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Will SK, Samsung join hands on AI?

SK chief suggests ‘deeper discussion’ on AI to Samsung’s mobile chief at this week’s MWC

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Feb. 27, 2024 - 15:27

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SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won (right) and Samsung Electronics mobile business head Roh Tae-moon browse Samsung's showroom at MWC 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. (Joint Press Corps) SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won (right) and Samsung Electronics mobile business head Roh Tae-moon browse Samsung's showroom at MWC 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. (Joint Press Corps)

Speculation is growing of a possible artificial intelligence alliance between SK Group and Samsung Electronics after SK Chairman Chey Tae-won reportedly requested a deeper discussion with Samsung's mobile business chief Roh Tae-moon during their meeting at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

On Monday, the opening day of the world's largest gathering of the mobile tech industry, Chey's first MWC destination was Samsung's exhibition booth, where he explored the tech giant’s first AI-powered smartphone, the Galaxy S24, and the Galaxy Ring a health-tracking wearable.

During the 25-minute tour, he was accompanied by Roh.

“We’re introducing the Global Telco AI Alliance at the SK Telecom booth. Regarding this, there’s something I would like to discuss further with you and (the telecom carrier) CEO Ryu Young-sang,” the SK chief told Roh during the Samsung showroom tour. “What about next month?”

Thanking Chey’s request, the Samsung mobile chief responded, saying, “We’ll cooperate well.”

Chey showed particular interest in the Galaxy Ring, which was unveiled for the first time at this year’s MWC. He asked questions, including the new device’s ability to measure blood oxygen levels.

He also expressed deep interest in Samsung’s advanced AI technology. While observing the demonstration of the real-time interpretation of the Galaxy S24 smartphone, he showed affection for the latest device by saying, “I am a Galaxy S24 user.”

The SK chief also visited the showroom of the group’s telecom unit, SK Telecom, as the next step on the same day and stressed his determination to make the energy-to-semiconductor conglomerate a group that would secure more customers and provide better services in the era of artificial intelligence.

"All of the group affiliates are working hard to come up with AI solutions. ... Almost every company (from ICT to energy companies) is doing something related to AI,” Chey told reporters when asked about the group’s key strengths and competitiveness on AI.

When browsing SK Telecom’s showroom, he explored the telecom unit’s next-generation liquid cooling technology for AI data centers, as well as products from the group's American startup partner Humane.

He expressed great interest in UAM and AI-related energy solutions and asked if immersion cooling technology using AI would be more advantageous. Chey also boarded a full-scale model of urban air mobility in collaboration with US aviation company Joby Aviation for flight simulation.

While SK Telecom celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, the SK chief delivered his hope for the telecom giant to be “remembered as a company that leads the way in technology and customers."

Meanwhile, the announcement on the Global Telco AI Alliance led by SK Telecom establishing a joint venture was made earlier in the day at an inaugural meeting after its launch in July last year in Seoul, with SoftBank joining as a new member.

The five members of the GTAA -- SK Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, e&, Singtel and SoftBank -- agreed to join forces to develop telco-specific LLMs after establishing the joint venture within the year and to help telecom carriers improve their customer interactions via digital assistants and chatbots.

In a separate press briefing held in Barcelona, SK Telecom CEO told reporters that he is pleased to announce since he had to wait a year to make it official.

"Global telecom companies are trying to become a game changer that leads market changes through cooperation in the AI ​​field, including telco-specific LLMs," Ryu said, regarding the reason for establishing the joint venture.

Although the telco-specific LLMs are in the learning phase, he forecasts that a lot of progress will likely be made within the year. The telco-specific LLMs are expected to be used by GTAA members in their respective markets, enabling them to reach a global customer base of approximately 1.3 billion people across 50 countries, the CEO added.

Ryu was also positive about maintaining the GTAA's AI leadership against other Big Tech firms. "Our goal is to attract more telcos to the alliance and many of the telecom companies that attended our round table event showed great interest in the GTAA partnership," he said.