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New telco alliance wants to turn 5G start-ups into global powerhouses

A group of five operators plus one towerco have joined forces to give budding young companies the ability to reach a worldwide audience.

Called Alaian, the group comprises Telefónica, MTN, Bouygues Telecom, KPN and WindTre, which between them boast 700 million customers spread across 50 markets in Europe, Africa and Latin America. Passive infrastructure provider Cellnex is also a founder member. The group has pledged to share best practices when it comes to innovation, and collaborate on new use cases for 5G and fibre.

One of the other major activities of Alaian is to find and nurture promising new companies.

With that in mind, and coinciding with its launch, Alaian has issued its first global call for start-ups. Successful applicants will get access to member companies’ testing labs, marketing and sales channels, and technical, commercial and product experts. Start-ups deemed worthy enough will also be eligible for funding, and could gain exposure to Alaian members’ network of venture capitalists. The application window closes on 31 May and a ‘pitch day’ is due to take place on 7 June.

To be in with a shout, interested companies must be working on a 5G-based use case for one of the following verticals: communications and infrastructure; manufacturing and logistics; automotive; utilities and energy; media, entertainment and gaming; metaverse and Web3; or retail.

The aim is to find that small company beavering away in some far-flung corner of the globe on what could be ‘the next big thing’ in telecom services, and provide it with the support it needs to turn that dream into reality. It has echoes of the Silicon Valley start-up scene but with a telecoms twist, and on a global scale.

“We are proud to form part of the Alaian alliance which will give us an opportunity to work with and share best practices with globally competitive telcos,” said Chika Ekeji, group chief strategy and transformation officer at MTN, in a statement. “Innovative digital solutions are a huge part of our strategy and our involvement in the alliance will further expose us to partnering with start-ups that are a strong fit with our Ambition 2025 strategy.”

There were similar canned quotes from the other Alaian members too. You can read them here.

It’s a worthy ambition, and there are obvious benefits to be had from pooling resources, not the least of which is making more effective use of limited R&D budgets, and increasing the chance of getting in on the ground floor at the next unicorn start-up.

But as with any industry partnership there are practicalities to consider. Individual members will have to designate responsibility for Alaian activities within their organisations, and they will have to ensure these people have the right skills and the ability to be effective while continuing to do their day jobs. The group will also have to decide when and where to meet, and how best to overcome distance and language barriers, and be cognisant of variances in working culture. In short: there is a lot of cat-herding to be done.

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