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Net2Phone Jumps into Voice Recognition with HeyAnita

In yet another bid to diversify beyond its Voice-Over Internet Protocol (Vo-IP) business, Net2Phone said it would offer speech recognition services to corporate customers.

The New Jersey-based Net2Phone said it purchased a minority equity stake in Los Angeles-based voice technology company HeyAnita, as part of its jump into the B2B voice recognition space. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Net2Phone's spokesman Bryan Wiener told atNewYork the two companies plan to jointly market voice hosting services to corporate clients, including call centers and broadband service providers.

"We will provide the telephony infrastructure and hosting platform and HeyAnita will build the voice applications," Wiener said. Voice recognition software built by SpeechWorks would also be integrated into a single B2B offering.

In addition to joint sales and marketing agreements with HeyAnita and SpeechWorks, Net2Phone expects to launch its own voice portal this quarter as a showcase for potential business customers. The company plans to market the voice portal directly to its 1.8 million users.

However, Wiener stressed that Net2Phone's voice portal would simply be a "showcase" and would not in any way compete with consumer-facing voice portals offered by America Online and Yahoo! . Both companies have ownership stakes in Net2Phone.

Although positioned as a showcase portal, the consumer offering could pave the way for Net2Phone to offer multi-media services and find new revenue streams from ads on those portals.

Last July, Net2Phone and SpeechWorks entered into a strategic agreement where the two companies jointly integrated SpeechWorks' automatic speech recognition and text-to-speech engines into the Net2Phone Voice over IP infrastructure.

Net2Phone's B2B offering would compete directly with similar services offered by Tellme Networks (also California-based). But Wiener believes Net2Phone has an advantage because the voice recognition platform would be hosted on the company's own Internet Protocol network.

"They (TellMe) are doing it over a traditional phone network. We are going to host the speech recognition technology and the applications within our network. We believe we have a huge advantage there," Wiener said.

Wiener declined to provide a specific pricing structure for the new offering, explaining it would be sold on a "pay-per-use model."

He said the service would be ideal for call centers looking to manage labor costs and for corporate clients with mobile workforces.

"We are basically selling a service to businesses so that they can simply, and inexpensively, offer speech recognition services to their to their customers," Wiener said.