What’s up with… Ooredoo & Nvidia, Apple, India’s new Act

Putting pen to paper... Ronnie Vasishta, senior VP of Telecom, Nvidia (left) and Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo, Group CEO, Ooredoo (right).

Putting pen to paper... Ronnie Vasishta, senior VP of Telecom, Nvidia (left) and Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo, Group CEO, Ooredoo (right).

  • Ooredoo hooks up with Nvidia for its AI push
  • Europe’s new laws aren’t compatible with Apple AI  
  • Parts of India’s new telecom legislation are causing concern

In today’s industry news roundup: Ooredoo is to invest in Nvidia’s full range of technologies to offer AI-enabled services across the Middle East and North Africa region; Europeans will have to wait a while before they get to use Apple Intelligence applications; India’s new telecom Act is causing concerns about the country’s powers to intervene in networks and services; and much more!

Doha, Qatar-based telco Ooredoo is the latest network operator to team up with Nvidia to develop and implement its AI strategy. The operator has become an Nvidia Cloud Partner and is “developing an AI-ready platform powered by Nvidia’s full-stack innovation across systems, software, and services” to capitalise on “the significant market demand for accelerated computing and hyperconnectivity across its MENA [Middle East and North Africa] footprint.” According to Ooredoo, governments, enterprises and startups in Qatar, Algeria, Tunisia, Oman, Kuwait and the Maldives will “have access to Nvidia’s latest full-stack AI platform” as a result of the new partnership. Ooredoo plans to deploy thousands of Nvidia Tensor Core graphics processing units (GPUs) in its datacentres to support the region, “enabling customers to leverage a state-of-the-art AI platform with advanced infrastructure, tools, and software. This will optimise processes and drive operational efficiencies across industries. Customers will benefit from Ooredoo’s GPU-as-a-service, which offers on-demand access to some of the most advanced AI and machine learning tools available, including one of the most transformative technologies available today, generative AI,” noted the operator, though there was no mention of how much it plans to invest in this strategy. Aziz Aluthman Fakhroo, group CEO at Ooredoo, noted: “Implementing Nvidia’s full-stack platform for accelerated computing and generative AI, Ooredoo is equipped to be at the forefront of the AI revolution in MENA, driving digitalisation and innovation as the leading digital infrastructure provider in the region. Working with Nvidia, we aim to meet the significantly growing demand for accelerated computing infrastructure to support advanced AI models.” Ronnie Vasishta, Nvidia’s senior VP of Telecom, added: “As a trusted regional telecommunications provider, Ooredoo Group combines deep enterprise and consumer relationships with the ability to invest in and deploy AI infrastructure and services. By providing Nvidia’s full-stack AI computing platform to customers, Ooredoo will help make it easier for their customers to deploy generative AI applications and services.” Read more.

Apple Intelligence, the tech giant’s own take on AI that was unveiled during its recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), is one of three new features that will not be made available in Europe this year because Apple believes it will fall foul of the European Union’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) by launching it in the region, reports The Guardian. The European rules mean any vendor must enable interoperability with rival products and services, but Apple Intelligence, which combines generative AI (GenAI) functionality with a device user’s ‘personal context’, is not designed for such interactions for security reasons. “Specifically, we are concerned that the interoperability requirements of the DMA could force us to compromise the integrity of our products in ways that risk user privacy and data security,” Apple claimed in an email statement cited by The Guardian. “We are committed to collaborating with the European Commission in an attempt to find a solution that would enable us to deliver these features to our EU customers without compromising their safety,” added Apple in its statement.

The mobile services sector in India is booming, as we reported last week, with overall connectivity numbers currently at 1.17 billion and growing and 5G services attracting users, mainly driven by Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel. However, legislation underpinning the industry has been lagging behind commercial and societal reality for well over a century: Even today, the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, passed at the height of the power of the British Raj, has remained the foundation for all subsequent, and generally minor, alterations to the telecom “mother law” that have taken place during the past 139 years. That state of affairs will finally come to an end this week with a number of sections of India’s new Telecommunications Act coming into force on 26 June, including several very contentious ones, reports The Economic Times. One part of the new Act that is being instituted with what many politicians, service providers and analysts consider to be undue haste is Section 20. This states: “On the occurrence of any public emergency, including disaster management, or in the interest of public safety, the central government or a state government or any officer specially authorised in this behalf by the central government or a state government can take temporary possession of any telecommunication service or telecommunication network from an authorised entity; or provide for appropriate mechanisms to ensure that messages of a user or group of users authorised for response and recovery during a public emergency are routed on priority.” The takeover of telecom networks will be based on “security, public order, or [the] prevention of offences.” The new law also applies to “offences committed outside India”. It is not clear how that would work. In other words, the Indian government has granted itself power to take control of telecom networks and services in times of unspecified emergencies and to maintain that control indefinitely. India is the world’s biggest democracy and the Modi administration asserts that the new law is “based on principles of inclusion, security, growth and responsiveness to achieve the vision of developed India.” Opponents (and there are many) call it “upgrades for a digital authoritarian state”. The new law also gives the government the power “to prescribe standards and assessments for telecom equipment, infrastructure, networks and services.” Quite what that will mean in practice remains to be seen. Another section of the new act makes telcos responsible in law to apply verifiable biometric identification for all new SIM/telecom connections. The new legislation also renames India’s Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) as the “Digital Bharat Nidhi”, and its remit has been expanded so that the USOF can be used to pay for R&D as well as support telecom infrastructure deployment in rural areas. 

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, across the perennially tense international border with India, the government has been giving the country’s telcos a fit of spluttering conniptions over proposals to impose, from 1 July, an 18% sales tax on all mobile handsets worth less than 55,000 Pakistani rupees (about $200) and a 25% sales tax on more expensive devices. In Pakistan, the cost of handsets remains very high compared with India and many other parts of the world, with only the wealthy able to afford anything like a smartphone or the broadband connectivity required to power one. The country’s telcos say any such taxes “will hamper digital progress and exacerbate the digital divide” in the country where more than 20% of the population have no connectivity whatsoever and more than 50% can’t afford to pay for even the most minimal and basic broadband packages. So intense and vocal has been the reaction to the government’s proposals that, over the weekend, Pakistan’s Senate Finance Committee, in a highly unusual move, agreed unanimously to reject the proposed sales tax levies on mobile phones, reported Pakistani news outlet Samaa. The measure had been adopted by Pakistan’s government to comply with conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when, in March this year, it granted the country access to $1.1bn in stand-by loans to help prop up the national economy, while a much-needed additional $6.6bn loan remains in abeyance. What effect the decision made by the Senate Finance Committee might have on the country’s relationship with the IMF remains to be seen. According to the latest figures issued by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), mobile handsets made in the country – or at least locally assembled – now account for 95% of all devices sold, reported The Express Tribune. That domestic production saves 15% to 20% of foreign exchange costs and the number of complete ‘finished product’ handsets from overseas – essentially, iPhones – now account for a mere 5% of the market.

Orange is considering the sale of its 40% stake in the leading service provider in Mauritius, the Indian Ocean island state with a population of about 1.3 million, because the asset is no longer regarded as core to the telco’s current strategy, according to Bloomberg. Orange holds its stake in Mauritius Telecom via a wholly owned investment arm called Rimcom, while the majority of the equity in the operator is held by the country’s government. The service provider, which has more than 1 million customers for its fixed and mobile services and annual revenues equivalent to about $220m, formerly used the Orange name to promote its services, but now uses the My.T brand. No potential value has been reported for the stake: Discussions are at an early stage and might not result in any kind of M&A process, according to Bloomberg’s sources.

Telefónica says it is now reaching 89% of Spain’s population with its 5G services following the expansion of its coverage using spectrum in the high-speed, low-latency 3.5GHz band to 1,000 municipalities. This is as well as the more than 3,000 municipalities covered by 5G connectivity using its 700 MHz spectrum. The so-called “5G+” service offered using the 3.5GHz spectrum delivers “a better mobile experience with high-quality images, almost instant downloads,  streaming, being able to play in the cloud without interruptions and an increase in network quality even in crowded spaces, such as sporting events or musical concerts,” the operator noted in this announcement (in Spanish). “In the business environment, this band makes it easier to have new functionalities, such as network slicing to offer the best network quality for certain specific needs,” added Telefónica. 

There’s unrest in Estonia where the government finds itself in bad odour with network operators over proposals to make service providers pay levies to cover the cost of services provided by the Estonian Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications wants to make changes to the Baltic state’s Electronic Communications Act that would see telcos paying a slice of their services revenues directly to the regulatory authority, reports Eesti Rahvusringhääling (ERR News). 

Reaction has been swift, furious and framed as an existential threat to network operators and service providers alike. However, when the detail is examined, it is evident that the whole thing has been blown completely out of proportion and, to almost quote Shakespeare, is little more than an exercise “full of sound a fury, signifying…” well, nothing very much at all. The proposal relates to a potential 0.2% tax on the telecom services of companies turning over €500,000 a year, of which Estonia has 20. In total, the tax income to the regulator would be €900,000 at most. Now, divide that by 20 and anyone can see it’s a paltry sum that isn’t going to break the bank, given that the country’s three biggest service providers reported excellent EBITDA figures for 2023, with Elisa and Tele2 hitting 30% each and Telia with 39%, and that analyst forecasts put revenues produced by the Estonian telecoms sector at more than $800m by 2025. Tiit Riisalo, Estonia’s minister of economic affairs and information technology, said the government’s proposal is reasonable and mirrors funding models already in place in many countries of the European Union (EU), of which Estonia is an enthusiastic member. He added, “It is reasonable to consider this solution for Estonia as well.” Under the new regime, telcos would pay “in the interest of their business”, only partially, for the services provided by the Estonian state. Among the services the regulator currently provides – and pays for – are mobile frequency planning, market analysis and regulation, inter-telco dispute resolution, public involvement in telecom planning, as well as cybersecurity and crisis regulation. The minister also pointed out that the government will continue to pay the residual costs of funding the regulator. So, despite the hysteria on the part of the telcos about bandits and highway robbery, what’s at stake is actually minimal to them. What’s more, currently the government’s proposal is just an exercise subject to scrutiny by, and feedback from, all interested parties. The more you look, the more it seems to be a case of the telcos getting their retaliation in early and making an awful lot of noise about it while they do so.

South Korean telco KT Corp has upgraded its national optical transport network that connects 270 nodes across the country from 10Gbit/s to 100GBit/s  data transmission speeds. The operator noted in this announcement (in Korean) that it has upgraded the network to deal with the needs of enterprise customers that are migrating from dedicated 100Mbit/s data services to connections of up to 3Gbit/s. “With this construction, KT will be able to integrate the existing ageing transmission network and provide more stable services through… Korea’s largest 100G network,” said KT network strategy division executive director Hyejin Kwon. According to KT, the deployment of the new data transport network will also reduce its power consumption and lower the carbon footprint of its optical transmission network.  

- The staff, TelecomTV

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