Lucent Technologies’ Mobile Communications System (MCS) is poised to release its first two applications: Internet Message Management (IMM) and Voice Browsing.
Al Segal, technical marketing manager for converged media access within Lucent Messaging in Denver, Colo., explained MCS is designed for alternative forms of access to Internet content and messages from a variety of devices such as telephones, cell phones, and PDAs.
The IMM application is basically unified messaging with the addition of text-to-speech technology and filters. The system can read e-mail to the user, send it to a specified fax machine, or display it on a wireless handset screen. Attachments such as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations or Lotus Word Pro documents can also be converted to speech or redirected to a fax machine.
Filters allow users to define what messages will be received on what device and when, such as allowing only e-mail from a supervisor to go through to a cell phone, while keeping the rest of the e-mail to be read on a PC later.
Segal said preferences and filters can be changed over the Web, so service providers interested in MCS don’t necessarily have to set up call centres to handle such requests. However, because MCS currently only supports Short Message Service, users won’t be able to change the filters on their wireless devices. Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) support is scheduled for the end of the year.
“The SMS interface isn’t rich enough to be able to (change filters on the handset) today. When we get to WAP, that will make it a more readily available interface for people to do that on their handset,” Segal said.
Dana Thorat, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass., pointed out another limitation to the IMM system at the moment.
“To send an e-mail back to someone…it goes back as a .wav file. The way the speech technology works right now, it’s text to speech. It can read it and you can hear it, but for you to dictate something back, it’ll go as a Real Audio file or that type of thing,” Thorat explained.
The second application announced for MCS is Voice Browser, which allows voice access to the Internet.
“I can get to portal pages, Internet content, stocks, weather, to browse my personal information or information that other content providers have made available to me in a voice form,” explained Segal. Typical spoken commands would be: read me my e-mail; tell me the weather in Denver; or tell me the news headlines today. The system would then read the retrieved information to the user.
He said instead of teaching the browser commands as with voice-recognition dictation software, the system interprets a form of natural language output.
“It’s speaker-independent speech recognition. We’re not training the system to learn your voice or mine, but we train it on a vocabulary and grammar that’s common to a very large audience of speakers,” including various accents, Segal said.
Since the mobile device couldn’t possibly contain the data needed to translate to and from voice, the language recognition and intelligence sits within MCS itself on the service provider’s equipment.
Thorat said the technology that will allow Web sites to be converted to voice is Voice XML, an emerging standard that Lucent and other companies have been promoting.
“There are still limitations to the whole thing. [Voice Browser is] not a full Web surfing application. Some things weren’t meant to be listened to. The Web is a visual experience so content has to be rewritten to conform to voice,” Thorat said.
She added, however, that the second half of 2000 will see more Web sites designed to provide voice content specifically for this kind of application. Furthermore, Thorat said service providers are likely to start offering the services right away, whether the Web is ready or not.
“As the mobile market increases, and it is increasing, carriers are going to want to look at these applications to differentiate themselves,” Thorat said.
IMM is targeted for beta testing in May 2000, and limited installations of Voice Browser will begin in the first half of this year, Segal said. Lucent has not yet set pricing for MCS and its applications.
Lucent Technologies Canada in Toronto is at 1-888-458-2368 or on-line at www.lucent.ca.