New SK Telecom CEO bets on AI and content to drive rapid growth

Ryu Young-sang, the new CEO of slimmed-down SK Telecom, thinks AI and converged content services will help to drive a 20 percent increase in revenue by 2025.

The change in personnel comes after the Korean telco spun off its ICT operation into a new entity, SK Square, which will be led by Ryu’s predecessor at SK Telecom, Park Jung-ho. Under Park’s leadership, SK Square has grand plans to expand aggressively into the semiconductor market.

As part of his vision to evolve the remaining telco business into an “AI and Digital Infrastructure Service Company” (as visions go, it’s a popular one in this industry), Ryu will focus on leveraging the most advanced network technology to create customer-oriented services that maximise value and satisfaction.

That’s the fluffy, corporate way of saying SK Telecom will continue to expand and upgrade its 5G network, and will converge its OTT and traditional home media services in response to changing end-user demand. It will also spend more on original content, and establish more partnerships to make its services even harder to resist.

SK Telecom’s new CEO also thinks AI can be used to develop tailored services for individual customers. And on the enterprise side of things, SK Telecom has high hopes for edge computing, data centres and industrial IoT.

Now we come to everybody’s new favourite/loathed (delete as appropriate) term: Metaverse. The social network formerly known as Facebook is working on one, and so is SK Telecom, which if nothing else suggests we might one day inhabit a terrifying and confusing multi-metaverse. Anyway, SK Telecom’s one is called Ifland, and much like Meta’s metaverse, its aim is to make it easy for people to conduct virtual interactions with friends using personalised avatars. Ryu intends to turn Ifland into an open platform, enabling a diverse range of companies to create experiences and – crucially – use the metaverse as a marketing channel. It also represents a fresh opportunity for telcos to ‘own’ the customer experience; however, given the number of false starts the virtual reality industry has had over the years, and the bandwidth challenge that comes with facilitating real-time virtual experiences over the Internet, the broadness of its appeal is still hard to gauge.

It is hoped that the combination of all these endeavours will grow SK Telecom’s annual turnover to 22 trillion won ($18.7 billion) by 2025, up 20 percent from KRW18.6 trillion in 2020. It’s an ambitious target given how much telcos struggle to organically grow revenue amid stiff competition.

Meanwhile, Ryu also wants to do his bit for the environment, reducing the operator’s use of plastic, and deploying more solar-powered base stations.

“As we open a new chapter in our corporate history, we will strengthen our market leadership by offering customer-centred technologies and services, and make redoubled efforts to become a socially responsible company,” Ryu said, in a brief statement.

When he joined the company in 2000, Ryu was tasked with developing future growth drivers at SK Telecom and its IT and systems integration arm SK C&C. He also played an integral role in SK Telecom’s acquisition of memory chip maker SK Hynix in 2012. In 2019, he was appointed president of SK Telecom’s MNO business. His appointment as CEO of SK Telecom was approved by the board on Monday, and becomes effective immediately.

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