KT taps growth from emerging AI, B2B services

KT Corp is looking to its emerging AI and B2B services to drive growth in 2021 as it promises "tangible results" in its transition to digital platform business.

The company announced 5.6% higher net income of 703.4 billion won (US$631.8 million) for 2020, a result of growth in the new businesses and improved cost management.

But total revenue contracted 1.7% after the pandemic hit handset sales and the card and property businesses. Service revenue was flat.

KT said its AI and digital transformation business grew 11.8%, a positive sign for its own transformation journey from telco to platform company, unveiled last year.

It said it expects even higher growth from AI and B2B in 2021, leveraging its strengths in big data and the cloud.

The company said it is restructuring around growth businesses, with a focus on media, content, commerce and financial segments.

"But KT cannot do this alone. To further enhance our competitiveness, we plan to actively pursue partnerships, M&A and equity investments," CFO Kyung-Keun Yoon said.

It was already successful in bringing AI capabilities, including chatbots or big data analytics and segmentation, to verticals including hotel, real estate and AI contact centers.

In media, it cited its platform and OTT capabilities and its content holdings, with plans to produce and distribute original content in partnership with local or international studios.

In its "cashcow" businesses of broadband and mobile, the company said it would seek to add high-value subscribers while containing costs.

KT's mobile segment grew 2.3% last year, driven by 5G take-up. It added 806,000 subs in Q4 to take total 5G customers to 3.62 million.

Mobile ARPU of 31,946 won ($28.69) was up 1.0% sequentially and 1.9% year-on-year, with 3% ARPU growth forecast for 2021.

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KT brushed away suggestions that its recently announced lower 5G rates would constrain revenue growth.

It described the new charges as "mid to low" that would attract customers on low-end 4G plans but still would increase ARPU and revenue.

In the broadband business, subs remained flat, but IPTV numbers were up 4.9% to 8.76 million.

"Last year KT declared we would transform from telco to 'digico' and we would be a digital platform company with a telecom foundation," Yoon said.

"In 2021 we plan to bring tangible business results as a digico and bring growth befitting a digital platform company."

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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