Microsoft adds IVR technology to VOIP hub

Microsoft Tuesday added yet another piece to the IP-based backend it is creating for real-time communications when it announced that its voice recognition technology would be folded into its forthcoming VOIP hub.

The company revealed at the SpeechTEK conference in New York this week that Microsoft Speech Server 2007 would be discontinued and its capabilities added to the forthcoming Office Communications Server 2007, slated to ship in mid-2007.

Speech Server 2007 is a speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) platform that includes a runtime environment, speech services and development tools for building IVR applications. The server allows phone callers to user voice commands or keypad entries to choose options for getting information.

Office Communications Server 2007, formerly called Live Communications Server, is Microsoft's all-in-one hub for instant messaging, IP telephony, voice response, audio conferencing and videoconferencing.

"For our core customers on Speech Server instead of just IVR they now have a server with robust call management, call routing, queuing, as well as, pure voice and voice over IP," says Clint Patterson, director of product management for Microsoft Speech Server. "It allows them to consider consolidating their infrastructure on standard hardware with a software based approach to their contact center infrastructure."

Microsoft plans to discontinue Speech Server, which first shipped in April 2004, but Patterson said the R2 version, which shipped in July 2005, would be on the market until the end of 2007 with support continuing until 2014.

Microsoft does not plan to increase the price of the Communications Server, Patterson said. Speech Server can run up to US$20,000 per CPU.

The company has already folded Speech Server into the upcoming release of Exchange Server 2007, which adds features that let users interact with e-mail and calendar entries through the IVR system.

In July, Microsoft lined up a yearlong roadmap for creating a single real-time communications and collaboration platform that includes a software-based voice infrastructure aimed at eventually replacing IP-based voice hardware.

The company has used partnerships in the past with the likes of Nortel and others to outline a unified communications infrastructure, but this time around Microsoft is taking on the whole pie with a platform that combines e-mail, instant messaging/presence, voice and video into a single communications infrastructure available from within any desktop or network application.

At the SpeechTek conference, Microsoft showed how Speech Server capabilities could be integrated with presence information allowing the system to tell a caller that the person they are trying to reach is on the phone. Microsoft also demonstrated a conversation where one user was using speech and the other instant messaging. The system used speech-to-text and text-to-speech capabilities to bridge the two interfaces.

In addition to the Speech Server announcement, Microsoft also said Vista's speech recognition technology would be available in eight languages: U.S. English, U.K. English, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Japanese, German, French and Spanish.

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