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Korea telecom giant SKT doubles down on AI

SKT plans to broaden the use of AI across its business, from delivering AI-powered services to improving customer experience using generative AI models

South Korean telecom giant SKT plans to broaden the use of artificial intelligence (AI) across its business, from delivering AI-powered services to improving customer experience and expanding its robotics capabilities.

Speaking on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona this week, SKT CEO Ryu Young-sang said the company’s AI to Everywhere initiative will span areas including mobility, robotics and AI semiconductor chips.

The initiative builds on a slew of AI capabilities that SKT has rolled out in recent years, such as A, its AI service, a chatbot that uses OpenAI’s Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT3) model to handle specific tasks requested by customers.

Ryu said A has already secured one million subscribers in South Korea within nine months of its launch, and unveiled plans to introduce advanced features and customise the service for international markets.

SKT has also set its sights on becoming a mobility operator, going beyond its telecoms remit to offer services such as urban air mobility, autonomous driving and robotics. It’s currently developing use cases, such as providing flights between airports and city centres in collaboration with the local governments in Jeju and Daegu.

In robotics, the company has launched various types of robots, including those used in logistics and coffee making, and plans to develop an open robotics data platform with Qualcomm and Integrit. It’s also working with industry partners and startups to develop AI applications for security, healthcare, advertising and smart factories.

Not to be outdone by hyperscalers that have started building specialised AI chips, SKT has also developed its own Sapeon chip, which Ryu said has enabled the telco to achieve “outstanding performance in the AI semiconductor market”.

Neural processing unit farms

Through its AI chip arm, Sapeon, SKT has been using chips in its own neural processing unit farms, as well as supplying them to NHN Cloud, an OpenStack-based cloud service provider, and semiconductor firm SK Hynix’s smart factory. Sapeon has grown its market value from 80 billion won (US$60m) since it was established in 2022 to 500 billion won (US$378m) today.

During the briefing, Ryu also touched on how AI can enhance SKT’s core businesses such as mobile telecommunications, media and subscription services.

For example, it aims to deliver hyper-personalised services for consumers, who can expect an AI-based open subscription commerce platform later this year that can recommend products and services from partners.

Ryu said SKT aims to create a better world with AI by doing its part for society by using AI technologies.

For example, during the pandemic, it created Nugu Care Call, an AI-powered check-in call service to alleviate the workload of healthcare workers by calling those under self-quarantine to check if they had developed Covid-related symptoms.

“SKT’s AI innovation is aimed at realising AI to Everywhere, which refers to applying AI to every part of our lives,” said Ryu. “Our ultimate goal is to create a world where everyone can benefit from AI.”

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