MONTREAL VoiceAge Corp. is banking on voice transmission becoming as integral to the Web as text is today. To meet the needs of a maturing Internet, VoiceAge will release Voice Shuttle, a low-bit-rate voice and audio compression solution for Internet telephony in voice portals and instant messaging, in Las Vegas next week.
Spun out in August of last year, VoiceAge is a marriage between the Speech and Audio Compression Research Group of the University of Sherbrook and Sipro Lab Telecom Inc., both of which are located in Quebec. Sipro brings its technology brokerage capabilites to the partnership, and the research group responsible for developing VoiceAge's proprietary Algebraic-Code-Excited Linear Prediction (ACELP) completes the union.
The company, based here, is unique when compared with the Silicon Valley model, as it has turned a small profit and quadrupled in head count in a year's time, all without the help of any venture capital backing.
ACELP is integrated into more than 250 million PCs worldwide, most notably through RealPlayer and Microsoft MediaPlayer. On the telephony side, more than 380 million cell phones have built-in ACELP standard-based technology, such as GSM and CDMA.
"The quality that you're hearing from a GSM network is ACELP-based," said Laurent Amar, vice president of business development for VoiceAge. "There are approximately 450 million devices in the wireless world using ACELP, and it's used in eight different international voice standards.
"So there is a little bit of Canada almost anywhere in the world," Amar added.
The initial version of Voice Shuttle uses the TMS320C54x DSP chips from Texas Instruments on a DSP board. VoiceAge claims it can deliver up to 72 scalable voice compression channels on a single 12-DSP PCI card.
According to the company, scalability is the key word, especially for its target market of voice portal service providers. "We're in negotiation right now with a California-based company that offers voice e-mail and instant messaging," Amar said. "They have about 2.5 million registered users, but a Pentium-based PC can only compress up to five or six channels at a time.
"So instead of having 400 PCs online to handle the volume, Voice Shuttle can compress 72 channels, and we can put up to three cards or so per PC, giving you 216 voice compression channels," Amar said. The company is also working on a CompactPCI version, which would almost double that number of channels.
The timing may be ripe for such a venture. According to market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC; Framingham, Mass.), live voice communications on the Internet are growing in demand. While still a burgeoning technology, IDC estimates that Web-talk users and Web-talk service provider revenue will soar over the next five years, generating revenue of $16.5 billion by 2004.
According to IDC, Web-talk applications leverage browsers, portals and network structures already in place on the Internet, helped along by improved net performance as well as the declining cost of bandwidth. Last year, more than 25 Web-talk service providers launched commercial offerings, the firm said.
"Individuals want to use Web talk to communicate with family and friends," Mark Winther, group vice president for IDC's Worldwide Telecommunications research, commented, "and companies with e-commerce sites want to apply Web talk to improve poor customer service, often caused by lack of human interaction."