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SK Telecom enters semiconductor biz with new AI chip

This photo provided by SK Telecom Co. on Wednesday, shows the company's new SAPEON X220 artificial intelligence semiconductor. (SK Telecom Co.)
This photo provided by SK Telecom Co. on Wednesday, shows the company's new SAPEON X220 artificial intelligence semiconductor. (SK Telecom Co.)
SK Telecom Co., South Korea's leading wireless carrier, unveiled Wednesday a new artificial intelligence (AI) semiconductor for data center operations, expanding its business to the semiconductor market.

The new SAPEON X220 is the first AI chip developed by the mobile carrier and also the country's first AI chip for data centers.

SK Telecom said its new semiconductor will target the global AI chip market set to grow to 50 trillion won ($45 billion) by 2024, citing data from market researcher Gartner.

AI chips refer to high performance and power efficient semiconductors that specialize in AI services.

The carrier's new AI chip serves as an alternative to graphic processing units (GPU) currently used by many companies to run AI-based data centers that consume a lot of power.

The SAPEON X220's power consumption is about 80 percent of a conventional GPU, leading to lower operation costs, and is at around half the price, according to SK Telecom. The company added that the new chip is 1.5 times faster in deep learning processing speeds than a GPU.

The carrier's new chip will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world's largest foundry firm, according to an industry official.

SK Telecom said it will supply the chip to the South Korean government for its new data analysis service before the end of this year. The chips will also be used to run cloud servers operated by Cast.era, a digital media equipment maker and a joint venture between SK Telecom and the US based Sinclair Broadcast Group, next year.

The carrier added that it aims to use the chips next year for its own AI services, such as its AI assistant NUGU, and that it is closely working with its affiliate and memory chip giant SK hynix Inc. in memory-related technology.

SK Telecom said it will pursue AI as a Service (AIaaS) business to expand its presence in the AI chip sector currently dominated by global tech giants, such as Google.

AIaaS refers to a third-party offering of AI services from semiconductors to software.

The carrier's launch of an AI chip comes as the South Korean government said earlier this year it will support local companies' efforts to develop up to 50 AI chips by 2030.

SK Telecom said it is developing a new AI chip through the government program and aims for production by 2022.

"By connecting future AI chips with SK Telecom's AI, 5G and cloud technology, we aim to become a top global AI company," SK Telecom Chief Technology Officer Kim Yoon said in a statement. (Yonhap)
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