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SK Telecom, a Leader in Fourth Industrial Revolution

#Power of Businesses l 2018-07-30

Business Watch


Now it’s time to take a look at a Korean company that is contributing to bringing about changes in the global economy with some groundbreaking ideas. 

Today, we’ll introduce SK Telecom, which has developed a new artificial intelligence or AI speaker equipped with lighting options. Let’s hear from SK Telecom Innovation Cell Team manager Kim Yeon-gyu. 

This AI device called NUGU Candle combined an AI voice assistant platform with mood lighting. The speaker recognizes the voice of users, who can turn the light on or off by simply using voice commands. But it can also be controlled by a touch pad on the device. It provides optimized lighting for particular uses, such as breastfeeding, sleeping and reading. The speaker’s most popular feature “Sunrise Morning Call” offers a unique wake-up function. When users set a specific time they want to wake up at, the speaker turns on the light gradually 30 minutes before the designated time, as if the sun rose. It also plays the sound of birds, allowing users to wake up naturally and comfortably

Equipped with the Internet of Things or IoT functions, this AI-based speaker has various mood lighting options. SK Telecom plans to apply AI technology to all objects in the home. The key to this process is an AI speaker, which can recognize the voice commands of users and connect all IoT objects in the home. When the AI speaker holds the central place in the so-called “smart home,” users can easily control lights, air conditioners, boilers and various IT devices with simple voice commands. Having fully recognized the importance of this type of speaker, the company released Korea’s first AI speaker in 2016. Now, it is preparing for a new era.


AI-related businesses were expected to grow into a new and key platform industry in the future. With the emergence of personal computers and the Internet in the past, an Internet era lasted for about ten years. Then, a mobile era flourished for another ten years from the mid-2000s. At the time, global firms like Google and Facebook shouted the slogan “Mobile first.” 

But two to three years ago, many began to advocate the slogan “AI first,” showing that a new wave is coming. We believed that the new wave would bring about changes in existing order and AI would lead the new changes. That’s why we paid attention to AI. To spread our services using an AI platform, we have released a smart speaker, while embedding AI features in our mobile navigation system called T Map and in Internet protocol television services as well. In doing so, we’re building our AI ecosystem

SK Telecom started as a public enterprise in 1984 in the name of Korea Mobile Telecommunications Corporation. It was the first Korean company to provide analog mobile phone services. In 1996, the company became the world’s first to commercialize code division multiple access or CDMA technology, propelling South Korea to become a mobile telecommunications powerhouse. South Korea launched mobile phone services in 1988, far later than the commercialization of mobile phones in the U.S. in 1973. If Korea had brought in the mainstream Global System for Mobile Communications from Europe at the time, it would have ended up just following technology and equipment of advanced countries. But SK Telecom made a bold decision to introduce CDMA to lay the groundwork for developing independent technology. Afterwards, the company has led the trend of information and communication technology or ICT, offering 4G LTE services and mobile IPTV services, while commercializing the broadband LTE-A services for the first time in the world. The innovations, of course, are based on the company’s solid technology. 

One of the most distinctive technologies of SK Telecom is the voice recognition function optimized for the Korean language. Numerous subscribers use SK Telecom, and the vast amount of the accumulated data contributes to improving the performance of the voice-based AI engine even further, creating a virtuous cycle. No doubt, this part is one of our great strengths

SK Telecom is establishing a new ICT ecosystem by combining its services with various technologies related to 5G mobile telecommunications, AI, big data and IoT. Already in 2013, the company completed infrastructure to lead a second smart revolution. As the nation’s largest mobile operator, the company has developed advanced voice recognition technology based on its accumulated data. As a result, it has unveiled a series of AI-based products, including the first-generation AI speaker and the AI set-top box. Now it applies AI features to automobiles. 


We imagined that voice user interface would be used in the most effective way when users have their hands tied for some reason. Driving is a good example. Our AI-activated navigation has four features. First, users can control the basic functions of navigation with words, like setting a destination or adding stops through voice command without ever having to take their hands off the wheel. Second, users can make or receive phone calls while driving, and they can also send and receive text messages. Third, they can listen to the radio or music by using simple verbal commands. In words, drivers can control all these activities by words. Lastly, the navigation has a smart home function. For instance, when a driver reaches a parking lot and says “Aria, turn on the air conditioner at home,” the air conditioner will be on even before the driver enters home. I think this is a very useful function

A car is considered a personal space, just like a home. Of course, safety should come first. Therefore, cars need AI services that are safe and convenient. With global firms fiercely competing to preoccupy the market for connected-car technologies, SK Telecom showcased its in-car virtual assistant “T Map X NUGU” last year. It is the combination of the nation’s most popular navigation app “T Map” and the company’s AI platform, NUGU. While previous voice recognition services only understood short words, this smart navigation is capable of figuring out contexts, further expanding the scope of speech recognition. 

We plan to develop our T Map into an in-car “infortainment” platform. Infortainment is a compound word of “information” and “entertainment.” T Map already performs functions like navigation and music listening. But the performance has been expanded to include infortainment services, which users can enjoy with words. The highly-evolved T Map will hopefully be used in many more cars so consumers can use various services in an interesting and convenient way. Operating a gadget with words is a lot easier than learning ways to handle it. We hope to create a world where everything can be done easily with words. We’ll find our new profit model in this business and contribute to developing the national economy as well. Our ultimate goal is to create this virtuous cycle structure

Major smart home technologies, such as networks, AI, big data and IoT, have developed separately so far. With the appearance of voice recognition, which can bring together the different technologies, users will soon control things by words. In anticipation of this major change, SK Telecom has combined various technologies with its services to create new value. In an era of the fourth industrial revolution, the company will be known as the center of the ICT ecosystem. 

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