationship, Perplexity, which earlier this year raised $62.7m in its Series B round funding, agreed to make future investments in the Global AI Platform Corp. (GAP Co.), which SKT established in Silicon Valley last year. “GAP Co. is SKT's global AI service developer and jointly develops AI search services with Perplexity,” noted the Korean operator.   

Perplexity will also collaborate with SK Telecom cooperate on the development of generative AI-based search engines to be integrated in the telco’s AI personal assistants, including its A. (aka Adot) application. 

According to SK Telecom, Perplexity's GenAI search engine is “characterised by a short delay time between searching and finding an answer, and providing users with information from accurate sources. Also, unlike keyword search, you can search as if you were communicating with a person, and various search results such as quotes, images, and graphs related to the answer are provided.” The telco expects that integrating the search engine into its AI assistants will enable them to “perform a wide range of functions such as interactive questions, summary of search results, suggestion of related search words, English translation and summary.”

SK Telecom also plans to offer Perplexity Pro, a paid subscription search service, to its customers for free for one year at some point in the future. 

“Both companies share a vision to provide the best AI services that enrich our lives,” stated Dmitry Shevelenko, chief business officer (CBO) at Perplexity. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide Perplexity Pro services to SKT customers… Partnerships with telecommunications companies that are at the forefront of customers’ daily lives will be a key factor in Perplexity’s growth strategy, and as this is the first case of cooperation with a global telecommunications company, we expect our partnership with SKT to continue in the long term.”

Lee Jae-shin, VP of AI growth strategy at SK Telecom, said: “Through this investment cooperation with Perplexity, we have secured global competitiveness in the AI ​​search engine market. Based on the close cooperation between the two companies, we will strengthen Adot’s search capabilities… We plan to launch the highest level AI personal assistant service at home and abroad.”

When it comes to telco partnerships, Perplexity isn’t only working with SK Telecom: Earlier this year it struck partnership agreements with Deutsche Telekom and Japan’s SoftBank. 

At the time, SoftBank’s Head of Consumer Business Promotion Unit, Hiroyuki Terao, noted: “We are delighted to announce our alliance with Perplexity, leading innovators in the realm of AI-powered service. We have continuously transformed people's lives through our philosophy: ‘Information Revolution -Happiness for everyone-’ and offering Perplexity to users in Japan aligns perfectly with this philosophy. This is merely the commencement of our journey. Through this collaboration, we aspire to embody our philosophy in the realm of generative AI.” 

Jon Abrahamson, Chief Product & Digital Officer at Deutsche Telekom, stated: “We are in the midst of a technology revolution that will reshape every aspect of our lives, and we at Deutsche Telekom want to assure that its benefits stay open and accessible to everyone. For this reason, we are thrilled at the opportunity to work with Perplexity as they seek to revolutionise search and access to information.”

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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