Rogers integrates IT for voice mail-to-text app

Rogers Wireless on Tuesday said it had completed an internal IT integration project that will allow it to launch a speech-to-text application for its cell phone subscribers.

The company said it will offer a service that translates voice mail into words through a partnership with U.K.-based SpinVox. It will initially be offered in seven provinces, including B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will be added early next year, Rogers said. It will cost $15 a month for unlimited message conversions, with the first month free.

Irv Witte, vice-president of business marketing for Rogers Wireless in Toronto, said the company began working with SpinVox about a year ago. Making the service possible meant integrating the SpinVox gateway into its voice mail platform. That means an interested customer can request the service through a Rogers call centre and a company representative will be able to provision it at the touch of a button. The user would be able to start having their messages converted about 20 minutes later, he said.

“It touches network elements, it touches IT, it has a real-time component because you’re processing voice mail and the call path, so to speak. There’s a fair bit of work,” Witte said. “The alternative was simply attaching an adjunct platform. We pay the price in terms to it taking a lot longer . . . but what we don’t want is some kind of process where somebody has to make changes manually in the system. That’s always fraught with error. It’s much better to make sure the billing is accurate.”

Witte said he expects a high degree of interest from enterprise users of BlackBerry or Windows Mobile 6 devices, particularly those who might be in a meeting or watching a presentation who want to be accessible to colleagues without creating a lot of undue attention.

“It’s quite acceptable to discreetly look at text messages or something on a PDA,” he said, adding there could be some work-life balance benefits, too. “If you’re at the end of a schoolday and your 13-year-old son or daughter calls, you can go to the bathroom to take it, but how many times can you go to the bathroom before people start saying, ‘Gee, he’s going to that bathroom an awful lot.’”

According to SpinVox co-founder, Daniel Doulton, when a message is left on a person’s phone a dialogue is triggered with the customer’s network which then sees it send the message via the Internet to SpinVox’s U.K. data center. The message is then converted with a speech-to-text application before being sent back over the Internet to the customer’s network where the message is delivered to the customer as a text message.

Doulton said the speech converter is clever enough to remove “ums” and “ahs” from messages. If it is unsure about a word it flags it within the message. He said it has a 97 per cent accuracy rate.

“The one area that is very difficult to get proper words is people’s names,” said Witte. “It recognizes where it appears to be a name and does the best job to translate that and put a question mark beside it. The rest of the sentence is correct.”

A multi-layered parsing system can allow the system to identify phone number and present them in the message in numerals, Witte added. When you see that number on your phone’s display, you can click on that number and automatically dial it.”

IDC Canada analyst Tony Olvet noted that the No. 1 place where people tend to use their phones is in their car, and speech-to-text complements other hands-free use scenarios.

“I do see over the mid to long-run a pretty big opportunity for speech to text,” he said. “With all this hype around unified communications, the key driver of UC has been the diversification of communications. This is just one aspect. It benefits end users as long as there is that integration and belief in the application.” SpinVox’s other customers include Telstra in Australia.

With files from IDG News Service

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