Net2Phone Inc., a provider of IP telephony services, today revealed an agreement to integrate speech-recognition technology from SpeechWorks International Inc. into its burgeoning IP network. When the integration is complete, Net2Phone plans to offer services that let customers place calls by voice using standard or wireless telephones.
Callers will need to dial a toll-free number to gain access to the speech-enabled IP network, according to Net2Phone. The vendor is considering additional services, including the ability to access Web sites via voice and speech-enabled unified messaging for voice mail and E-mail, but no time frame has been set for availability of any of the services. Net2Phone also said it's taking an unspecified minority equity stake in SpeechWorks.
Speech recognition, long considered not ready for prime time, is gaining new respect as service providers seek ways to let callers with wireless and wired phones use spoken commands to place calls and access Web sites. AT&T appears to be the most aggressive of the traditional telecommunications companies in this area, having taken minority equity stakes in SpeechWorks Nuance, and Net2Phone. "Talk of the technology's promise began in earnest in the early 1990s and is just becoming viable," says Maralyn Rosenblatt, VP of Internet technology for Countrywide Home Loans Inc. in Calabassas, Calif., and a 20-year veteran of the telecom industry. "The real value of the services will be that they will enable you to access time-critical data any time from any place."
Carriers such as AT&T also see fees from speech-enabled services as a way to offset losses from traditional long-distance telephone revenues, says Daniel Briere, founder of the consulting firm TeleChoice. "But the main message here is that speech recognition has come out of the research and development labs and will provide the foundation for a growing number of services that boost sales on Web sites, make accessing information easier, and enable IT managers to reduce call-center staff."