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RealNetworks adds interactive video to voice services

RealNetworks has introduced a new service for 3G network operators that allows video-telephony capable handsets to get a visual, interactive 'infotainment' experience.

SAN FRANCISCO--RealNetworks is adding video to its interactive voice response feature, which will let mobile operators incorporate a video interface for finding information, content, and entertainment.

The company announced the new service here on Wednesday at the CTIA Wireless Fall 2008 trade show. The service, which mobile operators will subscribe to and offer to their subscribers, will be available to customers already subscribing to an operator's video telephony service.

Video telephony is a service that's been envisioned almost since the phone was invented. It allows operators to add video to real-time voice chats between two people using the voice part of the mobile network. Until 3G came along, video telephony would have been impossible because it uses so much bandwidth. But with higher-capacity 3G networks, mobile operators can offer video services. And RealNetworks' service offers a new twist on the traditional idea of video chat.

The new RealNetworks service will work as follows. Operators will deploy the service in their network, and subscribers with video-calling plans and video telephony capable phones will simply dial a phone number, such as 411, or say "information" if the service is voice-activated. They'll then be presented with a menu of visual options, like movie trailers and times, traffic, music, and shopping.

Because the interaction takes place via a video call session, operators can add a video-calling plan as an extension of a voice plan, adding another potential revenue stream for operators.

"Everyone knows how to make a phone call," Vern Poyner, a senior vice president, for RealNetworks, said in a statement. "And by offering this new feature via video telephony, we believe it will help operators see a return on the significant investments they've made in deploying 3G networks."