Microsoft Finds Big Partners For Voice Compression

Microsoft announced six companies, including Intel  and Texas Instruments , are now licensing its voice software for audio conferencing, video, wireless over IP and gaming devices.

The licensing agreements, which were announced Tuesday at the VoiceCon San Francisco 2007 conference, could help put Microsoft in the catbird’s seat as it extends its tentacles to the emerging unified communications market.

Infonetics Research, an IT market research firm based in Boston, in July reported worldwide sales of unified communications applications increased 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to more than $363 million. It now expects the market to grow in the “high double digits” each year through at least 2010.

Unified communications is the integration of different streams of communication such as e-mail, voice and video into a single location where it can be accessed from a variety of different devices.

The RT Audio codec software compresses digital speech into a digital media bitstream, giving its partners the flexibility to build customized communications products for their customers. The software converts analog sounds into secure digital packets that are transmitted and then restored into audible sounds.

“The RT Audio codec is the secret sauce behind Office Communicator’s strong voice quality,” Clint Patterson, a spokesman for Microsoft’s  unified communications group, said in an interview with “It’s a proven technology that we’ve been using in Windows Live Messenger and PC to PC calling that customers have used for more than 1.5 billion voice minutes.”

Along with Intel and Texas Instruments, Microsoft said AudioCodes, Dialogic, LG-Nortel and Polycom have signed on as licensed partners. The codec is also used in the Xbox Live gamer voice-chat capabilities.

In a research report released Monday, Gartner analyst Bern Elliot identified Microsoft, Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent as the early leaders in the unified communications market. He wrote that Cisco Systems , IBM and Avaya  loom as potential challengers as the market matures. Yesterday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers vowed the two tech giants would work together to provide greater interoperability between their products and services.

“The largest single value of unified communications is its ability to reduce ‘human latency’ in business processes,” Elliot wrote in the report. “Although communication methods (such as voice or IM) can be used individually and separately, organizations should examine how bringing these methods together can increase synergies and efficiencies.”

In its release, Microsoft said Intel plans to deliver the codec in an upcoming Integrated Performance Primitives (IPP) software library release optimized for the PC platform to further accelerate industry adoption and reduce implementation barriers.

Microsoft also announced the debut of the Office Communications Server 2007 Quality of Service Monitoring Server, a tool IT administrators can use to troubleshoot voice and video performance issues. The server provides real-time updates and alerts users when there’s a network performance issues.

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