Wireless Networking

Alltel Offers Up Voice-Mail-to-Text Feature

Alltel Wireless has teamed up with SpinVox to launch a new service, Voice2TXT, that converts voice mail messages to text messages. The launch makes Alltel Wireless the first of the five largest U.S. carriers to offer its customers the ability to receive voice mail message in text form, the company said. Any Alltel Wireless customer with an SMS (short message service)-capable phone can add the Voice2TXT service.

“Our customers will appreciate the fact that they no longer have to wait for the opportune time to listen to a voice mail,” noted Craig Kirkland, director of messaging and voice services for Alltel Wireless. “With Voice2TXT, our customers have an easier way to manage their voice mails via text messages when they are in a meeting, on the go, or anyplace where they cannot or do not wish to use traditional voice mail.”

Voice Still Available

In addition to letting customers store and forward converted voice mails as regular text messages, Voice2TXT still lets customers retrieve the original voice mail for audio playback.

SpinVox connects with the carrier — in this case, Alltel — at the voice mail platform.

“We receive the deposited voice mail as a WAVE file and begin an automated process of running the message through speech recognition filters and processors,” Tony Carter, a spokesperson for SpinVox, told TechNewsWorld.

“Should the Voice Message Conversion System encounter a word or phrase that it doesn’t understand or loud ambient noise, it asks a human for help for that portion of the message. In the case of a new word or phrase, the human corrects that portion of the message and adds the new phrase or lexicon to the system so it can be picked up automatically for the future,” he explained.

The SpinVox computer system, called “D2,” converts the majority of English messages automatically, without human assistance.

“The average voice mail deposit is 18 to 22 seconds,” Carter noted. With that length of message, “most conversions are sent to the customer within about three minutes.”

How’s the Accuracy?

The idea is not to provide a word-for-word transcription, Carter said.

“In fact, we take out the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that are natural in a spoken conversation but not conducive to delivering a quick message. SpinVox polled our customers and they have rated the service as being 97 percent accurate,” he added.

The service is available in a variety of pricing options starting at US$4.99 per month for 20 voice mail conversions.

Why Not Other Carriers?

It seems as if this service could be rolled out to other wireless cell phone carriers, but no other majors are offering it at this time. Is there a serious technological hurdle?

“Truth be told, there are no hurdles technically here — it just isn’t a service that has been all that useful in terms of the younger level of audiences that use their phones to text. … Why leave a voice mail in the first place if you can just text it directly?” Tony Rizzo, a mobile software analyst and sector head director for The 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld.

“But as more and more of us older people finally adopt data services plans, it becomes easier to finally slip this service in. The problem is that if you get a lot of voice messages you could be inundated with text messages you might not want to get or pay for,” he added.

Rizzo believes the ability to select which messages could be delivered via text would be most useful, but it would require a similar solution to AT&T’s visual voice mail that AT&T only offers to its iPhone customers. Visual voice mail lets an iPhone user see and play the voice mail messages in any order, individually.

Alltel and SpinVox, however, are primarily targeting the Voice2TXT solution as being most useful for customers who take a lot of meetings or work in places or situations where they need to be discreet, but still want to receive voice mail messages.

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