Voice XML Forum created to work on standard

Online addicts who get the jitters when they are away from cyberspace, sports fanatics who absolutely need to have the latest scores from games, opera lovers who want to order tickets -- all could soon find their needs met through voice-enabled applications that connect them to the Internet via telephones.

AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Motorola have formed the VXML (voice extensible markup language) Forum, and 17 other companies also have signed up to work on a standard for voice- and phone-enabled Internet access, said David Unger, a product strategy and development division manager at AT&T.

Besides appeasing consumer demands, the VXML standard also will lead to business applications, a number of which already have been tested by the companies involved, for call centres, banking transactions and electronic commerce.

One recent application test was with the New York City Opera, allowing music lovers to "call in from a phone and listen to clips of music on the opera Web site. After they listen, they could decide what opera they wanted to go to," Unger said. That decision made, the opera fans could then use their telephone keypad to connect to the ticket service and have their calls answered by the representative who handled the order.

But other applications will enable Internet users to check e-mail from telephones, access weather reports, stock quotes and other data found online, Unger said, noting that people will be able to write their own VXML applications to fit their needs.

AT&T, Lucent and Motorola all have been working separately on different versions of VXML, but the companies have the same roots in dealing with the technology, which Unger said got its start several years ago in the AT&T labs, before Lucent was spun off from the giant telco. Researchers from AT&T went to work for Lucent and Motorola.

The versions are not so radically different that it will be difficult to pull together a single standard, Unger said. The forum expects to have a standard posted on its World Wide Web site in April or May. The Web site can be found at http://www.vxmlforum.org/ or at http://www.vxmlforum.com/.

After public comments and contributions to the specification are taken into account, the forum intends to submit a final proposed specification to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) later this year. The objective is to create a standard that is platform-independent and allows developers, content providers, communications service providers, equipment and infrastructure vendors and speech technology companies to work together to push the voice-enabled Internet-access market.

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