Madrid/London: Apple Inc. has Siri, Amazon.com Inc. has Alexa and now Telefonica SA is promoting its own digital personal assistant with a voice, Aura.
The telecom carrier is set to release Aura in six countries, a key plank of chief executive officer Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete’s data-focused strategy. Aura will initially be aimed at improving customer service with artificial intelligence by providing billing information, changing television channels or starting a video call and predicting future needs from past behaviour.
“It’s a one-stop shop,” Pallete said at an event on Sunday in Barcelona in advance of Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry’s biggest trade show and conference. “We want our customers to talk to the technology and get things done.”
Telefonica is among telecom carriers seeking new areas of growth to profit from surging data use as the number of connected devices soars. Pallete plans to build on Telefonica’s capabilities with data, while French carrier Orange SA has been expanding into banking and Vodafone Group Plc is focused on machine-to-machine communication in the so-called internet of things.
The roll-out of Aura comes a year after Telefonica revealed preliminary plans for the service and will include Spain, the UK, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, to start.
The technology will give customers access to data associated with their use of Telefonica products and services, such as location and payment history as well as preferences. Through agreements with Deutsche Telekom AG, Royal KPN NV and Orange, subscribers will be able to take that data with them when they move to another carrier, for example to help build a credit score.
Aura will be integrated into other platforms to reach Telefonica customers, starting with Facebook Inc.’s Messenger in Germany and Chile and later Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant and Microsoft Corp.’s Cortana.
The personal assistant is just one service from Telefonica’s internal digital project—its so-called fourth platform—run by chief data officer Chema Alonso, who oversees a team of about 700 people.
While the wait for Aura is over for Telefonica’s customers, it’s a different story for shareholders. The carrier has yet to spell out specifically how Aura and other digital projects can dramatically change the company and drive revenue growth enough to make a dent in its balance sheet—the same challenge for Vodafone with its burgeoning internet-of-things business.
Telefonica’s shares have lagged behind peers amid investor scepticism about Pallete’s ability to pay down debt by boosting free cash flow without relying on divestitures, the strategy he has articulated. Telefonica shares are down 17% over the last year, compared with a drop of 9.7% for the Stoxx Europe 600 Telecommunications index.