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Feature Article
October 2003

Go directly to the sidebar Anytime, Anywhere Access To Web Applications Using Voice

Voice Automation Provides Safe, Convenient Connectivity


Simultaneously juggling a phone and the steering wheel is widely considered unsafe, and it may soon to be illegal in many states. With more than 50 percent of calls initiated from the car, subscribers need other options to stay connected while in transit -- a home away from home (or office, as the case may be) for commuters.

�Hands-free� legislation has the potentially damaging effect of decreasing minutes-of-usage (MOU), thereby reducing a service provider�s revenue. Applications such as those provided through voice-enhanced services (VES) can provide for true mobility; allowing hands-free access to critical information such as phone numbers and other information simply by using voice commands. Without compromising safety, service providers can safeguard their revenue streams by offering a safe, legal, and efficient way for their subscribers to use wireless phones while on the road or at any time that they are simply mobile.

Today�s wireless subscribers demand simple and efficient mobile access to people and information. However, small keypads prevalent on wireless phones present a real problem because they do not provide the mobile user with an efficient interface for requesting and accessing this information. Voice-automated technologies provide wireless phone subscribers with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface for initiating calls (voice-activated dialing) and accessing and managing Internet-based information such as news, sports, weather, e-mail, and more by using simple voice commands. This cutting-edge technology enables service providers to deploy compelling services, which address the needs of both their business and consumer subscribers and increase average revenue per user (ARPU) through premium pricing and incremental MOU.

Voice-enhanced solutions, which are often being developed utilizing open-standards technology such as Speech Application Language Tags (SALT), can seamlessly integrate voice, e-mail, outbound dialing, text/SMS messaging, voice mail, conferencing, and the Internet to provide for a rich, compelling end-user experience.

Dynamic changes in the telecommunications market have led carriers and service providers to establish new revenue channels that promise continued growth and sustained profitability as well as reduced subscriber churn. Explosive advancement in mobile phone-based technologies has enabled consumers to adopt new, value-added services, such as VES.

While third-generation wireless (3G) services will require mass consumer adoption of hardware and services over the next three to five years in order to generate carrier return-on-investment (ROI), voice-enabled services, which can be deployed on 2G, 2.5G, and 3G networks, typically deliver faster returns. Based on industry projections, carriers may be able to realize payback periods of 10 months or less, establishing valuable revenue streams much more quickly than services fully reliant on 3G networks.

Maintaining, or better yet, increasing the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), provides a compelling incentive to launch new revenue-producing services and expand profitability through reliance on cost-effective technologies that utilize existing infrastructure investments. A number of market factors in the wireless telecom industry are driving ARPU values lower, including carrier competition, increased customer churn, and the bundling of minutes into buckets, which seem to get less expensive on a daily basis. Within this challenging business climate, service providers strive to provide compelling value-added services to their consumer and business users to increase ARPU. In addition, they strive to reduce subscriber churn by offering �sticky� products, which help to differentiate their services.
Increasingly, carriers are looking toward VES, such as voice-activated dialing, voice access to voice mail, stock quotes, horoscopes, or voice access to e-mail to ensure that their subscribers stay safely and efficiently connected while they are away from their office or home. In addition to driving incremental MOU, these types of services can also serve as the basis for charging premium-based subscription fees. For example, several wireless carriers currently offer voice-activated dialing and related VES to subscribers for $4.99 or more per month.

� Increased customer satisfaction, by providing subscribers with an efficient, safe method for accessing people and information from a mobile phone.
� Increased minutes-of-usage, by encouraging business users and consumers to stay connected while they are away from their home or office.
� By offering sticky applications such as voice-activated dialing, carriers can reduce churn and even make it easier for subscribers to change phone models without changing service providers. Contacts and phone numbers are stored in the service provider�s network, not on the mobile phone.
� Extended compliance with state, federal, and local ordinances, by enabling operators to comply with laws that require hands-free operation of wireless devices while driving. This also ensures that the carrier will not lose revenues, based on the potential decline in MOU as hands-free laws are enacted.

Voice-enabled solutions meet the needs of busy family members. Available solutions on the market today offer something for everyone. For example, VES make checking e-mail, finding movie times at a local theater, or getting the weather in your favorite city as easy as speaking a few words into your phone. Information access from a wireless phone has never been simpler.


As the world becomes increasingly mobile, company employees are frequently finding themselves away from their office� driving down freeways, sitting in traffic, and bustling across parking lots to their next meeting. With VES, carriers can now provide these mobile workers with the tools they need to increase their efficiency. Products such as voice-activated dialing and voice-access to Exchange help to improve workforce productivity and extend access to mission-critical information. In business, it is all about productivity and now, with the simplicity of voice-enabled applications, employees can reduce the time spent on many common tasks by efficiently utilizing their time away from the office.

While carriers see the benefit in deploying voice-enhanced solutions, some of them are hesitant or simply unable to spend additional dollars on their network infrastructure in order to deploy a solution. In these situations, carriers are turning to VES companies who, in addition to providing the voice applications and technologies, can provide voice hosting services. By initially outsourcing the complete voice solution, carriers achieve many key benefits, including:

� Low-cost trial environment;
� Increased speed to market;
� Ability to seamlessly move from a trial to a comprehensive, nationwide solution;
� Little to no upfront CapEx; and
� Ability to migrate the solution in-network on a timeline that fits the carriers� specific needs.

The challenge for carriers today is to identify products and services that allow them to deliver cutting-edge features to their subscriber base without requiring large infrastructure expenditures.

With a fully managed hosting solution, service providers can preserve investments in their legacy and next-generation network equipment, while still being able to deploy carrier-optimized enhanced-communication applications.

Several leading wireless operators in the United States have already deployed subscription-based voice-enhanced services. Their offerings cover a range of applications including voice-activated dialing and voice Web-browsing. A simple return-on-investment (ROI) scenario illustrates how operators deploying voice services can achieve a payback period of 12 months or less.

The general consensus is that most subscribers are willing to pay monthly subscription fees for services such as voice-activated dialing (VAD), voice-access to e-mail, voice-access to voice mail, and voice browsing for Internet content. In addition to increased MOU, carriers that are currently deploying VES are charging subscribers monthly premium subscription fees ranging from $3-$15 per month (depending on the class of service). Assuming a conservative two percent subscriber penetration rate in the first year, break-even for voice services can be achieved in approximately nine-12 months. After the breakeven point, gross margins on the solution can increase to well over 50 percent.

Given the need for carriers to deploy new applications that drive minutes-of-usage and reduce subscriber churn and at the same time, do not require large capital expenditures, voice-enhanced services are proving to deliver value at every level. In addition, VES drives real value to mobile subscribers by ensuring that they remain safe and connected regardless of where they are or what they are doing.

Mark Willingham is the vice president of Marketing at HeyAnita, Inc., a leading provider of enhanced-communication software products and solutions to the global telecommunications industry.

[ Return To The October 2003 Table Of Contents ]


Anytime, Anywhere Access to Web Applications Using Voice


Investment in the Internet and intranets has yielded an amazing array of applications that deliver content and services to simplify or improve our lives as consumers and workers. The delivery of such applications, however, is currently limited to data devices. Voice or multimodal (Voice+Data) access to these applications from the more than 1.5 billion wireless phones and one billion wireline phones moves Web applications into a new realm of true anytime, anywhere access. The challenge is to cost-effectively extend these applications with a voice-enabled presentation mode, or Voice User Interface (VUI).
Well-designed VUIs enhance a company�s customer relationships by extending its branding and commitment to high-quality service. They additionally complement other customer touch points -- including Web, call center, and advertising -- to increase user satisfaction/loyalty and generate additional revenue opportunities. Poorly designed VUIs, however, can quickly strain a user�s patience.

Many of the current platform solutions offered for speech require a complete rewriting of the application, business logic, and data integration because they are patterned after standalone IVR systems -- unnecessarily driving up development, integration, and maintenance costs. A new breed of solutions for adding speech seeks to overcome these deficiencies by extending speech capabilities using the applications and data integration already implemented for the Web. The two current options for doing this are to dynamically generate the voice presentation through screen scraping of the visual display or to add speech controls into Web applications. The superior solution for enterprises and service providers utilizes the latter option, adding Voice eXtended Markup Language (VoiceXML) or Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) to a Web application for the VUI.

Screen scraping solutions have emerged from the presentation servers built to shape visual Web and WAP application presentations for devices with different screen sizes and abilities. Several of these presentation servers now offer speech-based presentation by �reformatting� a Web application to dynamically generate VoiceXML. This method generally produces inferior customer experiences. Since user interaction with voice is significantly different than through a visual interface, mapping the Web interface provides a �rote� user interaction, which may be unnatural or poorly suited for voice. Additionally, such solutions rely heavily on Text-to-Speech (TTS), which has improved significantly in recent years (it can be tuned to sound more natural) however the �out-of-the-box� TTS used in these solutions has a mechanical, artificial feel. Lastly, these solutions do nothing to extend a company�s branding or image through audio prompts (such as AOL�s �You�ve got mail�) or the voice of a celebrity spokesperson.

Creating the VUI from VoiceXML or SALT that reuses the underlying business logic and data integration inherent in the Web applications achieves both the cost benefits derived from reuse as well as the business benefits generated from creating a good VUI. While it doesn�t guarantee a good VUI, it offers the application developer the opportunity to create one. Tools are available or are emerging that incorporate VUI development into leading Web application development tools including BEA�s WebLogic Workshop, IBM�s Websphere Studio, Microsoft�s .NET SDK, and Macromedia�s Dreamweaver. With the tools enabling millions of Web developers in place, the doors are ready to fly open for the long awaited next generation of speech applications.

Dale Hartzell is vice president of marketing at SandCherry, Inc. SandCherry provides innovative software solutions, designed to simplify the deployment and management of speech-enabled, multimodal, and multimedia enhanced communications services.

[ Return To The October 2003 Table Of Contents ]

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