In 2008 Intervoice (News
) will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of its founding. It’s still said to be the only vendor in the voice portal industry that remains independent. It's publicly traded and remains focused on self-service to live assistance, for the service provider and for the enterprise.They also have a very strong voice portal/contact center offering for providers as well. For Intervoice, it’s all about voice.
IMS (IP-based Multimedia Subsystem), the upcoming world service architecture for wireless and wireline networks, greatly excites Intervoice, because with the depth and breadth of experience that Intervoice has (the company has over 125 patents) they feel they will make a big impression in the IMS world.
Intervoice’s Scot Harris, Director of Global Product Marketing, says, “We’re seeing a convergence of services going on. Today you have your home, office and much of the time you’re on the move. Until now there have been many ‘silos’ for accessing all of these – cable, satellite, 3G/4G and so forth, and the applications have been separate and ‘siloed’ too. We see the promise of IMS in that you can now have unified data distribution. You can distribute data through multiple types of technologies – hence, multiple types of devices.”
“The way we see the future of the telecom marketplace moving very much revolves around the idea of context,” says Harris, “and being aware of the context." The way we look at context is just like you would in a journalism class – who, what, where, when, why and how. Answering these questions gives you a lot of information, and we apply a similar reasoning to the context-aware construct. You start out with the ‘why’ which is basically the user profile – who you are. You input some data yourself, so you can determine what it will be. It could be that there are certain things that are automatically determined, based on your classification as a user. And there could be some data input that’s predictive in nature, perhaps based on some past behaviors regarding how you’ve used applications in the past, or what kind of usage patterns you have in general.”
“Interactions can come through various media: voice, data and video,” says Harris, “Primarily the reason people use a telecommunications environment is for communication, information and entertainment, or possibly a combination of all of those. I may want to communicate with someone or something. I may want to retrieve some information from someone or something. And I want to be entertained.”
“Next we consider the ‘who’ part of the equation,” says Harris, “The ‘who’ are your contacts. Who is it that you want to contact? That could refer to your address book, or a services menu that’s presented to you, or it could be some pre-defined relationship such as a database that’s established by your service provider. And then ‘where’ you are in physical space is becoming more important to consider, since people are increasingly on the move. But ‘where’ is also about what else are you doing at that location. Are you driving a car? Are you walking down the street? Are you riding on a bus
or train? All of these have different implications.”
“The ‘what’ part of the equation is whatever it is you’re actually trying to obtain,” says Harris, “That could be a search engine, or you could be looking for specific content. Or you may just be looking for some generic services. Perhaps some advertising is presented to you that links to an opportunity or something in which you’re interested. Those can be undefined relationships that are just generic things for which you’re searching, such as, ‘Where is the nearest Starbuck’s?’”
“The ‘when’ part is simply when things are happening,” says Harris, “That really ties back into a calendar function. What kind of alerts do you have? What types of things do you need to be doing now? What types of things are opportunities for me to do now? That can be influenced from a presence standpoint. For example, ‘What is my presence at this particular moment?’”
“If you put all of these things together,” says Harris, “it really tells you, from a contextual standpoint, what somebody is doing and what it is they’re trying to achieve. We think that’s absolutely critical when you’re looking overall at how you as a service provider are going to be delivering new services to customers in a telecom environment.”
The Network You Need
Harris continues: “There are many projected IMS applications: presence; push-to services such as push-to-talk, push-to-view, and push-to-video; rich calls such as combining video and data; group chat; multimedia advertising; instant messaging; unified messaging; multiparty gaming; personal information services such as calendars and alerts; video streaming; audio/web/videoconferencing; interactive voice response; and voice services. Of course, they all may be great applications, but there’s no mystery to them. All of these applications can be implemented without resorting to an IMS network. In our minds, the promise of IMS, especially today, is the ability to suddenly deliver into a telecom environment a new application that nobody ever thought of before.”
“If you look at the pre-IMS world, it’s a world of ‘stove-pipe’ services and applications,” says Harris, “where components are replicated and things are expensive, cumbersome and difficult to manage. You need multiple skill sets in order to actually administer these things. You don’t have any central repository for any of the information you’re trying to obtain, either concerning customer usage, or preferences or a database of information. There’s no centralization at all. It’s all just a hodge-podge.”
“But then, post-IMS gives us a horizontal integration of services and applications,” says Harris, “The idea behind this is this – if we can just get some common functions, routing and network logic behind the idea, there’s a tremendous opportunity to create services more efficiently, more rapidly, and even to combine these services to create new services, which is, quite honestly, where we think the major opportunity is. Also, subscribers can now in theory define their own services. So it’s not a restrictive matter of a service provider telling a subscriber what services he or she wants. Perhaps a subscriber can create some of their own services, based on specific existing services that are available to them.”
“There are several emerging service concepts linked to IMS,” says Harris, “These concepts are where the promise of IMS reside: Services are independent of the device and network, which is absolutely critical. We also think that it’s important that those services can cross over various devices and networks and work as similar as possible, given, obviously, the logistical and realistic constraints of using an application on a mobile device, versus sitting in front a giant HDTV at home with a full keyboard at your disposal. Other related concepts are familiar from a Web 2.0 standpoint. For example, the separation of form and content, so you’re not restricted to the form of the existing application or website that you’re on. Then there’s the concept of ‘combining content’ and combining different types of services in a mash-up scenario. One can also push services out to somebody based on either specific predetermined requests or real-time requests. Another concept is the dynamic modifications of the forms and content based on customer preferences and usage patterns. And of course there’s rich interactive services, which everybody is talking about these days, that center on video and multimodal-type applications. Finally there’s intelligent markup ‘tagging and hyperlinking’ and parsing. This brings to mind the kind of things you see in Facebook (News
) or a del.icio.us, where you have the capability of tagging and naming things you want named as opposed to the way that somebody has predetermined for you the way that they must be named. And of course it involves creating relationships among people and things that you consider important, again as opposed to what some organization or provider thinks is important.”
Harris elaborates: “So, will IMS deliver? In the short-term we see a sort of ‘Hype and Hope’ scenario where the network implementation of IMS will be spotty, there won’t be a great number of truly new applications and the suppliers will have to start putting an IMS strategy in place. We don’t think there will be tremendous change overnight because of IMS. What we’re actually seeing is, from our customers, that the IMS implementations are fairly spotty. Some of our customers are charging down a path toward IMS, but then we have other customers who have decided to just wait and see what happens with IMS."
“This piecemeal approach we see of carriers moving to IMS could exist for years,” says Harris, “There may be networks out there that are sort of IMS in some areas and yet in other areas they haven’t yet adopted the IMS standards. In the long run, however, it’s inevitable that there will be some sort of service/lifestyle convergence. Among all of the things available, IMS certainly appears to be the logical network architecture to deliver such convergence. New types of service offerings will emerge. We at Intervoice strongly believe that there will be continuous offerings of communication, information and entertainment across various media and devices. For example, you’ll be able to control your TV and DVR [Digital Video Recorder] with your mobile device using a menu that looks as much as possible as the menu you use when you control your DVR at home. Given this environment and given the uncertainly and overall cost of IMS. It certainly isn’t going to be inexpensive for carrier to go down this route. So we think the first biggest positive step toward the future will be to move existing and/or basic applications to an IMS-enabled applications platform. Once you get something like that in place, you have some of these applications. Maybe they’re not really sexy applications, but they’re in place on a platform that enables you then to grow those applications from the service convergence standpoint and from the introduction of new types of applications. But you will have the IMS infrastructure in place, and you can justify doing that based on simply needing to bring your existing applications into an IP
Intervoice Media Exchange with HomeZone
“Our product in this area is called Intervoice Media Exchange with HomeZone,” says Harris, “Basically, it’s an IP-based, enhanced services framework that provides an extensive range of multimedia value-added services. HomeZone is at the core of Media Exchange. It acts in multiple ways. The applications are in the services layer. You would have something like voicemail or you might have voice SMS or voice-activated dialing or something like that, on that services layer. What HomeZone does is to give you single session application access to those services, like a portal. It allows you to have access to those services from a central point simultaneously if you wish, the same way you can open up web pages, and move between those web pages while maintaining the integrity of the first web page you opened when you transition to the second one. You can do the same thing within Media Exchange using HomeZone. You can actually stop an application, open up a new application, run it and then come back to the first application, which will be in the same state in which you left it. The concept is one of trying to extend the web environment into a telecom environment.”
“Media Exchange with HomeZone offers centralized reporting, and OAM&P [Operation, Administration, Maintenance and Provisioning],” says Harris, “So every one of those apps can be managed from one central point. It’s also extensive to third party services so a third party that’s certified can add an application into Media Exchange and that application can now be resident in HomeZone and is usable by subscribers. So it doesn’t even have to be our application.”
“As I said, it supports multimedia such as voice, video and pictures,” says Harris, “It’s multimodal and can be accessed via WAP
[Wireless Application Protocol], the web, your desktop or via your handset without having to resort to WAP access, using your voice if you like. It allows a subscriber to really choose how he or she wants to interact with a service based on the environment and the device that they’re using. In this way service segmentation can be extended to 100 percent of the subscriber base. Media Exchange’s simple user interface allows end users to quickly select the service features they want. Additional services can be deployed now or in the future.”
“In a way,” muses Harris, “Intervoice anticipated IMS when we developed our Media Exchange architecture, which has many of the same features. Media Exchange works in all telco architectures, such as TDM, SIP
[Session Initiation Protocol], and IMS. It has a componentized architecture and layered design and applications not tied to the delivery medium. It also has an SOA [Service-oriented Architecture].”
“Media Exchange uses as an additional abstraction layer SCXML,” says Harris, “or State Chart eXtensible Markup Language. [Note, SCXML is an XML
language that provides a generic state-machine based execution environment based on Harel statecharts. SCXML is able to describe complex state-machines and notions such as sub-states, parallel states, synchronization, or concurrency, and is an emerging W3C standard.] Intervoice’s Media Exchange’s Media Exchange contains an orchestration engine been designed to initiate and manage media interactions. It’s the industry's first commercially available product which has implemented SCXML as the framework for building complex multi-modal interactions.”
“Media Exchange is IMS proven,” says Harris, “Media Exchange provides a complete IMS application delivery platform, and an Open Service Creation Environment as well as centralized OAM&P and reporting. Our technology has been successfully tested with Huawei’s (News
) CSCF and Tier 1 carriers.”
It appears that Intervoice has become one of the companies leading the IMS revolution. It saw which way the industry was headed and prepared for it with an architecture compatible with IMS. It’s also capable of deploying real apps and enabling the apps of the future.
Richard Grigonis is an internationally-known technology editor and writer. Prior to joining TMC as Executive Editor of its IP Communications Group, he was the Editor-in-Chief of VON Magazine (News - Alert) from its founding in 2003 to August 2006. He also served as the Chief Technical Editor of CMP Media’s Computer Telephony magazine, later called Communications Convergence (News - Alert), from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. In addition, he has written five books on computers and telecom (including the Computer Telephony Encyclopedia and Dictionary of IP Communications). To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
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