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Intel Unveils Telephony Middleware

Looking to better converge voice and data, Intel Monday released new "Voice over IP" (VoIP, also known as telephony) middleware designed to run Microsoft Speech Server over x86-based servers.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant said its Intel NetMerge Call Manager and Intel NetStructure Host Media Processing 1.1 platforms are better and less expensive to run than other complex offerings because they fit right in with an enterprise's existing telephony network.

They are also tweaked to optimize Microsoft's foray into VoIP, which is designed to run on the Windows Server 2003 operating system. The platform is based on the Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) standard. Speech Server is currently in beta and scheduled for market release in January 2004. An Intel spokesperson said the two companies will embark on a related marketing campaign to coincide with the release.

The two companies also jointly partnered on Intel Dialogic telephony boards for VoIP developers. The reference architecture shares common tools, methods, application infrastructure and support resources for both Web and voice apps.

"There is little disagreement about the benefits of speech as a user interface. However, the traditionally high deployment barriers -- cost, complexity, and a limited ecosystem -- have prevented widespread adoption," said Microsoft Speech Technologies group general manager X.D. Huang. "Microsoft has the stated goal of 'making speech mainstream.' Intel shares this vision and we are pleased to be working with them to help make speech technology more accessible."

Intel said its NetMerge Call Manager software is also currently beta testing with select customers and will be available with pricing structures about the same time as the Microsoft release.

Conversely, Intel also introduced its NetStructure Host Media Processing 1.1 software, which lets developers build IP media servers for interactive voice response services, voice mail, conferencing, fax servers and other telephony applications. Scalable to 120 ports per server, the software is also compliant with Internet telephony standards such as SIP, SALT, H.323 and H.450.2.

Intel NetStructure Host Media Processing 1.1 software is currently available from Intel Authorized Distributors at approximately $20-$112 per port based on the functionality needed.

Intel's VoIP efforts mirror similar strategies from Texas Instruments and others. Last week, the Dallas-based chipmaker released its TNETV1060 processor, based on the TMS320C55x DSP and an enhanced high-speed MIPS32 RISC core. The idea is to cram more elements such as Ethernet MACs and PHYs on the chip for high-speed data routing.

While Intel is marketing its middleware as optimized for its Xeon and Pentium server chips, it did say the tools could operate on servers running its competitors' chips.

"The software is relatively agnostic to the type of server it runs on," Intel spokesperson William Giles told internetnews.com. "The whole idea is that it is standards-based middleware that runs off the shelf with the idea of being able to mix and match existing infrastructure."

Giles said the Intel middleware currently only supports Microsoft's Speech Soft platform, but may be developed for other vendors down the line.