Vendors Talk Up the Potential of Voice Portals

SAN MATEO (05/26/2000) - As speech recognition technology matures, voice portal services that aggregate Web content for the phone are aligning with carriers and revving up business services.

Emphasizing the attention this market is receiving, Nuance Communications this week will unveil a new version of its speech recognition engine that powers many voice portal applications, while voice portal Tellme Networks Inc. last week announced a $60 million investment from AT&T Corp.

Nuance 7.0 sports improved speech recognition for wireless services and carrier environments. In an attempt to make its speech engine carrier-grade, Nuance is boosting its scalability with the addition of remote monitoring tools and simultaneous load balancing of speech recognition, natural language understanding, voice authentication, and text-to-speech tools. Improvements directed at mobile use include a ramped-up filtering technology that can minimize background noise so users can be clearly heard on wireless phones and in noisy environments.

According to one analyst, AT&T's decision to put money into Tellme lends credence to the nascent voice portal market.

"AT&T's investment in Tellme is very significant for Tellme. It justifies their business plan and it gives them a national backbone that is one of the most ubiquitous nationwide transport systems," said Megan Gurley, research analyst at The Yankee Group, in Boston.

Gurley also commented that carriers' movement into the voice portal space will help move the technology into new markets.

"It was AT&T's business-to-business solutions group that made this investment, not [AT&T's] wireless group. That gives speech portals the ability to go beyond the wireless consumer applications and into the enterprise," Gurley said.

And voice portal companies are gearing up for these new markets with plans for b-to-b applications such as hosted voice services and voice-enabled Web sites.

Tellme CEO Mike McCue said AT&T and Tellme are jointly developing a voice ASP (application service provider) model for businesses seeking to build a voice presence as well as for companies looking to automate or outsource call-center functionality.

Similarly, another voice portal player, Quack.com , last week launched a program to voice-enable Web sites to help companies expand the reach of their business. The company also stuck a strategic partnership with Web portal Lycos Inc., which will be its first customer.

Meanwhile BeVocal Inc., which uses Nuance's technology to power its service, said it is actively talking with a number of major carriers. It is also looking to expand its service to e-commerce companies with a set of vertical industry applications called VocalSuites targeted at specific markets such as travel, restaurants, banks, and hotels.

Nuance Communications, in Menlo Park, California, is at www.nuance.com. Tellme Networks Inc., in Mountain View, California, is at www.tellme.com. BeVocal Inc., in Santa Clara, California, is at www.bevocal.com.

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