Mobile World Congress 2018 was a show marked by numerous 5G announcements, showing that the wireless industry’s marketing machine is finely tuned. But the highlight of the conference in terms of Latin America–related announcements was Telefonica’s Aura, the first of the new generation of AI-enabled digital assistants to be deployed by a major telco in the region.
Investment in a cognitive platform bears first fruit in the consumer market
Telefonica announced at Mobile World Congress last year that it would be investing in what it called the “fourth platform,” the use of big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence. At this year’s event, the company delivered one of the first results of this investment, a digital assistant called Aura. Initially, the assistant will be available in six countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Spain, and the UK – and will be available as an app as well as in other customer support channels. Additionally, the company is launching smart-home hub Movistar Home, which uses Aura to manage smart devices in the home, including pay TV, fixed voice, and broadband services provided by Telefonica. The device has been announced only for Spain for the time being.
This digital assistant is the first to be launched by a telecoms operator focused on the Latin American market. Digital assistants are still a novelty in the region; Android Assistant and Apple’s Siri are available, but heavyweight Amazon Alexa, for example, is not available in Spanish or Portuguese.
Telefonica has at least two advantages: First, Aura is designed to integrate with other services, with Google Assistant and Facebook Messenger set to be available in 2018 and Microsoft Cortana set to come on board in 2019; second, customers will be able to use Aura to manage their interactions with Telefonica, such as asking for bills or usage data.
The challenge will be to make Aura relevant for Telefonica’s customers and not just yet another app left unused on the smartphone screen. Using the local language and linking it to real customer needs is a good start, but introducing a new channel for customer support is tricky, and the key to success will lie in Aura’s efficiency in answering customer queries. If Telefonica succeeds in proving the value of Aura, the operator will enjoy a sustainable competitive advantage in an area that is hard to replicate, putting it probably 18–24 months ahead of any competitor in Latin America.
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Ari Lopes, Principal Analyst, Latin America