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STC, Alibaba Group announce cloud services deal

Inside Telecom Staff



State-owned Saudi Telecom Company (STC) announced a $500 million partnership deal with venture capital fund eWTP Arabia Capital, and Alibaba Cloud to provide high-performance public cloud services in the Kingdom.

Alibaba Cloud, which is the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, considers KSA as a strategic market for its operations in the GCC region, and is keen on contributing to the country’s Vision 2030.

“This collaboration is a significant milestone for STC in our efforts to contribute to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 by introducing a trusted cloud service partner,” Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha told reporters.

The partnership will allow STC to capitalize on the proven cloud-based technologies and services of Alibaba Cloud to accelerate the growth of the local technology ecosystem.

The deal will allow the Chinese tech titan to set up new offices within the country’s capital, Riyadh, in hopes of offering better services to local customers, while utilizing it as a regional training and management center in the region.

“Saudi Arabia is a strategic market for us,” Jeff Zhang, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, Partner of Alibaba Group, said in a statement, adding that “Alibaba Cloud is committed to delivering our best-in-class services and solutions, as well as our business practices in digital transformation to the partners and customers we work with in the Kingdom.”

STC will invest around $500 Million in cloud services to reinforce its digital infrastructure to accelerate the growth of its local technology ecosystem, in alignment with its “DARE” strategy and Vision 2030 objectives.

Faisal Al-Khamisi, Chairman of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity Programming and Drones, said that such partnerships would make Saudi Arabia “one of the most innovative countries in the world.”

“We are very proud and thankful to bring both these great companies together with the support of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity Programming and Drones,” Jerry Li, Managing Partner of eWTP Arabia Fund added.

The partnership will cement the Kingdom’s future place as a digital and cloud services hub in the MENA region, as it has increased its efforts on becoming an epicenter of cloud computing technology operations.

“It’s pivotal for companies to deploy and maintain an elastic, scalable and secure IT infrastructure to keep competitive and innovative in the digital era. We are excited to partner with Alibaba Cloud to bring their expertise to our customers,” Nasser Bin Sulaiman Al-Nasser, CEO of STC Group, said in a statement.

Earlier last week, Saudi Aramco Development Company and Google Cloud signed an agreement to offer services to customers in Saudi Arabia. According to Aramco, Google Cloud will establish and operate a new cloud region in Saudi Arabia and a new company will be formed to supply cloud solutions and services to customers.


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Congressional letter blasts Facebook head for flawed algorithms





Congressional letter blasts Facebook head for flawed algorithms (1)

Two senior U.S. representatives blasted Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, noting the platform’s content problems were “systemic” and require deep change beyond just moderation.

“Perhaps no single entity is more responsible for the spread of dangerous conspiracy theories at scale or for inflaming anti-government grievance than the one that you started and that you oversee today as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer,” wrote U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo of California and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, both Democrats.

The pair recognized the recent steps Facebook has taken to crack down on harmful accounts such as those related to QAnon, by removing specific posts that incite violence and banning specific users.

“But content moderation on a service with more than 2.7 billion monthly users is a whack-a-mole answer to a systemic problem, one that is rooted in the very design of Facebook,” the letter noted, adding, “the fundamental problem is that Facebook, like other social media platforms, sorts and presents information to users by feeding them the content most likely to reinforce their existing political biases, especially those rooted in anger, anxiety, and fear.”

Both Congress representatives accused the company of systemic failures which radicalized the “insurrectionist mob” behind the early January Capitol building attack, an effort by the former administration to stop a vote certifying the election and formalizing President Biden’s electoral status.

Thousands of violent rioters breeched Congressional security, reaching the House and Senate floors, causing large-scale damage, and killing a police officer.

“The algorithms Facebook uses to maximize user engagement on its platform undermine our shared sense of objective reality, intensify fringe political beliefs, facilitate connections between extremist users, and, tragically, lead some of them to commit real-world physical violence, such as what we experienced firsthand on January 6th,” noted the letter.

They also reference a 2020 initiative by Facebook itself to limit “bad for the world” postings, which the Wall Street Journal reported was markedly revised to not damage the company’s commercial interest by diminishing it huge user base.

“It scrapped the algorithm, when it became clear that it meant users were spending less time on the site,” the joint letter highlighted.

The pair hoped that the social media giant would immediately make permanent and universal these and other changes to its recommendation system which have been implemented temporarily or on a trial basis in the past.

“[We also hope that] you begin a fundamental reexamination of maximizing user engagement as the basis for algorithmic sorting and recommendation,” the letter concluded.

Facebook has released no comment from Zuckerberg or a general statement in reaction to the letter.

In two separate letters, the Reps. accused Google-owned YouTube and additional social media-giant Twitter of also using structured algorithms that respectively act to amplify, “White supremacist, anti-Semitic, and other conspiracy-oriented material” and “facilitate connections between extremist users.”

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Newzoo’s Games Trends to Watch in 2021

Inside Telecom Staff



Newzoo’s Games Trends to Watch in 2021

As 2020 is finally drawing to a close, it’s time for us to turn the spotlight onto next year. In terms of trends, 2021 is shaping up to be a hugely positive year for the games market, which will start to return to normalcy after an exceptional growth period.

In the coming weeks, we’ll publish similar articles about the mobile and esports markets, but for now, let’s dive deep into the biggest games trends of next year.    

1. Engagement and Revenues Will Continue to Flourish (Even After the Pandemic Ends)

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly accelerated many trends in the games market, helping engagement spike across the globe. Of course, this engagement trickles into spending.

Even after the pandemic subsides, which we hope will be sooner rather than later, we forecast most of the additional engagement and revenues to stick. Gaming has etched itself in the habits of people during the lockdown, and the investments made to enjoy gaming will not be easily cast aside. However, the level of growth maintained throughout 2020 will not be replicated next year, given the unique circumstances during the year.

Per platform, PC and console gaming has a higher barrier to entry but therefore more sticking power. Mobile gaming saw the largest positive impact of the lockdowns, but the low barrier to entry to mobile gaming means the lowest barrier to exit as well. Retaining the influx of new and returning players in 2021 will be one of the key challenges for developers and publishers.

Our Global Games Market Report shows that in 2021, 2.8 billion gamers worldwide will help the global games market generate revenues of $189.3 billion. Emerging markets will drive much of these new revenues, as infrastructure and economies continue to grow across regions like Southeast Asia and Middle East & Northern Africa.

2. It Will Take Time for Next-Gen Console Supply to Catch up to Demand

Manufacturing, marketing, and launching new consoles is never an easy feat. But orchestrating these tasks during a pandemic—when supply chains are heavily disrupted—made things even more challenging for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S launches.

On the hardware side, the aftermath of these challenges will ripple into the beginning of 2021 and beyond, and it will take time for the supply of next-generation consoles to satiate the skyrocketing demand.

Software development will also continue to feel the impact of lockdowns. Many of the games that were delayed in 2020 were in post-production (meaning the lion’s share of the dev work was already done). Next year, we’ll likely see even more delays for AAA games that were earlier in development at the start of the outbreak.

On the upside, games like PlayStation’s Horizon Forbidden West, many third-party games, and almost all Xbox first-party games will be available on both generations (past and present). Therefore, console spend will remain high in 2021, mostly driven by:

  • The massive installed base of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One generation.
  • The ongoing transition to F2P spending on console
  • The strong performance of the Switch.
3. The Cloud Gaming Market, Having Proven its Value in 2020, Will Grow Its Audience in 2021

This year marked a key inflection point for the cloud gaming market, with most of the major players (including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Tencent) having launched their respective services. Furthermore, stay-at-home orders sped up the adoption of cloud gaming globally, with consumers finding themselves with more time to invest in gaming.

In the West, workarounds to App Store challenges mean cloud gaming apps are finally making their way to iOS (via a web app) and other platforms. Stadia already has an iOS Safari-based app that reportedly works well. Meanwhile, xCloud’s app is due for release on PC and iOS in the spring, and Xbox Boss Phil Spencer has already hinted at smart-TV compatibility.

To that end, yearly cloud gaming revenues will exceed $1 billion for the first time next year, and its serviceable obtainable market (SOM) will spike. Want to learn more? Stay tuned for our Global Cloud Gaming Report update and content next year!

Cloud gaming’s use cases—which we highlighted in our 2020 report—are now becoming more visible. Game developers have been using services like Stadia and Parsec for QA (Cyberpunk 2077), demoing games to the public (Immortals Fenyx Rising via Stadia), and more. This trend will accelerate into 2021.

Next to that, Cyberpunk 2077’s launch has underlined one of cloud gaming’s biggest use cases: high-fidelity experiences without the need for expensive hardware. The Stadia version of the game features hardware-taxing features like ray tracing and DLSS—all while removing the barrier of expensive hardware.

Cyberpunk 2077’s reviews on previous-gen consoles were negatively impacted by a worse-than-expected technical performance, Therefore, cloud gaming services such as Stadia and GeForce Now stood out as one of the best ways for gamers to instantly experience optimized graphics.

4. The Rise of Gaming-as-a-Platform And Metaverse Development Will Expand the Addressable Market for Publishers

Virtual and social spaces have been a growing trend in gaming for over a decade now. However, owing to the lack of physical gatherings this year, the use of games as a “metaverse” has accelerated. The interest in using games as a platform for hosting simulated activities will be one of the most impactful trends for the coming years.

Game worlds can now closely simulate experiences such as fashion shows, music performances, movie viewings, and more. Notable examples include:

  • Lil Nas X’s performance in Roblox.
  • Travis Scott’s and other music performances in Fortnite.
  • Marriages, graduation ceremonies, and even funerals taking place in Animal Crossing.
  • Countless brand, media, and content crossovers in these shared spaces. 

Despite taking place within games, these fundamentally non-gaming experiences have the potential to draw in non-gamers into the games space, growing the userbase for publishers.

The value of such collaborations is beginning to show itself—for publishers, artists, and brands alike. Travis Scott, for example, reportedly grossed roughly $20 million for his Fortnite concert appearance.

So far, over 140 million people watched the Travis Scott concert on YouTube, compared to approximately 12 million who participated in-game, demonstrating both the growth potential and demand for such content.

Even beyond the pandemic, we will likely see brands across numerous sectors experimenting in the space. These digital events will complement their real-world counterparts (and vice-versa).

Video games are ripe with engagement—especially with younger audiences, so we expect to see this trend continue, particularly as traditional ad spend is in flux.

5. Gaming Will Energize Efforts Towards Reducing Toxicity and Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

Games such as The Last of Us Part 2, Apex Legends, and Tell Me Why are prime examples of diversity in games, and more titles than ever before now feature accessibility options, boosted by releases like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and organizations like AbleGamers and SpecialEffect.

Online platforms and ecosystems are also striving to make their social hubs more wholesome and less toxic. To that end, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo recently announced a collaboration committed to safer and more responsible gaming and kerbing toxicity.

Another example from this year came from Riot Games, which formally invested in tackling toxicity in 2020 release Valorant, after its own developers reported incidents of harassment. Companies’ efforts over the past few years are certainly to be commended, but we still have a long way to go.

This year also saw the games industry face a “me-too” wave of allegations of abuse and sexual harassment. In combination with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the attention on social issues will drive the industry to prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts in 2021.

Our recent Diversity & Inclusion Study, which is already helping many top publishers identify opportunities to make games more inclusive, shows that around half of players in the U.S. and the U.K want more diverse characters in games. Many also want publishers to take a stance on societal issues.

With game communities continuing to grow around new forms of engagement, the responsibilities of game IP owners have become even more complicated, leading many companies to create internal positions and even teams dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

We will begin feeling the impact of these initiatives more next year, and we’re excited to see the resulting game experiences for ourselves next year.

One thing is for sure: the next few years are due to disrupt the market as we know it, thanks to the release of the next-generation consoles, cloud gaming bringing about new business models, and games—from AAA big-budget to hypercasual experiences—experimenting with social features.

This article has been written by Amsterdam-based Games Market Insight firm Newzoo, detailing the gaming trends that will shape the year to come.

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AI to shape telecom investments in 2021

Inside Telecom Staff



As the world came to a screeching halt due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the tech world adopted a full steam ahead approach

This has rapidly pushed technological advancements to the forefront.

Everything from augmented reality (AR), Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, and the like were propelled forward and began integration within our lives.

While the pandemic heavily impacted service providers’ spending plans, technology never stopped, and several key areas of telecom IT will demand attention in 2021.

Overall, telecom IT vendor revenue is expected to grow by 2.3 percent in 2021, a welcome improvement on this year’s anticipated 0.6 percent decline although still below 4 percent CAGR for the period 2025, according to a study by Omdia.

While telcos took notes of the on-going tech developments and participated some, they found themselves keen on the prospect of adding AI within their systems to better optimize the way they deliver their services.

In parallel, the broader AI industry is witnessing a migration of AI to the edge. For example, the edge AI training and inference market for chipset sales is expected to grow from $2.6 billion in 2020 to $10.7 billion in 2025, at a CAGR of 35 percent. 

Omdia’s research indicates that 80 percent of service providers see the use of AI and analytics, when it comes to the automation of network activities, as an “important” or “very important” IT project for 2021. Nearly 60 percent of them are planning to increase investment in AI tools.

AI presents telcos with the ability to shed human-intensive networks in favor of an intelligence-driven ecosystem, in order to go along with the ongoing quest to drive new growth, the report added.

Latecomers, telecoms are actively expanding the utilization of AI/Machine Learning (ML) beyond merely digitizing internal and external interactions. “Many Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are already on a journey to become augmented service providers where AI augments human decision making for prediction, analysis, and new revenues,” Don Alusha, Senior Analyst at ABI Research, said in the report.

An example of this could be seen by the changes made by Japan’s Rakuten, who renamed its Network Operations Centers (NOCs) to Service Experience Centers (SECs) as it implements extreme automation for self-aware networks.

In addition, Spanish telecom giant Telefónica established a new wing called Telefónica Tech Ventures which plans to incubate new growth based on AI/ML, cloud, and IoT/Big Data, as well as cybersecurity.

“AI/ML capabilities enable the industry to leverage IT-oriented nimbleness and scale as they seek to manage the complexities of today’s networks and establish new commercial models,” Alusha added.

The integration of AI/ML within these industries will aid existing asset-intensive environments where cost of goods sold, inventory turns, managing factories, and supply chain are the area of focus and success.

In parallel, the Omdia report suggested that service providers should make “targeted use of AI to better orchestrate customer journeys, as well as invest in well integrated central data repositories and robust data management capabilities.”

In the new world of cloud, AI/ML, and software, tech providers do not manufacture a product and sell it, the report highlighted.

“They sell a capability. They sell knowledge. They create it at the same time they deliver it. The business model is different and so are the economics. DriveNets, Enea Openwave, Ericsson, HPE, and Nokia are some vendors among many others that are building software-centric ways of marketing and selling solutions. The point is that AI/ML-based platforms are re-shaping existing commercial models. The winners will be those who act decisively and thoughtfully,” Alusha explained.

According to ABI Research, the consistent and continuous maturity and development of AI/ML will pave the way to enable new value creation in CSPs’ journey in becoming digital service providers.

“Technology is a key pillar of that journey, but there are other key dimensions, that if not considered part of the overall digitalization journey, may limit CSPs’ ability to capture the full value at stake,” the report added.

Under that pretense, change management is considered vital to the alteration, since it represents the bulk of the effort to push for new ways of working and conducting business.

ABI Research found that CSPs who are investing in AI/ML-based platforms must take into consideration the root of efficiency will be derived from knowledge sharing and embracing open platforms where APIs and data can be easily accessed.

Alusha stressed that AI/ML, big data and open APIs offer agility and the ability to drive innovation and enable faster and better decision making.

Consequently, CSPs must realize that the new world in cellular must start with a foundation on software and API-led connectivity.

“The ability to harness the power of software platforms and AI/ML is bound to be a defining feature of CSPs of the future. This may well mean that, in addition to bolting on software and intelligent capabilities, CSPs need to learn how to build them as cloud-edges, Open RAN, and 5G core proliferate in the ecosystem,” Alusha concludes.

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