Over the past few decades as telephony has opened up, we have seen the advent of APIs on computers which allowed better control of voice communications. Things like softphones and PC PBXs startd to appear in the nineties. Soon thereafter we saw voice get packetized as it travelled over IP networks. Big data, analytics and a host of technologies have evolved to a point where voice will be heading to a new frontier – and smart voice will be born. Doug Mohney, Editor-in-Chief, HD Voice News and TMCnet contributor is a foremost expert on the topic and I had a chance to ask him about the space. Here is our interview.
How has voice communications evolved in your career?
When I got involved into the Internet back in 1993, voice over IP (VoIP) was a concept. Around 1997, 1998 people started taking VoIP seriously and we went through a development boom with the VON conferences. Vonage became a reality and everyone started converting long distance voice traffic into IP because you could cram more calls on to the same piece of wire.
The IP telephony industry went through a solid decade of development until 2008, 2009, when everything matured. Over the last 5 years, VoIP has become mainstream for businesses rather than a new tech toy. We’re now into the cloud and the commodization of VoIP. Businesses want to find out what they can really do with VoIP now they have the baseline infrastructure set.
What is Smart Voice?
Smart Voice is treating voice – the media stream if you want to get techie – as information. Voice has been siloed as a data type, set off in its own little world. Smart Voice takes the information of conversations and does things with it. It make voice archivable, searchable. Uses voice for authentication with biometrics. Voice analytics treats the archiving of conversations as Big Data, so you can dig through thousands of phone calls and come up with actionable market intelligence and better business processes.
One of the most exciting areas for Smart Voice is leveraging voice to automate processes, speeding up the time it takes to fulfill an order or to get a supervisor near-instantly involved in a call center call gone bad. There is a ton of manual check-boxing for information requests and customer fulfillment that can be done via machine processing. If you speed up a call center interaction, that’s real money when you multiply it by hundreds and thousands of calls per day.
What opportunity does it present and for whom?
Business VoIP is a commodity right now. The difference between a name brand service and an independent boils down to reputation and price. Both name brands and independents need new services that can easily roll on top of a cloud service or layered on a SIP trunk to increase ARPU. You’ll have most of the same models for Smart Voice services as you do for call center or function adds today for stock VoIP services, with businesses paying on a per seat, per extension basis. Voice analytics is a different model, because you have to archive masses of calls and then crunch them to pull usable insights from them.
Businesses win if they can improve business processes and gain insight into what customers and the marketplace are doing. I think educating businesses will take some effort, but real world case studies for voice biometrics, call recording, and voice analytics have already been written. It’s a matter of getting a business to sit down and run a return on investment model as compared to their operations and I think that is the toughest part of selling services outside of the call center or a vertical market.
Is HD Voice evolutionary if it creates islands?
You have to start somewhere. First you have to build roads on the islands. Once that is done, you have to build bridges. If AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon don’t quickly build bridges amongst themselves to exchange HD voice calls, it could be a big public relations problem, especially when you consider the mergers AT&T and Sprint want. Carriers are going to have to demonstrate they can work well with each other without the FCC and Congress stepping in to force good behavior, or they are going to get more regulation.
Will we ever see ubiquitous HD Voice?
Ask me again in 2015-2016, when we should have ubiquitous VoLTE in the U.S. and interconnections for HD voice calls.
Reconciliation beyond that to landline is anyone’s guess, since the FCC doesn’t have a date certain set to phase out the legacy phone network. Again, it’s a case where Washington is failing to show leadership and carriers are not going to be proactive.
Why should carriers or enterprises care about the smart voice trend?
Doug: There’s been talk over a decade about carriers rolling out new, innovative services onto voice, but the last big one was universal caller ID. Voice biometrics alone has the ability to raise the bar for securing mobile transactions and everyone wants better security these days.
Similarly, there’s been a lot of talk in all camps about deploying NFV so carriers can more quickly deploy revenue generating services. Smart Voice will provide those revenue generating services that need to be quickly deployed.
Large enterprises are already using Smart Voice services within the call center. The challenge there is to break those services out of the call center and get them into the mainstream.
You are running a conference on the topic – why should people attend?
Smart Voice presents a new and different way to look at voice by treating voice as information rather than voice is, well, just voice that never touches anything else. Carriers should attend to figure out the other side of the software-defined telco: New revenue generating services We have people that are presenting real world examples of things like Hypervoice, how to make voice work like the web, searchable via a web click.
Enterprise customers should attend to look at the new goodies in the pipeline. If you’ve invested in VoIP, see what you can get out of it other than phone calls. The first people who got PCs were typically the accountants so they could automate the books and run spreadsheets. But ultimately everyone got a PC because you could do so much more than run Excel.
Where will the smart voice market be in five years?
Bigger. Voice biometrics alone is expecting a big boom as companies want to tighten up security.
What sort of integration issues do you expect to be solved by then?
I think a lot of the promises of unified communications (UC) will be fulfilled by the application of Smart Voice services, plus a side of WebRTC. You’ll be able to get Smart Voice services either by piping or twinning VoIP to the appropriate in-house server or cloud provider. I think this is going to go fast because businesses already have the VoIP infrastructure in place to tap into cloud services.
How big a market are we talking about?
The majority of businesses will have SIP trunks or cloud services. Take a good fraction of that for the value-add brought to the table with call recording, voice biometrics, voice analytics, HyperVoice, and voice-enabled processes. As I mentioned before, voice biometrics will be huge. I think call recording is the boring sister that everyone needs to have on payroll, since it is needed both for stand-alone purposes and to funnel call recording into HyperVoice and voice analytics engines.
To learn more – be at the SmartVoice Conference, August 11th, 2014 in Las Vegas. Disclosure – I am the CEO of TMC. TMC runs the ITEXPO conference, which is collocated with this event and TMC is a partner with Doug on the SmartVoice event.