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Tech Industry

HP grabs maker of voice portal software

The computing giant acquires Stockholm, Sweden-based PipeBeach in a move to capture a slice of the growing interactive voice market.

Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday announced it acquired PipeBeach, a maker of interactive voice products.

HP said it plans to integrate PipeBeach's technology into its telecom software. The computing giant said the integration will enhance its ability to help telecom service providers, network equipment providers and independent software vendors simplify the development and use of Voice Extensible Markup Language (VoiceXML)-based applications.

HP hopes the acquisition will help it capture a greater share of the growing interactive voice market. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Stockholm, Sweden-based software maker PipeBeach has developed products that allow customers to obtain news, stock prices and e-mail from the Internet and perform transactions such as online banking on mobile phones using voice commands.

By combining PipeBeach products with its OpenCall SpeechWeb application, HP said it hopes to accelerate the growth of voice portals, which could help reduce customer service costs. HP noted that as consumers have turned to browsing using voice commands on phone calls rather than using a live operator for basic information and assistance, the cost per call has dropped to about 50 cents for voice-automated services compared with about $5 for human-assisted help.

Citing data from SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, HP said in a statement that spending on voice technology, including consultancy and systems integration, will rise to $20 billion in 2005 and to $40 billion in 2007.

Giving computers the ability to respond to voice commands is a growing focus in the technology industry. Microsoft earlier this month released the first public beta of its Speech Server, which will let servers better handle oral commands. The company also released the third test version of its Speech Application software developer kit. Meanwhile, IBM is using its research labs and services divisions to create showcase speech-based applications for large corporations.

HP's OpenCall SpeechWeb interacts between the telephone network and standard Web servers that host VoiceXML applications, using speech recognition and text-to-speech or spoken prompts. The company said the product supports approximately 40 languages.