FMC success factors

An excellent blog posting by Alan Quayle discusses the reasons for the failure of FMC services from Korea Telecom and Deutsche Telkom, and the relative success of Orange’s Unik.

He concludes:

The critical lessons are: keep the service as transparent as possible with respect to user experience; keep the saving as simple to understand and as significant as possible for the customer.

Quayle thinks that FMC will come in the form of femtocells bundled into single boxes from converged consumer service providers like Verizon. His comments are spot-on, for example concerning who benefits from network off-load:

Femtocell enables mobile broadband traffic to be off-loaded in the home and office, this is an important benefit for the operator not the customer.

Quayle mentions “and office,” but while Wi-Fi FMC seems to compare unfavorably to femtocells for consumers, the picture for offices is more ambiguous. Businesses that want PBX features on their phones have two choices when it comes to FMC. They can keep their PBX and extend its features to the mobile phones, or they can use a Centrex/hosted PBX service from their mobile provider. In both cases, particularly the first, dual-mode phones will be preferable to femtocells for many customers.

There are several reasons for this. First, Wi-Fi in cell phones is becoming common – IDC predicts that by 2011 30% of phones sold will be smart phones, and Wi-Fi is fast becoming a must-have feature in smart phones. Second, handset Wi-Fi technology is improving, particularly battery life. Third, Wi-Fi coverage good enough to support voice is becoming more common in businesses. Fourth, many companies prefer to maintain control over their internal voice networks and network client devices. Put these together, and the motivation to spend on femtocells is weak.

Information Cards versus Open ID?

We all hate passwords – they are insecure and burdensome; but they seem so firmly entrenched that they will be around for a long time. The New York Times recently wrote a story about Information Cards, an interesting attempt to overcome some of the deficiencies of passwords. The article draws a conflict between Information Cards and Open ID, that Paul Trevithick, the chairman of the Information Card Foundation, hurried to deny, characterizing the efforts as complementary. Trevithick concludes:

I really don’t think we’ll get Internet scale adoption with any of the “pure-play” but partial solutions on their own. Instead, take an “extract” of OpenID, mix in a derivative of Liberty (esp. ID-WSF) services at that endpoint, top it off with i-cards, browser integration, and run it on all platforms (including mobile), and maybe we’ll have a recipe for something that works in enough real world situations to be generally useful.

More on voicemail transcription

In a previous posting about Jott, I mentioned GotVoice. I spoke with Colin Lamont, the VP of Sales and Marketing at GotVoice the other day. GotVoice is a voicemail-to-email company with some interesting claims. First, it collects voicemail from all your voice mailboxes: cell phone, company, personal, then it transcribes it to text and sends it to you by email and SMS.

GotVoice sells its service directly to end users, and also licenses it to service providers. The largest end-user company that has licensed it to date has about 1,000 employees. The largest service provider licensed to date has 13 million subscribers. Most wireless companies bundle voicemail for free, so GotVoice appeals to them as a way to glean revenues from their voicemail repositories. Many service providers have cobbled-together networks formed by a series of acquisitions. For these, a by-product of the GotVoice service is that it pulls all their voicemail systems from multiple vendors into a unified system.

GotVoice claims that it works with any voicemail service. This is technically challenging. There are about 8 major systems vendors from whom telephone service providers buy voicemail equipment, and each of those providers has multiple iterations of its products. So GotVoice has done extensive work first to integrate with all of these by dial-up emulation of a user, then by direct access through the system APIs for service provider deployments.

A second collection of GotVoice special sauce is in their transcription technology. GotVoice has established an exclusive partnership with an ASR (Automatic Speech Recognition) vendor, working together to achieve a remarkable level of accuracy for automated recognition. The basis for this accuracy is twofold. First, it is tailored to voicemail, which tends to have a relatively consistent structure. Second, GotVoice had a non-transcription voice mail service for a few years, and amassed collection of archival voicemails from hundreds of thousands of users with which to train their recognizer. As a result, GotVoice claims 90% recognition accuracy, compared with 60%-65% from rivals.

This high accuracy enables GotVoice to depend less heavily on human transcribers. The obvious benefit of this is that their cost of doing business is lower because they need less workers. A less obvious benefit is that GotVoice claims greater confidentiality than its competitors. The agents who transcribe the parts that the ASR misses are presented only with small fragments of speech, and with a list of guesses from the recognizer. This means that the overall meaning of the message is less likely to be revealed to call center workers.

GotVoice charges $0.25 for each transcribed voicemail, with a minimum of $5.00 per month for the service.

GigaOM reviewed GotVoice in February. The review elicited some informative comments from users of various similar services.

I haven’t tried GotVoice yet, mainly because my current setup works well enough that my motivation to change is weak. I don’t have all that GotVoice offers, but I do have a single voice mailbox with a visual list of its contents.

My personal unified voicemail system is very simple. I only give out my landline number, which is provisioned to forward on busy/no answer to my cell phone. That way I pick it up on my desk when I am in the office and when I am out of the office the call rolls over to my mobile phone. If I don’t answer it there, it goes to voicemail. So all my voicemail is on the mobile.

Since my mobile is an iPhone, I get a nice visual voicemail interface. For each voicemail it shows the Caller ID and the time, though of course no text indicator of the contents. Unfortunately the iPhone visual voice mail has an irritating flaw: there is a long pause (4 or 5 seconds), between pressing the play button and starting to hear the message.