Telecom Italia Unveils Telephone-based Browser

ROME (08/01/2000) - Telecom Italia SpA has developed a technology that lets users browse the Web by speaking commands into their telephones and having Web site content read back to them, the Italian telecommunications incumbent announced today.

The system, dubbed VoxNauta, uses voice recognition and synthesis technologies to allow clients to navigate the Web from fixed and mobile phones, the company said in a prepared statement. It allows voice consultation of Web sites that use the standard HTML language, granting Internet access to people who are travelling or don't have a personal computer at their disposal, it said.

"As far as we are aware, no one else in Europe has developed this capacity," said Ganpaolo Balboni, a spokesman for Telecom Italia's Turin-based research facility CSELT, adding that in the U.S. some companies are developing similar systems.

VoxNauta will enable customers to consult any information posted on the Web in HTML, listening to the words as they are read in real time by an automatic voice synthesizer, Balboni said. Personalized vocal bookmarks will enable users to avoid lengthy searches and to jump straight to their favorite sites, he added.

"I think this technology has great potential; it won't just be limited to a niche market," Balboni said. "The primary market will be those who are driving by car and can't take their eyes off the road for visual browsing." There will also be a market serving technophobes who don't want to learn to use a PC but are comfortable with more familiar telephone appliances, he said.

Italians, in particular, have been slow to take to the Internet via PCs but have embraced wireless telephony, Balboni said. "This technology could help to speed up the penetration of Internet in Italy," he said.

Much of the information available on the Internet is already sufficiently succinct to make it suitable for voice browsing, according to the CSELT spokesman. Information about hotels, traffic, weather, cinemas, stock quotes and brief news items could all be conveniently accessed via VoxNauta, he said.

"This will certainly be welcome if it adds another form of interactivity to Internet," said Oriana Guidi, senior research analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Milan. "I don't know what the quality of this service will be like, but it will certainly be useful if it simplifies WAP navigation, which tends to be difficult because of the small size of the screens available on cellphone handsets."

Telecom Italia can be contacted in Rome on tel. +3906 3688 2066 or on the World Wide Web at http://www.telecomitalia.it. CSELT can be contacted in Turin on tel. +39011 228 5058 or on the Web at http://www.cselt.it.

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