Voice poke: The mStage platform allows Web applications to be accessed from within a phone call and vice versa. For example, using the Voice Poke Facebook application shown here, a user can send short “whisper messages” to a friend, which are dropped into an ongoing phone call.
One of the big challenges of creating such a system is that it has to scan through a large volume of calls in order to “hear” relevant commands. “The processing on the voice has to occur in real time,” Simpson says. “We want to offer the service to anybody at any time, and so you have to be inside of every conversation in the network.” He says that Ditech built upon existing technology that the company developed to improve the voice quality in mobile calls, which requires a similar level of processing across a network.
Despite processing the content of so many calls, the company stresses that it is careful to safeguard users’ privacy. Hossein Eslambolchi, Ditech’s technical advisor, says, “There is no recording in the whole conversation process at all.” He adds that users will be able to set rules that determine when the mStage platform can access the contents of a call. Beyond that, the system only activates in response to keywords, and then only to invoke the necessary application.
Rebecca Swensen, a research analyst with IDC, says that the communications industry is at a turning point, given the emergence of so many voice-activated Web applications. She points to BT’s acquisition of Internet telephone company Ribbit last year as a sign that carriers are looking toward Web technologies. “The traditional carriers are really starting to understand that they need to do something to catch up,” she says.
Ditech’s mStage platform could well be attractive to phone networks, Swensen adds, since it opens a network to third-party applications, but still provides them with a measure of control over the services being offered and the overall security of the system. However, Swensen notes that it’s equally important to consider whether people are ready to use services like this: “Consumer behavior’s always going to be an obstacle,” she says.
Simpson says that the mStage platform will be ready for carriers to start testing in about three months. The service won’t be available until a carrier decides to incorporate mStage and offer it to its customers, but Ditech hopes to grab the attention of some carriers when it demonstrates the technology next week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.