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SK Telecom to triple investment in AI

Korea’s No.1 telecom giant sets sales target of W25tr in AI biz by 2028

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Sept. 26, 2023 - 16:52

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SK Telecom CEO Ryu Young-sang speaks during a press conference at the company's headquarters in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) SK Telecom CEO Ryu Young-sang speaks during a press conference at the company's headquarters in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The CEO of SK Telecom, South Korea's largest wireless carrier by subscription, unveiled on Tuesday the company's roadmap to leap forward as a global artificial intelligence firm within the next five years by expanding its business and technology based on its AI assistant service, A.

At a press conference held in Seoul earlier in the day, the telecom giant's chief Ryu Young-sang introduced the firm's new "AI pyramid strategy," which focuses on three major areas: AI infrastructure, AI transformation and AI service. It is the key to realizing the firm's goal as the "global AI firm" by creating new industrial innovations, he said.

"The AI ​​gold rush has begun. SK Telecom is trying to run most aggressively into the AI revolution. Since telecom operators have no legacy, the AI revolution is a definite opportunity for us," the CEO said. "We'll create business models that a telecom operator can do to be competitive in the market."

For this, the telecom company plans to triple its investment in AI-related business from 12 percent from 2019 to 2023 to 33 percent over the next five years until 2028 to achieve sales of more than 25 trillion won ($18.5 billion) in 2028, while it logged some 17 trillion won in sales last year.

"Disruptive innovation triggered by generative AI has already created new values in all areas of industry, our society and life. ... SK Telecom will accelerate our execution ability and continue to expand investment in AI-related resources based on the strategy centered around self-reliance and cooperation," Ryu said.

As the AI ​​market is in full swing, data center supply shortages, excessive power use and rapid increases in carbon emissions have emerged as new social problems. SK Telecom will introduce energy-saving solutions to solve the issues, while making a foray into the global market. It is also planning to double the size of its domestic data centers by 2030, Ryu said.

Sapeon Korea, a global AI semiconductor company that spun out from the telecom giant last year, will launch the next-generation inference AI chip, X330, by the end of this year. It has the advantages of approximately twice the computational performance and 1.3 times the power efficiency compared to its competitors.

To secure competitiveness in the multi-LLM sector, it will strengthen cooperation with major Big Tech firms such as OpenAI.

SK Telecom looks to expand AI services to its existing telecommunications and IPTV services to reduce their costs by more than 20-30 percent in the mid to long term, as well as to non-telecom sectors, including Urban Air Mobility, health care and media.

At Tuesday's event, the CEO announced the official launch of A., which began its beta service in May last year. Based on A., the company will provide an AI phone service with call summary and calendar functions, AI sleep management tool and AI music service that can create users' playlists.

Additionally, SK Telecom plans to roll out a personal AI assistant roaming service that can provide about 1.2 billion telecom users in 45 countries, based on its global alliance formed in July. The Korean telecom firm joined hands with Germany's Deutsche Telekom, the United Arab Emirates's e& and Singapore's Singtel to expand AI cooperation.

"Just as we subscribe to two to three over-the-top platforms these days, telecom users are expected to use two to three personal AI assistants within the next three years," the SK Telecom chief said. "The personal AI assistant market will likely become a battleground for leading global firms in the near future."