Telefónica lines up with Facebook, Google and Microsoft in consumer AI programme

Telefónica has launched an artificial intelligence (AI)-based service for consumers in six countries in association with Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

The service, called Aura, will be available in three countries in Latin American – Argentina, Brazil and Chile – and three in Europe – Germany, Spain and the UK.

“It will help customers talk to the network. We have integrated different technologies into the ecosystem, said Telefónica’s chairman, José María Álvarez-Pallete, speaking on Sunday in Barcelona. “We have integrated Telefónica into a platform company. It is a platform of platforms.

The Aura service means that Telefónica will be able ultimately to work in a similar way to Amazon’s Alexa. Customers will be able to speak requests, prefixed by “OK, Aura”, initially about Telefónica services such as billing information or TV programmes, but eventually much more.

“Customers don’t need to talk in the language of a machine,” said Mark Evans, CEO of Telefónica UK, which will offer Aura as O2 Ask. “It will give access to live music, sport and location-based offers.”

Chema Alonso, Telefónica’s chief data officer, explained Facebook, Google and Microsoft’s roles. “If we want to be in the place customers are we need to go beyond Telefónica. If our customers are on other platforms we want to be there.”

In Germany and Chile Aura will be integrated with Facebook Messenger. Javier Oliván, the vice president of growth at Facebook, said that in those two countries customers will be able to speak with friends on Facebook Messenger via Aura.

Customers will also be able to talk to Aura via Google Assistant, said Scott Huffman, vice president of engineering for Google Assistant. “Telefónica is one of the first telcos to join the Assistant carrier programme.” Alonso said getting into the Android ecosystem had been “one of the big challenges”.

Finally Gurpreet Singh Pall, Microsoft’s vice president of Bing and Cortana products, said: “We plan to integrate Aura with Cortana, starting with the UK later this year.” Already “any Windows device with Cortana will be able to use Aura”, he added.

Meanwhile Álvarez-Pallete invited rival telcos to join the Data Portability Cooperation, an initiative that already includes Deutsche Telekom, KPN and Orange. It aims to set up common protocols for personal data that will allow customers to carry their data from one telco to another. “I invite whoever else wants to join,” said Álvarez-Pallete.