SoftBank ties up with Perplexity


After announcing a strategic partnership with SoftBank in April, Perplexity — the AI search engine that has ambitions to take on Google — is now using the deal to expand its user base, and data touchpoints, in SoftBank’s home market. SoftBank and two of its mobile operations, Y!mobile (SoftBank’s mobile phone operator) and LINEMO (SoftBank’s affordable mobile network carrier), plan to offer free, one-year subscriptions to Perplexity’s premium tier, Perplexity Pro, starting June 19.

This move underscores Perplexity’s international ambitions and its focus on generating revenues from its paid tier, but also the motivations of companies like mobile carriers.

They may not have the teams or appetite (or funds) in-house to build their own AI models and services on top of them. But with AI buzz still at an all-time high, tying up with AI companies is one way to attract more users interested in using more AI. It’s also potentially a route to picking up more customers and revenues; and finally, it gives SoftBank a chance to potentially work with Perplexity on other services leveraging AI. (In that regard, it’s not dissimilar to the deals that companies like Spotify inked in its early days with mobile carriers to expand its base of premium users.)

SoftBank is not the only carrier working with Perplexity. The startup inked a partnership with Germany’s Deutsche Telekom that was announced at the same time as the deal with SoftBank, in April 2024.

It’s not clear if either carrier is investing in Perplexity with this deal, but SoftBank has made AI a big focus of its ambitions.

The Vision Fund has been nosing around a number of AI startups, with its name attached to a number of potential deals (including OpenAI and Mistral, although it has not invested officially yet in either). Separately, the founder and CEO of the SoftBank Group, Masayoshi Son, is looking to build a $100 billion AI chip venture; and SoftBank, perhaps not coincidentally, has been linked as a potential buyer for Graphcore in the UK.

Alongside all that, SoftBank’s Japan business last year launched its own Japanese-language Large Language Model venture, SB Intuitions.

It’s not clear how well that has progressed — not least since so many of the most ambitious and advanced LLM players are well into building their own models across different language groups. In any case, SoftBank notes that with the Pro tier of Perplexity, users have the option of selecting whatever LLM they want to power their search queries.

In April, the San Francisco-based startup said it had closed $62.7 million in funding, valuing it at $1 billion, which had doubled from three months ago. TechCrunch has also reported that the company is currently raising another capital of at least $250 million at a valuation of between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. Its current list of investors includes Bezos Expeditions, IVP, NEA, Sequoia, as well as Nvidia and Databricks, along with a number of prominent individuals.

Perplexity, which can be used in web browsers and applications, provides answers based on the latest web searches. Perplexity has come under fire from publishers over how work is credited in answers (or not, as the case may be). The startup says it is working on revenue sharing deals.

Perplexity Pro, a subscription-based service, offers users access to the advanced version of Perplexity. For example, it enables users to freely select from the latest large language models (LLMs) to benefit from more comprehensive information searches and data processing capabilities. In addition, the upgraded Perplexity version offers a feature for generating high-quality images in various styles based on search histories and an AI profile feature that customizes search results and provides support through chat-based tools.

The iOS version of the app is currently priced at 3,000 yen per month and 30,000 yen per year. The web version prices are $20 per month and $200 per year as of the same date.



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