Over the past couple of years, voice and VoIP have been ugly stepchildren associated with shrinking revenues and just not being "sexy" enough for buyers and marketing. Unified Communication (UC) became the selling mantra as voice was shoved under the marketing rug, but voice is about ready to make a mindshare comeback. As quality improves, it is blended with other services, and worked over as its own unique data type.
Improvements in quality are the first stop in the voice comeback tour. HD voice – yes, I sound like a shill, but it's really coming – in the mobile arena is already reaching ubiquity in Canada and in Europe. Last week, the Great White North became the first country to reach over 90 percent (over 94, actually) of its mobile subscribers. Rogers, Bell Canada, Telus, and Wind Mobile, along with Rogers subsidiary Fido Solutions and Bell MVNO Virgin Mobile all offer HD voice over HSPA networks in Canada.
While Europe can't yet match that lofty percentage, there are at least eight EU countries that have two or more mobile operators offering HD voice within their respective countries. In addition, HD voice coverage nearly spans the length of the Europe from Ireland all the way out to Russia. Telecommunications hardware and software vendors are working hard to roll in support for AMR-WB, the de facto mobile carrier HD voice codec if they don't already offer it.
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Adding to the quality story in a different aspect are companies such as Splice Software who are working to enhance the IVR experience. Based in Canada, Splice is offering linguistically optimized voice segment libraries to replace robotic voice response. The company uses real time data from caller ID to provide appropriate dialect and language phrasing using pre-recorded spliced – hence the name of the company – audio to provide a better customer experience.
UC has been around for ages, but Rich Communications Services (RCS) and a more general drive to blend voice with mobile device interaction is a much more interesting party these days. People want to share information while talking, and they want to do it in a simplified and seamless way – be it a photo, a video, or simply a map and directions for meeting up. Service providers are focusing in on a single RCS standard and if they happen to steamroll over Skype and all the other OTT services in the process, they'll be more than happy.
Finally, there's voice as data. As voice quality and voice recognition schemes improve with a mixture of hardware and software, being able to analyze what is being said and storing the information for mining becomes important. The contact center industry has been quietly data mining calls to spot sales trends for years. Adding HD voice to the mix will only improve that. Hypervoice – being able to index larger audio recordings – opens up the ability to quickly search recordings and find what you want quickly. Oracle has integrated a Hypervoice capability into its Sales and Marketing Cloud service for analyzing voice.
Treating voice-as-data brings up some other, broader implications. Large and small businesses alike start treating all inbound calls as recordable data as a general practice, not just as a specialized niche for call center interaction or regulatory compliance. "Off the record" and personal calls become much more difficult to make as voice recording become standard.
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