What’s up with… Airtel & Google, Apple, bytemares

  • Airtel and Google Cloud to offer GenAI services in India
  • Apple closes in on GenAI deal for iOS 18
  • Are you suffering from bytemares?

In today’s industry news roundup: Bharti Airtel and Google Cloud team up to take advanced cloud and generative AI solutions to India’s enterprise sector; Apple is on the verge of a GenAI deal with OpenAI, according to reports; the UK is being hampered by executive ‘bytemares’ about the speed of tech evolution, according to BT; and much more!

India’s second-largest mobile operator Bharti Airtel has teamed up with Google Cloud to deliver cloud solutions and generative AI (GenAI) services to Indian businesses. “The strategic collaboration will offer a suite of cutting-edge cloud solutions from Google Cloud to fast-track cloud adoption and modernisation for Airtel’s customers,” noted the operator in this announcement. “In addition, Airtel will provide a suite of cloud managed services to its customer base of more than 2,000 large enterprises and 1 million emerging businesses. Through this collaboration, the two companies are targeting the large and growing Indian public cloud services market, which is expected to reach $17.8bn by 2027, according to IDC,” added Airtel. The partners will develop AI solutions that Airtel will train on its large data set. “These unique solutions will drive greater value to Airtel’s customers and will include geospatial analytics solutions with advanced location intelligence for trend spotting, predictive capabilities, market assessment, site selection, risk management, and asset tracking; voice analytics solutions for superior conversational applications trained across languages; and marketing technology solutions to forecast consumer behaviour, perform tailored audience segmentations, and streamline content creation with high-precision contextual ads at reduced costs,” the operator noted. Airtel will also “leverage Google Cloud’s GenAI capabilities to transform its customer experiences and interactions across its offerings of mobile, broadband, and digital TV, and to streamline its internal processes and operations. Airtel will also extend these capabilities to its B2B customers in India and globally,” it added. 

Apple is on the verge of a deal with OpenAI to incorporate the company’s GenAI technology in its upcoming launch of iOS 18, the next iteration of its iPhone operating system, according to a report from Bloomberg. Apple is developing its own cloud-hosted and on-device large language model (LLM) technology but is not so keen to develop its own chatbot functionality: That’s where the integration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT functionality comes in, according to the report. In addition, Apple might also strike a separate GenAI technology agreement with Google, in much the same way it has teamed up with Google for search functionality. Adding such functionality would likely be the catalyst for a new wave of iPhone sales and it seems that’s something that could help light a new fire under the American mobile phone sector, which is shrinking by the quarter, it seems…

The US smartphone market remains stuck in the doldrums whilst the rest of the world appears to be enjoying some blue water sailing, with stats from Counterpoint Research for the first quarter of 2024 showing sales were down by 8% by comparison with the same period a year ago. That’s the sixth such quarterly fall in succession. Consumers are keeping their handsets for longer and demand for mobiles in the under-$300 segment is well down as a result. Meanwhile, the mobile operators are pushing high-end ‘5G-capable’ phones, but consumers are wary of paying premium prices for services and apps they regard as being all but identical to 4G services that they know and trust and are considerably cheaper. According to the Counterpoint Research team, one of the factors exacerbating the quite large decline was the “unusually high base for comparison” from the first quarter of 2023, which was bolstered by some delayed iPhone shipments. However, the underlying reality is that, overall, smartphone sales in the US are falling: Another research house, IDC, has estimated that US consumers are holding on to their ‘old’ handsets for a full three years and four months longer than they used to – a veritable generation and more in the smartphone product lifecycle. In terms of vendor market share, Apple is still the clear leader in the US smartphone market, with a 52% share in the first quarter (the same as a year earlier), but Samsung managed to increase its market share to 31%, up from 27% a year earlier. Now consumers and the market are waiting to see what kind of AI-based marketing strategies will be employed by the vendors this year. For years now, many of the improvements embedded in new smartphone models have been small increments to existing apps and services rather than a step-change in technology, and vendors are seeking ways to commercialise generative AI in their new devices. Sanyam Chaurasia, a senior analyst at research firm Canalys, noted recently that “the evolution of on-device AI solutions for smartphones depends heavily on strategic alliances among brands, chipset providers and software firms. Vendors will look for open collaboration with industry leaders to bring unique and personalised AI solutions to end users. In the long term, vendors will look to bring these AI features to mid-range price bands to add more users to their native AI ecosystems. Additionally, ecosystem expansion via cross-device integration and strategic partnerships boosts revenue potential, highlighting the profound impact of on-device AI on user experiences and brand profitability.” Well, maybe. Samsung of South Korea set the ball rolling this year with its Galaxy S24 suite of smartphones that feature embedded novelties, such as AI capabilities for photo editing, real-time phone call translations, automatically generated summaries for webpages and tidy scrawled and all-but indecipherable handwriting made on screen with a stylus. Consumers seem to like what they get but it’s possible that the novelty will wear off unless new apps keep arriving. The big question now is to what impact Apple’s moves will have – a bevy of new features for the iPhone could help to stimulate a moribund US smartphone market.

As if there wasn’t enough to worry about... According to a new report from the incumbent UK operator BT Group, nine out of 10 of business leaders are stressed out because the runaway pace of technology evolution is giving them ‘bytemares’. BT warns that ‘technology anxiety’ and concomitant ‘technology paralysis’ could stunt the UK’s economic growth by more than £11bn by 2030. Some 62% of those surveyed say while technology transformation is vital to the continued success of their businesses, 58% say the pace of change is so rapid and overwhelming that it is increasingly difficult to keep up with it. Topping the issues causing the most worry are cybersecurity, AI, big data and digital skills (or the lack of them). More than 88% of respondents also said they are investing in new technology this year but feel they are running to stand still as they constantly strive to increase productivity and maintain or increase competitive advantage in a frenetic environment. The report says technology investment is set to increase by 31% year on year and the stress levels associated with the demands of business are now so intense they are actually obstructing progress instead of enabling it – not only at a company or enterprise level but also nationally within the UK. So much so that the BT researchers estimate that 104,000 British businesses could opt not to invest in new technology over the remainder of 2024 and into 2025 because the stress of continually implementing, transforming and up-skilling takes such a toll. So despondent are UK business executives that half of those surveyed wished they had a trusted partner to help carry the heavy load of technology transformation. As is to be expected, BT has aspirations to become that trusted partner. Cybersecurity and the fear of attack on networks and servers are of constant concern, with 21% of companies seeing it as an existential threat to the future of their businesses. Anxiety about AI is also increasing rapidly. The CEO of BT Business, Bas Burger (how’s that for alliteration!?), commented. “Today, every business is a digital business and our research shows that the pace of change is taking its toll. Our job is to make things easier: Providing the rock-solid digital foundation businesses need to thrive.” The research has been shared to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, during which BT is teaming up with Sarah Willingham, an entrepreneur, investor and a former member of the panel of the Dragons’ Den TV programme, and with Izzy Judd. Together the pair have created “The Business Reboot”, which comprises “tech-inspired guided meditations, designed to help businesses of all sizes, and their employees, to hit the reset button before facing up to the tech challenges of the day.” According to Burger, “We’re helping business leaders get into the headspace to make the most of the tech opportunity. Whether that’s AI, digital skills or cybersecurity, BT’s got their back.” Apparently, 57% of business leaders practise meditation at least once a week, and 11% meditate every day. Meanwhile, 38% who had never meditated say they’d be willing to give it a go to help with work-related stress. “The Business Reboot” audio podcast features episodes on AI, cybersecurity, data analytics, digital skills, and cloud computing. The audio meditations are available for free to anyone – time to chill, folks.

The cold war in cold waters… A new report from Nikkei in Japan says that as a result of the growing political and economic tensions between the US and China, various subsea cable companies have stopped landing in the People’s Republic and are bypassing it altogether. That is beginning to affect the global flow of data whilst the de facto boycott is also inhibiting the construction of datacentres in China itself. It’s not so long ago that China was pleased to take on the mantle of becoming a once and future hub for submarine networks – but that was then, and this is now. Submarine cable companies and consortia are winding down their involvement with China and plans to connect to the PRC have been scaled back dramatically. This year just three new cables will land on the Chinese coast: That is less than half of the number planned in 2024 for the small island state of Singapore. The locus for future cables, from 2025 onwards, will move westwards to South-east Asia and away from China. In the past 30 years, 15 subsea cables with lengths of 1,000 kilometres or more have been landed and lit there, providing China with immense international data transfer and comms resources to be exploited, as the Chinese economy has grown by leaps and bounds. During the sunshine years, the Chinese state not only actively supported and encouraged various domestic enterprises (including China Mobile) to partner with foreign subsea cable consortia laying transpacific links but also helped to finance them. Indeed, the PRC actually jointly paid for some of them with the US. Those days are over. In August 2020, under the Trump administration, the so-called Clean Network initiative was introduced to address “the long-term threat to data privacy, security, human rights and principled collaboration posed to the free world from authoritarian malign actors” (for which read China, Russia, Iran, North Korea etc) and successfully kept China out of future telecoms infrastructure projects. A while later, in 2020, the US Department of Justice pushed Google and Meta to “revise’ their very well advanced plan to deploy a 13,000 kilometres cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. The revision made was simply to bypass China completely and terminate the cable in Taiwan and the Philippines. Since then, the growth of China’s subsea cable infrastructure has been stunted. All that’s left in terms of the development of new cabling are the three landings into Hong Kong due to be completed in 2025. After that the slate is blank. Meanwhile, just last month, Google announced a $1bn project to lay two subsea cables to link Japan, Guam and Hawaii, “to improve digital communications infrastructure between the US, Japan and Pacific Island Nations.” Since 2021, and as planned up to 2025, international subsea cables with a combined length of 220,000 kilometres will be laid by big US technology companies, thus accounting for 48% of the global total for new projects over the four-year period. Submarine cables now carry 99% of the world’s data traffic, which is why they are such strategic assets and potential targets for the so-called “malign actor” nations, which see their destruction as a quick and easy way to massively disrupt the power and influence of western nations and enterprises that operate over and through them: Where subsea cables come ashore has a direct effect on the location of proposed new datacentres that are proliferating in China, just as they are in many other parts of the world. However, government forecasts have it that by 2028 China’s share of global revenues from datacentres will have fallen from the 9% recorded last year to just 7% and will decline further. By comparison, over the same timespan, the US share will fall to 38% from 49%, while South-east Asia will likely see global datacentre revenues climb from 8% to 11% thanks entirely to the proliferation of new cable festoons across the region.

And as if to prove the importance of subsea cables to the international data communications sector, news emerged over the weekend of submarine cable cuts to the Eassy and Seacom networks off the east coast of Africa that have severely affected internet access services in multiple markets, Tech Central has reported.  

Japanese telco KDDI has reported a 10.7% decrease in annual operating profits to 961.1bn yen ($6.2bn) for the year that ended in March due mainly to losses incurred by KDDI Summit Global Myanmar, the joint venture operation it has in Myanmar in partnership with Sumitomo. Its full year revenues increased by 1.5% to 5,754bn yen ($36.9bn). KDDI, which has 67.8 million mobile customers, said it ended March this year with 94,000 5G base stations deployed in Japan and is building out eight regional datacentres to help offer low-latency AI workload processing for its customers: KDDI recently announced some strategic AI-focused acquisitions and has pledged to invest 100bn yen ($649m) over the next four years in a “large-scale computational platform for the development of generative AI” following its selection by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to be a certified provider of a cloud platform for GenAI research and development.  

Japanese market leader and international service provider NTT, meanwhile, reported a 1.8% increase in annual revenues and a 5.1% increase in operating profit for the financial year that ended in March to 13,375bn yen ($85.8bn) and 1,923bn yen ($12.3bn) respectively. It ended March with 89.4 million mobile customers, of which 29.7 million are 5G customers, and 23.7 million fixed broadband customers. The results were published at the same time as NTT Docomo, the company’s mobile operation, announced plans to form a new subsidiary, NTT Docomo Global, that will market its network technology and digital applications around the world. In its full year results report, NTT highlighted its own advances with AI, noting that in March this year it launched a commercial service that uses its own large-scale language model (LLM), dubbed Tsuzumi.    

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has extended the deadline for the conclusion of its in-depth investigation into the proposed £16.5bn merger of Vodafone UK and Three because CK Hutchison, the parent company of Three, has failed to submit the required documents and information needed for the probe, the competition watchdog announced late last week. The Phase 2 investigation was due to run until 18 September, but that deadline has now been extended. No new deadline date has been identified.   

- The staff, TelecomTV

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