Microsoft is rumored to be in talks to acquire privately held Tellme Networks, which markets a platform based on the open standards-based VoiceXML 2.0 specification. The standard describes how to build voice applications that provide access to Internet data from any type of phone.
Although neither company would comment on the rumor, industry analysts say they believe the move makes sense for Microsoft.
"There was a lot of discussion at Microsofts Unified Communications unveiling last June about using a speech interface to provision an new employee—something like Provision employee XYZ and give them these types of applications," said Will Stofega, an industry analyst at International Data Corp. That discussion dovetails with a move to combine voice search with the ability to tap into a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, he noted.
In fact, Microsoft has been investing in speech recognition capabilities for some time, said Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research.
"Microsoft believes in the power of voice as an interface, and Tellme is an extremely successful player in delivering voice-based services and applications. In that sense there is a lot of logic to it," Golvin said.
Tellme Networks platform has been used to create applications across both carriers and large enterprise call centers. Such applications include search on 411, information search on 1-800-555-TELL and in customer service, and ordering for American Airlines, Merrill Lynch and ETrade. The company claims that some 40 million people per month access services based on its platform.
Golvin said he also believes that 411 services for voice and Internet search will converge. "These two things have a lot in common. … [The market] should be able to provide one application solution for searching, whether youre talking on phone, talking to browser or entering search on the phone. This is a business Microsoft cares a great deal about," he said.
That may not be lost on Microsoft search rival Google or other portal companies, IDCs Stofega suggested. "That has to be the next thing—how to search without punching in something. That would be the ultimate cool thing—Star Trekian," he quipped.
But the number of companies that serve the voice recognition-based search market is shrinking. Tellme Networks closest rival, BeVocal, announced in late February its agreement to be acquired by Nuance Communications in a deal valued at about $140 million.
Thats a drop in the bucket compared to the $800 million price rumored to be being discussed by Microsoft for Tellme Networks, according to a Wall Street Journal report.