ThinkEngine details server for voice-activated services

Two year-old start-up ThinkEngine Networks on Monday introduced a media server that enables carriers to offer their cellular customers voice-activated services.

Dubbed the TEN1000, the hardware and software system is designed to allow wireless providers to offer voice-activated services such as voice dialing, e-mail, voice mail, and text messaging, thus eliminating the need for voice menus that require the wireless phone users to enter keys or type messages and for carriers to deploy and manage multiple systems from competing vendors for various functions.

According to ThinkEngine, the TEN1000 is 3U high, has 672 ports, and works with both traditional circuit-based PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) equipment. Stephen Collins, executive vice president of marketing at ThinkEngines, said carriers would have to deploy 15 separate servers of ThinkEngines' competitor's solution in order to meet the TEN1000's capacity.

The 50-employee Marlboro, Massachuetts-based company says the product will compete with board offerings developed by companies such as NMS Communication, Brooktrout, and Dialogic, which was acquired by Intel in July 1999.

Collins says carriers want a single system with multiple functions, rather than a pile of boards that fit into servers. "Our offering is 50 percent cheaper and takes up 75 percent less rack space," explains Collins. "The TEN1000 also reduces operational and maintenance costs."

ThinkEngine claims two beta customers today, including Larry Whitehead, chief technology officer of Audiopoint, a voice service provider that uses the TEN100 as a platform to deliver voice applications to service providers, who then resell them as a service to wireless customers.

Whitehead explains he opted for the TEN100 over traditional board products due to the low cost of deploying the new system compared to VRUs (Voice Response Units) sold by companies such as NMS, Brooktrout, and Dialogic. "It is a lot of work to deploy and manage VRUs, as they typically only have 48 ports per card," Explained Whitehead. "Integrating [VRUs] and monitoring [them] gets complicated."

Addtionally, Whitehead says he liked how the TEN1000 is ASR (automatic speech recognition)-neutral. In other words, Audiopoint can use speech recognition from multiple vendors rather than being tied to a single platform.

Audiopoint has the TEN1000 in beta tests now and expects full production in July.

In addition to NMS, Brooktrout, Dialogic, and other players including Convedia and IP Unity have also developed media servers that address carrier's desire to offer voice-enabled services. In April, Convedia introduced the CMS-1000 Media Server -- a media server that scales up to 300 ports and offers conference bridges, messaging platforms, and speech platforms on a single platform.

Mark Plakias, an analyst at The Kelsey Group in Princeton, New Jersey, estimates that the market size for advanced voice services will be US$19.5 billion by 2005.

Meanwhile, NMS, in Framingham, Massachusetts, on Monday introduced software that improves sound quality on mobile phone calls. The software is said to eliminate background noise, network distortion, and acoustic echo.

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