SpinVox Postures Itself to Take on Nuance World Wide

With a new and extended deal with Telstra, made public on Monday, SpinVox is increasing its reach into Australia.

Telstra, which was once a state-owned monopoly, is now the largest private carrier in Australia. In November of 2007, SpinVox struck a deal to provide the telecommunications firm’s business customers with voicemail-to-text services.

Contingent on the success and popularity of the launch, the partnership was expected to extend to the consumer market. Satisfied with the results, Telstra is delivering and making SpinVox available to all its customers.

The deal comes on the heels of a slew of other announcements that SpinVox made over the last few months. In that short span of time, the company has opened a New York headquarters in the expensive heart of Manhattan and made a number of high profile hires.

Additionally, the company recently extended its European-based roots into Latin America and is looking to get a toehold in the Middle East, laying the groundwork for Arabic language support.

The rapid cluster of announcements is by no means merely incidental. The drive to make inroads worldwide now, rather than later, may be imperative if SpinVox wants to dominate the speech-to-text market. As it stands, the company is the only provider of its kind with any real traction in the marketplace.

“There are some alternative players in the market,” says Steve Cramoyson, research director at Gartner Research. “But they haven’t necessarily got the same traction with the same go-to-market partners or the same track record with consumers.”

Cramoyson notes that in the U.S., SpinVox has no shortage of competition thanks to the likes of Jott and GotVoice, already on American soil.

But he points out that both companies are primarily focused on marketing to consumers directly and haven’t addressed operator needs. Nuance Communications, with its extensive reach and its vast array of preexisting relationships with various original equipment manufacturers and service providers, has the potential to do all that, but lags behind SpinVox in service development.

Jonathan Simnett, global director of communications for SpinVox, is dismissive of Nuance’s ability to deliver.

“It’s interesting,” says Simnett. “Nuance announced last April at CTIA [Wireless] that they had an equivalent service to us, but it has not seen the light of day and it’s now been nearly a year since that announcement.”

He adds that SpinVox’s “[voice message control system] is many, many, many levels of sophistication greater than something like Dragon NaturallySpeaking. To be able to handle simultaneously, tens and hundreds of thousands of conversions in six different languages in incredibly noisy environments, with bad lines and so on—it’s hugely different. It’s the difference between a Rolls Royce and a bicycle.”

Nuance declined to comment on the status of the analogous voicemail-to-text offering it announced at CTIA.

Cramoyson is not nearly as dismissive. He says that as a business proposition SpinVox seems to be solid, “but if they don’t invest in the U.S. market now, Nuance will soon catch them up.”

With the company’s extensive reach, it’s not out of the question that it could be a strong challenger abroad as well.

Even Simnett, as he disparages Nuance as little more than a “component supplier,” concedes, that “Nuance has made a very successful business,” for itself.

SpinVox is doubtlessly thinking hard about the potential competition that Nuance—with its flotilla of technology, acquisitions, and a historical dominance of the speech industry in general (not to mention being armed to the teeth with capital)—might provide.

Still, the company is more than confident in its technology. Simnett suggests SpinVox may look to expand from voicemail-to-text into applications that reach beyond the company’s share of the wireless market. Hinting at larger plans, he says, “We really think about things in terms of speech; who is it that’s interested in integrating a speech interface with our products.”

“I’m trying not to give the game away because there will be some big announcements coming out this year in that sector,” he adds.

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