Voice technology will make the phone take off as an interface to electronic commerce, according to several speakers at Tech Talk, a conference on speech technology that opened last week at the World Trade Center in Boston.
"Phones open the gate to e-commerce for all," said Gaston Bastiaens, president and chief executive officer of Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products, in his keynote speech.
Bastiaens later referred to market research showing that once PC penetration reaches about 50 per cent of households, as in the US, Denmark and Sweden, the growth rate slows considerably.
"If anybody wants to be the Wal-Mart of the net, you have to offer phone access," he added, also advising Web success stories like Amazon.com to find a way of achieving real volume before big retailers like Wal-Mart get on the Net.
Electronic commerce conducted by phone does happen today. Online broker E-Trade Securities, for example, offers customers the ability to buy and sell securities from any phone. Speech recognition and text-to-speech technology from SpeechWorks International make the process as automatic as using the Web.
So far e-commerce has been equated with Web-based commerce, but that is not correct, according to Stuart Patterson, chief executive officer of Boston-based SpeechWorks. "Speech commerce is the second leg of e-commerce," he said.
However, automatic speech recognition and automatic text-to-speech are already booming businesses. Increasing numbers of telecom companies offer speech-based directory searches and other services. According to market researcher TMA Associates, telecommunications companies this year will license speech technology for $US194 million. The billion dollar mark will be passed in 2002.