RealTime IT News

365 Will Launch First Big European Voice Portal

[London, ENGLAND] Digital media company 365 Corporation plc announced Tuesday that it plans to launch Europe's first comprehensive voice portal, complete with a voice-operated unified messaging system.

Codenamed Guardian Angel, the service is designed to serve not only consumers but businesses and other organizations.

365, which is probably still best-known to U.K. Internet users for its lively football coverage, has partnered with Philips Speech Processing, Cable & Wireless plc, and Brooktrout Software to develop the new portal.

Using the latest text-to-speech technology the portal will let the user send e-mail by voice. It will also read incoming e-mail back to the user over the phone.

But that's not all. Guardian Angel goes beyond e-mail to let users update their diary and phonebook, pick up voicemail, set up conference calls and forward their calls to any number.

Dan Thompson, chief executive of 365, said the new portal represented a major strategic move for his company.

"In partnering with such household names as Philips and Cable & Wireless and by deploying our interactive voice expertise and our unique content via our telephony infrastructure, we believe that we are extremely well placed to develop a leading position in what will be a vast market," said Thompson.

365 and Philips are not saying if they expect there to be any downside to the technology they are introducing. Surveys have shown that the switch to e-mail by businesses during recent years has increased the stresses on employees, overloading them with information, junk mail, and the constant fear of losing vital data.

Anyone who has tried the current generation of voice recognition systems will know that they are not 100 percent accurate -- although they are impressive in their ability to recognize the user's voice once they have been carefully trained.

365 has established partnerships with bookmaker William Hill, Domino's Pizza and Teleflorist with the aim of allowing users to make commercial transactions by voice commands. The service will be extended to other applications, such as stock-broking, event ticketing and travel.

Will the interface to the new services be equivalent to the WAP-style interfaces that people find so difficult to use? Or will it be so well-designed that the new voice technology helps make communication more convenient, more accurate and more efficient?

We shall have to wait and see. The Guardian Angel service will be in beta test next month and a full commercial launch is anticipated for March 2001.