Looking to capitalize on voice access to the Web, AT&T today took a $60 million minority stake in startup TellMe Networks Inc. The fledgling company has developed an Internet platform that lets anyone with any type of phone dial its toll-free number and, by using voice commands such as "restaurants," be given free access to Web-based services.
AT&T will provide TellMe with the 800 service and related call-routing features needed to handle the huge call volumes expected when the service becomes available to the masses--with E-commerce capabilities--later this summer. The companies will work together to develop new business and consumer applications for the service, according to the companies.
TellMe, which combines the power of the phone and the Internet, obviates the need for special phone browser software and can be accessed via wired and wireless phones. And customers can use the platform's speech-recognition technologies rather than keying in letters and numbers to access Web-based information.
"AT&T's partnering with TellMe is a very strong validation of the technology it uses to provide voice access to the Web," says Mark Plakias, VP of voice and wireless commerce at the Kelsey Group, a consulting and research firm. "The deal has the potential to jump-start the use of voice recognition in this emerging marketplace more than any of the equipment vendors could do themselves."
Rick Roscitt, president of AT&T Business Services, says he expects to roll out offerings based on TellMe's technology as soon as possible.