July - 2008 - issue > Technology
Christo Jacob
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The telecom operators are witnessing their call rate margins shrink dramatically as the business models have changed from a regulated market to a relatively free market. The challenge, therefore, is in building a strategy that fosters sustained growth. Most of the operators in the telecommunication sector recognized the cash cow hidden in the form of Value Added Services (VAS). To sustain the growth, operators are bringing in innovative features in VAS with the support of Huawei Technologies', a leading telecommunication infrastructure provider that helps the operators to grab the market.

Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) estimates the total size of the mobile VAS market at about $1.2 billion (Rs. 4,950 crore), which is growing by 50-65 percent every year. Recognizing the trend, the Shenzhen based Huawei Technologies is betting big on music based services, the principal money-spinner after SMS. The engineers at Huawei Bangalore Research and Development Center are trying to figure out a way to replace the traditional way of setting up Ring Back Tone (RBT), which is a hassle for a layman. Currently, the way to set up tones in a mobile phone is by dialing a particular number and making a choice from the collection or by entering the RBT codes, which are published in the newspaper. However, when it arrives the market, the users or subscribers are not aware of the database or codes available.

Now the engineers are trying to make this process very natural, where the users can hum the song themselves and the software recognizes the speech as well as melody and presents the user with the closest matching song.

Out of India's 1.1 billion populations, 220 million are mobile subscribers and this base is growing by seven million a month and is expected to reach a staggering 500 million by 2011. Hence if a group of subscribers are not aware of the services available the operator is loosing a huge chunk of market. "Hence we are trying to make this process simpler and natural through automatic speech recognition," says Anil Kumar Pandey, Associate Vice President R&D, Head - Telecom Intelligence Services, Huawei.

Though the team at Huawei has developed a technology that can transform the users within a few years, they face some challenges in technological expertise. The challenge lies in developing the expertise in which the songs sung in different modulations by different users are recognized and matched to the database, though the basic technology of speech recognition is available. "As the number of users and the size of the database increase, the system should be able to respond quickly as soon as a subscriber requests for a ring tone. Hence, we are aiming at using an algorithm that can deliver 90-95 percent of success rate in voice recognition," says Pradip Kumar Das, Group Manager - CRBT. Moreover the team is finding a solution for instances where the user may know only two or three words from the entire song to hum.

"Recently, a customer enquired whether Huawei could give the end product in the evening if he gave a product idea in the morning," quips Pandey. Hence it is not only to develop the technology for the customers but also meeting their expectation and demand for delivery.

The challenge is to have a single platform that can provide the flexibility of recognizing the songs of different languages and how fast we can configure the system to suit a language or a group of languages (in countries like India). So the system has to perform localization quickly. It is quiet a challenge to implement such services as the user interface of each operator varies. For instance, when the team has to develop a similar service for an Arabic operator, it has to customize the entire look and feel as there are language constraints. Even if they translate the entire language it will not work, as Arabic is read from right to left and English vice versa. So an information developer works with local developer.

Most of the speech recognition software only provide simple features, which are generic in nature. We need to build a complex application around it. With all these limitations, the team at Huawei works towards delivering a perfect solution. "There is a challenge in technology and features that are going to give B2C traffic; and Huawei needs to see how it can enable B2C also for the operator. So together it needs to see how it will comply with the technology, and the consumer’s needs," says Das. Huawei's India R&D team has developed another feature called 'One key copy' which is already operational among some of the operators in India. This new feature will enable a caller to set the RBT, if a caller likes the tune while hearing it after calling someone, he can copy that tune simply by pressing a key on his mobile.

Currently the team focuses more on Caller Ring Back Tone (CRBT). "As a part of this, a new product team has been placed for digital music platform," says Sachidananda Karkala, System Engineer - CRBT Product. The company is adding some more functionality onto the CRBT platform to make it a Digital Music Platform.

"Normally ringback tones have very short duration, probably 20 seconds. Now, if a customer wants the complete song, it can also be downloaded to the handset without switching to a new channel," says Sachidanand.

Huawei has reached a point wherein they have a handsome number of operators all over the world, including India, and they are focused to add value to the client base. "If we integrate new innovation or new service ideas, the current product will outride and it will get a new feature and new subscriber. So we are now moving from RBT to digital music platform where the operator can combine various services in the digital music platform," says Das.

In India, voice messages have not yet taken off in a wide way. This is not only due to the operators, the consumers who use their mobile phones also should catch up with it. Probably they need to switch to a particular option to send a voice message. Similarly this is the case with ring tone also. "Innovation cannot happen only from one side. At the same time the rest of the environment should also adapt," says Pandey. Hence the team at Huawei has innovated a new feature called Unibox.

Currently in most of the mobiles, SMS, emails, and MMS come in different places. The new feature called 'Unibox' unifies all of them in one single place, in which the software will recognize and display it to the user. "Similarly when a user needs to send photos, he need not worry whether it will be sent as SMS, MMS, or email. The software itself will recognize it and send it," says Rahul Gupta, System Engineer - Wireless Intelligent Networks, who has filed more than 10 patents.

Huawei is pioneering many new developments and advancements in the communication industry and is way ahead in fulfilling its vision to enrich life through communication networks. With 1,365 patents applied last year, Huawei ranks fourth in the global patents ranking under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
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