BT announced today that it is trialing a new service that it aims to wholesale to service providers that will allow SMS messages from mobiles to be sent to fixed-line phones using automatic text-to-speech conversion technology. Users of SMS-enabled telephones will also be able to send messages to mobiles using the same system and receive them as text. This is a big step towards providing some of the 'mobile experience' to the fixed-line network.
The synthetic speech conversion will even be able to recognise and convert 'text speech' abbreviations such as: #:-( or :-| (bad hair day and determined respectively!) The voice can laugh and in the future will be able to send musical 'jingles' as part of messages.
Users with voicemail systems, such as BT's Call Minder, will have the message delivered directly into their voicemail which makes it a very reliable method of ensuring messages are delivered. Recipients without voice mail will still be able to receive the text as a voice message via a telephone call where an automated voice will deliver the message. If the user's line is busy then the system will make a number of attempts to pass the message on. The speech message can also be saved and accessed later to listen to it again. Users with text-enabled fixed-line handsets will be able to receive messages in text format rather than as voice messages.
The proposed service will be useful for anybody who wants to text someone without a mobile, or when they know that a mobile will be out of range, switched off or do not know the mobile number. It will also prove useful to the elderly, blind or partially sighted people who have not been able to make use of SMS previously. Equally, it could become a valuable aid to parents who have not caught up with the SMS world but want to keep in touch with their children. Or it could be used because it is simply a fun way to send a message!
In business SMS to voice could, for example, broadcast information to a wide range of people ensuring that as far as possible urgent messages are received because the telephone is never switched off, unlike PCs or mobiles. It can also be used in business situations where, a mobile is not provided by an employees' company, and where it would be intrusive to send a text to a personal mobile, SMS can still be used.
Paul Reynolds, chief executive of BT Wholesale, said: "SMS is now a major telecommunications service and has become a very useful and positive part of many people's lives. Extending it to fixed lines through the imaginative use of text to voice technology will make it a much more flexible and fun service for business and personal users. It is also a great example of the work we are doing to help converge fixed and mobile communications for the benefit of customers in the future. We are looking forward to completing the trial so that our customers can begin offering text to voice as part of their service."
BT Wholesale's trial of SMS-to-voice will establish any technical and process issues so that they can be solved before launch and gauge how users will interact with the system. A number of operators have expressed an interest in the service and are currently in discussion with BT Wholesale.