Steve Parsons, Director of Partnership Marketing, NMS Communications
Q How did the U.S. and global telecommunications industry get into its present difficulties? Will it recover? If so, when?
A The wireless carriers, who were forced to purchase exorbitantly high priced 3G licenses as a condition to continue in business long term, and while at the same time upgrading their networks to support a subscriber increase, are deriving less and less revenue per sub (ARPU). Naturally, this has put an enormous strain on their finances.
The way out of this for all types of carriers is to provide new services that will attract and retain retail subscribers. Applications that require a subscriber to build a profile, such as voice activated dialing, could reduce churn, but in reality general acceptance by the average subscriber will be a long time in coming, if history is any kind of a teacher. Operators need to have a short-term fix as well.
Other applications that have "sizzle" will go a long way to gain new subscribers and increase revenue on the network. These applications will need to be designed to be able to adapt to current events and be deployed very quickly and cost effectively. "Temporary" services that provide immediate access to current events, such as the World Cup or Super Bowl can provide high visibility, increase the subscriber base and increase revenues.
Additionally, carriers will begin to take the enterprise more seriously as a new source for "sophisticated" subscribers. They will begin to roll out services that allow mobile access to data that is typically behind the corporate firewall. We believe that applications such as CRM, sales automation and corporate intranet access will become a major source of revenue for wireless operators.
The NMS HearSay Solution is specifically designed to allow network operators of all types to deploy these new applications that merge speech technology with a wide variety of other complementary technologies quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.
Q What is your company doing to enhance speech technology within the service provider marketplace?
A It is true that carriers have been forced in the past to build, test and deploy their own solutions, and these have taken a very long time and have had a very high cost. They need systems that are pre-built and can be deployed more quickly to recognize a realistic return on investment.
NMS has provided this dual connectivity for many years, and the NMS HearSay Solution not only provides network ubiquity but pulls in other highly critical components for carriers, including conferencing, Operations, Administration, Maintenance and Provisioning (OAM&P), NEBS Level 3 and ETSI compliance, and SS7 connectivity. In addition, a key element of NMS HearSay is that it is not only a development platform but rather a total solution that is highly integrated with some of the speech industry's leading application vendors such as Oracle, uReach and Voxsurf. This includes full operational integration, performance benchmarks and certification. Only in this way can the rapid deployment that the industry is demanding be fulfilled while still offering the carriers a choice on which speech applications they can deploy.
Q Why should service providers and carriers deploy speech solutions?
A Increasing ARPU and reducing churn are very important factors, no doubt, as is gaining new subscribers. Speech offers the simplest way for subscribers to get new services from existing wireless or wireline networks. Subscribers ultimately want to access information and data, and speech is the easiest way for them to do it. With the NMS HearSay Solution it is now easy, fast and cost effective for carriers to provide this access.
Q Can you provide real examples?
A There are hundreds of examples of voice applications that have been deployed, some being more successful than others, and the most common ones are VAD, voice-enabled e-mail and voice mail, and voice portals. However, new applications that use speech technology as a front-end to multimodal applications are becoming more common, particularly in Europe. These new multimodal applications allow subscribers to access a data "session" with their voice and simultaneously updating the session that they can later access via WML, SML, XML, HTML or other means. One example would be a telematics application, which provides driving directions via TTS and simultaneously updates the text-messaging feature on a mobile phone via SMS to provide a "virtual hard copy".
Q How does your platform change deployment of speech technology solutions?
A The NMS HearSay Solution provides a full package of hardware, network connectivity, software and application(s). Along with this are the support services for deployment, customization, and integration with back-end OSS/BSS systems that the carrier has in operation. Total time to deploy a new application can be reduced from as much as two years to as little as two months using the NMS HearSay Solution.
Q Where do you see the carrier business for speech technology going over the next three years? Please provide your thoughts in terms of size and services.
A As wireless devices proliferate the demand for more and more speech-enabled enhanced services will increase. Every analyst who covers the communication industry has published numbers on this, the Kelsey Group being one of many. Generally, even if the numbers differ slightly the arc on a graph has the same shape.
We believe that new services targeting the corporate subscriber will be the next big driver for both wireless and wireline carriers. Corporations typically have a greater need, are willing to spend reasonable amounts to provide access for their employees and are less likely to move from carrier to carrier (churn) than the retail consumer.
Q What are your thoughts on two markup languages, VoiceXML and SALT? What does the evolution of these two standards mean to your customers.
A VoiceXML is the standard today for voice applications and has a very wide acceptance by the communications industry. In fact, it is a requirement in the vast majority of RFPs generated by the carriers. SALT addresses the whole issue of standardizing multimodality but, while interesting, is still in its infant stages. When this is turned over to a standards body, such as the W3C, and it evolves as a standard, more and more application developers will adopt it. Only then will it proliferate and become in demand by the carriers.
Q Tell us a little about your company and where you see yourself in a couple of years.
A NMS Communications is a 20 year old, publicly traded company (Nasdaq: NMSS) with more than 600 employees and a global presence. The company has a stable business producing network connectivity hardware, systems and APIs, and voice enhancement systems. The NMS HearSay Solution is the company's flagship product for providing voice-enabled enhanced services to network operators. During the next couple of years we see a drive for network operators to provide an ever-widening variety of applications combining voice and data services, and NMS will be a key supplier of solutions to satisfy this growing market segment.
Q Why did you get involved in speech technology?
A We see the vast importance that speech technology has in the communications industry, and the need for carriers to deploy fresh, exciting voice services to their subscribers to survive and grow. We also see that speech technology has finally come of age; speech recognition accuracies are very good and text-to-speech has become very human-sounding, and this increases the broad acceptance by the communications industry. The NMS HearSay Solution overcomes the major problems that carriers have had in building and deploying their own complex speech services and consequently we see enormous potential for NMS in this market.