Jim Machi : Industry Insight
Jim Machi

July 2010

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The State of Speech

July 28, 2010

In many circles, people say Speech Recognition has kind of "faded."  For instance, SpeechTEK is next week in New York and there are 42 exhibitors according to my last count, far down from years past.  Is this any indication of the state of speech?  Certainly it is, but maybe for different reasons than you think.  What it tells me is that speech recognition has now entered the mainstream as a kind of "expected" function.  It is a mature technology now.  For instance, it is fairly commonplace now that your car will come equipped to "talk" to you.  Much of this is in the form of navigation devices, and much of this happened because of stand-alone navigation devices.  We're all familiar by now with the "recalculating" phrase from one of these.  Love it or hate it, we all know that phrase!  And by now we're all familiar with IVRs that you "speak" to as opposed to hitting digits and interacting with via DTMF tones. 


This perceived "non-interest" in a technology is very common as technology matures.  There used to be many, many internet telephony focused shows but now that the technology is embedded in the overall solution architecture and the industry "understands" this technology now, those shows have dwindled.   The fact that there still is a SpeechTEK shows the power of this technology!  We see SpeechTEK now is also more about solutions as opposed to the enabling technology that powers them.  


And as new technology enters the fray, we see new shows and specific webinars about them since people have a desire to learn about them.  We're seeing that now with HD Voice and M2M for instance.


So what is the future of Speech?  Certainly SpeechTEK would be a great place to go learn.  But outside of that, I can see we still have work to do to get a better accuracy rate.  Compared to eons ago, it's worlds ahead today.  But I've also read that the average accuracy rate is about 80%, which can still be frustrating to some.  I'm sure we'll also start to see talking avatars.  We're all familiar with some "help" avatars on websites so I'm expecting we'll start to see them talking to us soon.   And I'm expecting that we can voice enable a lot of the social networking applications out there. 


I can also see that we can go from using "words" to using more of a natural speech, and for the system to start even understanding intonations, etc., which is something you certainly get when talking to someone (and you don't get from emails for instance!).   And beyond this, I've also read of more futuristic work regarding interactive dialogues with machines, including understanding the "user" and tailoring that understanding to how the interaction might occur.   So clearly speech is alive and well and will always have an interesting and vibrant future.

Value-Added Services on the Menu in Delhi

July 21, 2010

VAS Asia on July 9th was an exhilarating experience. The energy was amazing all around. Everyone expects mobile VAS (Value-Added Services) to grow in India. Is this a case of since everyone here is into VAS since the show is about VAS, that everyone comes together at this big VAS love-in type of event to collectively breathe their own VAS exhaust fumes? Could be. I mean I've seen it before.  But I don't think so given the Indian market has always been supporting VAS, from CRBT to mobile radio to horoscope readings for a long time. Adding video to the mix will spice things up even more and spur some VAS innovation for sure.   In the keynote, Arvind Rao, CEO of OnMobile, talked about 4 revolutions in history. The agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, internet revolution and VAS revolution. Yes, maybe a bit over the top, but he made his point. Point being that VAS is "discretionary" today, but will be a "way of life" and a "must have" in the future. You'll just make it part of your everyday life, like we have now made mobile phones part of our life. I remember just 15 years ago getting my first mobile phone and it was not clearly an everyday part of my life at that time like it is now. So why won't VAS just be a way of life in a few years!   I expected coming into the show that there would be "complaining" about the vast amounts of money ($14.5B) spent on the recent Indian 3G auction, thus hindering growth since the mobile carriers are tapped out. I actually heard none of that, at least to me. It was more of a matter of fact type of discussion - it is what it is. Some people though predicted that there would be consolidation fallout, which makes sense. As all markets mature, typically there are under 5 real players. The Indian market now has 16 mobile carriers according to the show organizers in a question asked to the audience.  

Video Research

July 20, 2010

Readers of this blog know that I'm very bullish on mobile video services. TMCnet.com has posted an article called "How Big Will Video Telephony Be? And For Whom?" and it sites ABI Research estimating mobile video services will be greater than $2B in 2013.   This is one of the first reports that attempts to monetize mobile video revenue. I've seen some reports that discuss MMS, and I've written about the Cisco Visual Networking Index which estimates mobile data growth, including the explosive mobile video data growth. But this one tries to estimate the entire market.   When you get down to it, there are a few factors. First and foremost, the 3G and beyond networks enable mobile video because of the mobile broadband experience. The capabilities of the phones now, with cameras on the front and back, and larger screen sizes also enable mobile video.  And with mobile operator competition, the pricing plans need to be competitive in order to keep you and me as a subscriber. The compelling applications available now, such as seeing interactive IVR menus visually instead of having to listen to them, also are a big factor.   Put all this together and you understand the growth and understand why Dialogic is behind this.

The Fight for my Phone in India

July 15, 2010

It started the moment I landed and turned on my phone. The fight for registering my phone that is. Last week, I was in Delhi, India for VAS Asia.   I gave a talk about utilizing 3G networks to create Video Value Added Service Applications.   The companies in India recently committed $14.6B for the right to utilize 3G networks in India.   Monetization will occur via data services, via utilizing 3G for "premium" voice, and through innovative value-added services such as video VAS. So my talk about enabling video value-added services on the 3G networks was hopefully timely. I saw an ad for instance on my way form the airport touting mobile banking - likely now via utilizing text on your phone. But utilizing a video IVR to do mobile banking would be an improvement. To me, that's the kind of video VAS that will come first to India - video enabling some existing voice or text application that's already in the Indian market.   As I said above though, what caught my eye the moment I landed was the fight for my phone. When I landed, I was not able to use the phone, even though I noticed people around me were able to. I went into the Network Connections part of my phone and noticed it was talking to the MTNL network, but I guess it was not able to register properly and authenticate with AT&T, so I couldn't make any calls or SMS's. Once I got inside the terminal, the phone moved to the Reliance network so while I was in the immigration line I was able to check emails.      I was also "privileged" to be in the first Monsoon Jam as they called it, a massive traffic jam caused in part by a monsoon rain that ended right before I landed.  Sure it ended, but the water was still everywhere!  So it took me a long, long time to get to my hotel.   And that is where the fight really raged between Reliance and Airtel for my phone. It was flip-flopping all over the place. And quite often I went from EDGE to GSM, which screwed up the ability to do data properly. Finally the phone settled on Airtel and that was that.   Until the morning. Soon after I woke up, I noticed my hotel lost power. It must have been at least for 5 minutes. Since I was in the middle of doing emails, and I couldn't do that anymore since the Internet went down too, I switched to using my mobile phone. Nope. See, the mobile network connection was down. I guess the power was out in the city sector, which meant no power to the cell tower I was talking to. While I was calculating how long it would take my hotel room to get to the outside temperature (not a welcome though), the power came back on. And soon after my phone registered again. And the fight ensued again, except this time with Vodaphone in the fray!   Once again, Airtel ultimately won out.   My thoughts about all this? Well, there must be quite a bit of traffic to cause the shift from EDGE to GSM. Seemingly everyone here is walking around with a cell phone. So with the coming 3G networks, I can definitely see some kind of "premium voice" option for those willing to pay more for a more stable connection. And I doubt the next time I return there will be any less fierce a fight for my mobile phone.  

"Wireless Inside" Inside Japan

July 7, 2010

Japan has always been at the forefront of mobility and the use of mobile phones. It's always an interesting place to go to see how people are using mobile phones. In the land of Pok√©mon, it's not surprising this was one of the first places I remember seeing the equivalent of emoticons (emoji) built into the phones as a way to more easily get your point across when texting.    Wireless Japan is next week in Tokyo and with femtocells being at the forefront of news in Japan right now, I thought I'd write about that a bit. A femtocell is essentially a way to bring the wireless connection indoors, or in other words a way to create FMC.   A femtocell device would connect to a broadband connection on one end (your home or office DSL or cable broadband router for instance, or potentially in the future a WiMax one), which then through an IMS or IMS-like architecture gets back to the wireless or PSTN networks, and on the other end has a 3G (or other) connection to talk to your phone that's inside the building.    In places like Tokyo, where there are dense building structures, this is important as the 3G networks are not always able to penetrate the buildings. And in places like Tokyo, where people use their mobile phones a lot for texting, gaming, chatting, Facebooking, viewing videos, etc, keeping the connection going when going indoors is important.    One obvious issue with femtocells involves already having a WiFi connection in your house.   With many smartphones having both 3G and WiFi (4G) connectivity (see my June 30th blog about AT&T offloading users to WiFi services), why would you need to do this? Well, all phones are not smartphones for one thing. And all use cases are not the same, especially as I've said regarding Tokyo where the mobile phone use case is different from the US. But, it is an issue worth mentioning. And another issue is the business case - the ROI of paying for this benefit.   Two weeks ago, Ubiquisys, which makes femtocells, announced that Softbank would offer free femtocells. Softbank, which by the way is the exclusive iPhone carrier in Japan, has long been a femtocell supporter. I guess they are coming to the realization that people, while they "like" a service like that, do not like it enough to pay for that service. And this is also a way for mobile operators to keep their subscribers on their networks longer as opposed to switching to a WiFi network. Given KDDI rolled out femtocell services on July 1st, we'll see if this is successful in Japan. People are watching this closely
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