RealTime IT News

An Open Season on iVoice

In a bearish high-tech market, speech recognition concern iVoice, Inc. is looking for a safe, happy home via a merger.

The company, which makes voice and computer telephony communications systems for the enterprise, Tuesday declared somewhat of an open season on itself "to take advantage of low industry valuations and weak IPO market."

As such, the Matawan, N.J. outfit said it will enter into discussions with several companies that have expressed interest in merger or acquisition transactions.

Although the firm did not return calls seeking comment, iVoice President and CEO Jerry Mahoney said in a public statement that the company's products present an attractive value proposition "in light of current market conditions."

"We recognize the difficulty in obtaining capital funding and have become aware of many companies who are anxious to enter the public market," Mahoney said. "We intend to bring to bear our total resources to enhance our overall shareholder value. A merger or acquisition transaction, if consummated, with these target companies will do exactly that."

Dan N. Miller, senior vice president of Voice & Wireless Commerce at research firm The Kelsey Group, told InternetNews.com that iVoice could either be looking to join with a smaller firm to make itself more powerful, or to add its applications to the mix of a more powerful product suite from a publicly traded company. Miller wouldn't speculate exactly, but he did not acknowledge that firms such as Intervoice-Brite, Edify, Nortel, Syntellect, IBM and Aspect hold the most sway in the space.

An acquisition, the company believes, would pump up its asset base as well. The firm already offers a host of products, including the Speech Recognition Auto Attendant, which enables businesses to incorporate speech recognition into their current communications systems without duplicating voicemail applications; Interactive Voice Response which lets customers design and customize voice applications using touch tone telephones and speech; and iVoice Unified Messaging System, which grants employees access to all of their voice, fax and e-mail messages through their desktop PC or the telephone.

Despite a dreadful year in 2001, research firms are bullish on speech technology applications. The Kelsey Group published a report in April in which it estimated that revenues from core speech technologies -- automated speech recognition (ASR), text-to-speech (TTS), natural language understanding (NLU), embedded speech and attendant infrastructure hardware and software --will grow from $505 million in 2001 to more than $2 billion in 2006.

Moreover, the firm foresees the sector action as enjoying a "a multiplier effect" that will boost voice-activated and enhanced telephony services revenues to $27 billion by 2006.

"Early deployments involved 'touch-tone replacement' for information services and high-volume contact centers," said Miller. "New phenomena, like embedding automated speech in handsets, PDAs and cars, will account for significant growth in the coming years. More accurate recognizers, human-sounding text-to-speech, 'open' development tools and 'adaptive' technologies make it possible for the carrier, enterprise and developer communities to introduce new applications quickly and more confidently."