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Bharti Airtel invests in AI startup Voicezen

Inside Telecom Staff



Bharti Airtel invests in AI startup Voicezen

AI has been recognized as an advancing technology instrumental in transforming customer experience. As such, the global conversational AI market size is expected to increase from 4.2 billion dollars in 2019 to 15.7 billion dollars by 2024, according to recent market research.

Based on the surge in demand for better quality of services online, companies have been investing in the implementation of AI powered customer support services and omni-channel deployment to increase customer engagement and retention.

This week, Bharti Airtel acquired 10% stake in Voicezen, an early stage startup focused on conversational AI technologies. The Indian global telecommunications company under its expanding Airtel Startup Accelerator Programme, has made the acquisition, according to the company.

Voicezen is the third startup to become a part of the Airtel Startup Accelerator Program. The startup developed advanced solutions that leverage machine learning, AI and offer real time analytics and insights to make Airtel’s conversations with its customers more engaging, frictionless and support faster resolution.

The deal will give Bharti Airtel preferred access to Voicezens technologies that can be deployed across its customer touch points in various languages, Airtel said in a statement.

Adarsh Nair, Chief Product and Experience Officer, Bharti Airtel said: “Voicezen has built some promising products that are very relevant for a market like India. As part of its strategy to deliver a highly differentiated service experience to its customers, Bharti Airtel has acquired a strategic stake in Voicezen, an early stage start-up focused on conversational AI technologies.”

Apurba Nath, Founder of Voicezen, said that the startup helps brands deliver a better customer experience in Indian languages using ‘Conversational AI’. “Having worked on AI solutions in the past, Voicezen knew that what works well in a lab most often does not work in the real world, because either the training data is not large and relevant or the problem has little business significance,” he added. “Our partnership with Airtel helps us solve these challenges. With this strategic investment, we will work even more closely with them to continuously improve our AI models and build out an enterprise grade,” he noted.



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The gaming industry’s widespread success in the era of Covid-19

Yehia El Amine



gaming industry

Gaming has changed significantly over the years; and massively so during the novel COVID-19 pandemic.

Not many industries can look back at 2020, wipe the blood, sweat, and tears off their faces and say “okay, the worst is behind us.” Even less so, are the industries that didn’t just survive during a bustling year full of hardships, all while stuck behind the confines of our home.

As if a response to a hail Mary, global lockdowns were exactly what the gaming industry needed to thrive, grow, and propel itself onto new heights among all the chaos surrounding the world.

At the end of 2019, the global gaming market was valued at $151.55 billion, and now it’s currently on track to reach a value of $256.97 billion by 2025, registering a CAGR of 9.17 percent, according to global research firm Mordor Intelligence.

The industry took widespread control of at home entertainment, as cinemas and theatres continued their “closed-doors” policy to prevent the disease.

According to a survey conducted by the Hollywood Reporter, The U.S. saw a gaming growth of 45 percent, with France (38 percent), U.K. (29 percent), and Germany (20 percent). Online play has also increased, with respondents consuming more time spent playing games with others via the internet connection.

Decisions, decisions…

The gaming industry strongly prevailed over the year, accelerating new technological innovations that birthed several new players onto the scene, which permeated a strategical question for the industry, albeit a positive one.

While it is expected that every facet of the market – console, mobile, subscriptions, cloud, AR, VR, and esports – will perform strongly during 2021, the question of “where to play?” renders itself hard to answer when faced with so much variety at the palm of everyone’s fingertips.

“The dilemma game companies must face is how best to monetize their content while juggling the often competing aims of finding the widest possible audience, maintaining goodwill from that audience, and not sacrificing too much control to other platforms,” a report by global research Omdia highlighted.

The console wars of 2021

Every release of new generation gaming console brings with it the beginning of a new console war between the world’s leading tech companies.

According to the Omdia report, Console hardware and software revenue will rise by 5.2 percent to $36.3 billion thanks to the recent launch of Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. In parallel, Console games accounted for $45.2 billion of the $159.3 billion global gaming market in 2020, according to market research firm Newzoo.

However, both titans of the gaming world are taking different approaches to attract gamers’ attention toward their respective platforms.

Microsoft’s Xbox are heavily banking on and marketing their subscription service called Xbox Game Pass, which has seen phenomenal growth. While its rival, Sony is touting its marquee lineup of exclusive content and services.

The ongoing health crisis is serving the industry by delivering rapid growth.

“It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic drove a sharp increase in console gaming in 2Q20, which has translated into, in some cases, record-breaking revenue outcomes,” Lewis Ward, research director of gaming and VR/AR for marketing firm IDC, noted in a recent report.

New kid on the block

While the console wars were at each other’s throats over console market share dominance, a new technology surfaced during 2020, which is expected to have its own share of the market: Cloud Gaming.

In cloud gaming, the server, where all the games are stored, does all the computation work, which includes game scene rendering, game logic processing video encoding, and video streaming.

This new sector is seen as a serious competitor for the traditional game market.

According to Omdia, Cloud gaming will have a breakthrough year with vital pieces finally coming together, with spend reaching $4 billion, a 188 percent increase from 2020. “Crucially, cloud gaming services will add to the on-console gaming experience while attracting a slew of new gamers who do not own consoles or PCs,” the report added.

Players such as GeForce Now – developed by U.S.-based computer game company Nvidia – emerged in mid-2020, which is a cloud-based game streaming service, delivering real-time gameplay straight from the cloud to your laptop, desktop, Mac, or Android device, merely requiring a good internet connection to play, without the need for beefy hardware specs.

However, content and ISPs will determine cloud gaming’s future, says Mat Piscatella, Industry Analyst at NPD Group.

“All of the big cloud players are now in market, and the tech has been proven to work. But adoption has lagged many predictions. A lack of compelling exclusive content on the cloud-exclusive services is one barrier. But that can be accounted for with investment and/or time,” Piscatella was quoted as saying to GamesIndutry.com.

He further added that what ISPs decide to do with data caps and high customer costs is another matter. “In 2021, this challenge will not be solved for, and cloud will continue to struggle to gain momentum, particularly in the U.S.” Piscatella highlighted.

No where to go but up

While the gaming industry is expected by experts far and wide to continue growing in the future, other elements are also aiding its climb to the very top of the entertainment food chain: the increase in popularity of eSports viewership.

The report by Mordor Intelligence highlighted that eSports are witnessing substantial market demand in the current market scenario and are thus driving the overall gaming industry across the globe.

Twitch –a live-streaming service owned by Amazon – enjoyed a really good year.

The live-streaming site managed to clock 17 billion hours watched last year, which is a full 83 percent higher than 2019’s 9 billion, according to the latest report from StreamElements and Arsenal.gg. Twitch’s insanely successful rise to power has prompted social media giants to release their own live-streaming services such as Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming.

“Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook all experienced major jumps in viewership traffic, which includes Twitch hitting 3 back-to-back milestones from October to December to end with a record high of 1.7B hours watched in that final month,” writes Doron Nir, CEO of StreamElements.

For YouTube, that meant 10 billion watch hours in 2020; Facebook Gaming hit 3.59 billion, a jump of 166 percent.

Regardless of who will reign supreme during the battle for gamers’ attention and money, the message remains crystal clear: the gaming industry has become even more mainstream than ever before, as options are continuously growing to meet the subsequent increase in demand.

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Uganda lifts internet ban, as social media remains blocked

Inside Telecom Staff



Uganda lifts internet ban, as social media remains blocked

Uganda has lifted its blanket ban on internet access on Tuesday following a heated presidential election that saw the country’s long-time president Yoweri Museveni declared the winner.

However, many have reported that certain social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are yet to be restored, with access to them only attained via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

According to U.S.-based telecom intel research firm TeleGeography, the social media block went live on January 13, when Facebook shut down a number of accounts connected to Museveni’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

Reuters cited an anonymous source from Uganda’s telecoms sector as saying that the government had “made clear” to executives at telecoms firms that the ban was a retaliatory move against Facebook.

Facebook confirmed on January 11, that it blocked a network located in Uganda with apparent links to the country’s communications ministry for posting from fake and duplicate accounts.

The social media ban had major ramifications, since the platforms acted as a bridge linking opposition presidential candidates to their supports, due to local media outlets being state-run and lean in favor of the longstanding incumbent government.

Popular Reggae singer Bobi Wine (otherwise known as Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu), who was the frontrunner against Museveni, had mainly relied on Facebook to cover his campaign and press conferences, with state-run media refusing to give him a platform.

While Museveni will resume his tenure as president for a sixth term, allegations of violence, voter suppression, and ballot stuffing have thrown doubts over the legitimacy of the elections, placing it under the limelight of the international community.

Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) told the BBC that the elections had been rigged, as the opposition leader claimed to have been held under house arrest since the votes were counted, stating that the army had surrounded his home.

In response, deputy military spokesperson Lt. Col Deo Akiiki told reporters that the military presence aimed at protecting Wine’s security as a presidential candidate.

NUP spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi told Reuters that the party was gathering evidence of voting irregularities and claimed that its offices had been raided, saying “they [the NRM] don’t want work to continue at our offices because they know that we are putting together evidence to show the world how much of a fraudster Museveni is.”

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BT slapped with a lawsuit over overcharging elderly customers

Inside Telecom Staff



British telecom giant BT is being slapped with a class action lawsuit over allegations that it has been overcharging elderly customers for eight years.

The lawsuit came in the wake of a 2017 report from telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, which found that the operator had been overcharging 2.3 million of its landline customers since 2009.

Since then, BT reduced the price of its landline service by £7 ($9.48) a month.

However, campaigners at the helm of the lawsuit argue that “loyal customers” are yet to be compensated.

London-based law firm Mishcon de Reya has filed a £600 million litigation to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT).

If successful, this would result in each of the 2.3 million overcharged customers receiving payments of £500 each.

The case represents customers who purchased a BT landline contract but did not also take BT broadband or pay TV packages.

“Ofcom made it very clear that BT had spent years overcharging landline customers but did not order it to repay the money it made from this,” Campaigner Justin Le Patourel, founder of consumer group Collective Action on Landlines (CALL) and a telecoms consultant who worked for Ofcom for 13 years, told reporters.

Le Patrourel added that the compensation process begins with the filing of this claim.

In response, BT issued a statement “strongly disagreeing” with the claim that it had engaged in anti-competitive behavior and intends to defend itself “vigorously” in court.

“We take our responsibilities to older and more vulnerable customers very seriously and will defend ourselves against any claim that suggests otherwise,” a BT spokesperson said in the statement, adding that “for many years we’ve offered discounted landline and broadband packages in what is a competitive market with competing options available, and we take pride in our work with elderly and vulnerable groups.”

BT highlighted that it regrets being drawn into litigation on a topic which Ofcom considered more than three years ago. “At that time, Ofcom’s final statement made no finding of excessive pricing or breach of competition law more generally,” the operator said.

Ofcom’s 2017 report had uncovered that the wholesale price of providing landlines had dipped by at least 25 percent since 2009, but that all major landline providers in the UK had hiked line rental charges upwards between 28 percent and 41 percent.

Initially, Ofcom strongly criticized BT for raising prices, noting that customers were being given “poor value” for money. It added that many of the affected customers had “been with BT for decades” and were more likely to be old, on low incomes and vulnerable.

As a result of the watch dog’s review, BT announced that it would slash its landline prices by £84 a year.

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