SK Telecom Alexa

Alexa Voice Service Adds English Option to SK Telecom’s Korean Voice Assistant

SK Telecom smart speakers can now converse in English as well as Korean using Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service (AVS), as foreshadowed by emails from Amazon to customers in South Korea this past spring. The South Korean communications giant partnered with Amazon to graft Alexa to the Nugu Candle smart speaker alongside the native Aria voice assistant.

Aria Alexa

The collaboration isn’t the same as adding a new language to Alexa or Aria’s library; it embeds Alexa within the Nugu smart speaker courtesy of AVS. Nugu owners can connect their Alexa account to the smart speaker with the Nugu app. Once set up, they can pick between Aria and Alexa using their respective Korean and English wake words. The smart speaker uses different light colors to indicate which AI is active; dark blue for Alexa and a lighter shade of blue for Aria.  Aria and Alexa share several features like calendar updates and news and weather reports but diverge when it comes to third-party apps. For instance, Alexa can stream music from other countries with TuneIn, but only Aria can stream from Korean services like Flo and Potbbang. SK Telecom plans to fuse more Alexa features into its voice assistant and make Alexa accessible on future Nugu devices, including the Nugu Candle SE smart speaker set to arrive early in 2022.

“As Korea’s first AI speaker, Nugu has been providing diverse services to enhance customers’ AI experience,” SK Telecom vice president and head of AI Lee Hyun-a said. “Now with the addition of Amazon’s Alexa voice service, Nugu will further strengthen customer value and convenience through differentiated content and services.”

AVS All Over

AVS provides a relatively flexible platform for integrating Alexa into non-Amazon devices. The platform expanded its geographical footprint rapidly over the last year. The service arrived in Belgium and Switzerland in May, a month after it came to Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru. Those rollouts followed the inclusion of Poland and Sweden in March and Colombia and the Netherlands at the end of 2020 to the countries with AVS. The platform allows manufacturers to build Alexa-enabled devices in the Alexa Built-in program. It can localize news and answers about events and culture but relies on an existing Alexa Skills store for third-party voice apps, hence the limits on Korean streaming services. The partnership with SK Telecom makes sense from an e-commerce perspective, however. Amazon has had a long and successful partnership with SK Telecom to funnel Amazon products through the SK Telecom-owned 11Street e-commerce market. And Alexa may end up speaking Korean soon, too, as a totally different partnership with SK Telecom from last year is pursuing that goal.


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