Lucent aims for cheaper voice services

The telecommunications equipment giant believes it can make enhanced voice services more affordable, with plans to launch a new set of software.

Lucent Technologies, the telecommunications equipment giant, believes it can make enhanced voice services more affordable and has plans to launch a new set of software aimed at a niche dominated by emerging players like Wild Fire Communications.

Scheduled for the market this summer, a new set of Personal Assistant software from Lucent aspires to bring down the cost of advanced voice services to $5 to $10 per month. A user would be able to order new voice features, which include call placing, call screening, or message organization, from their local phone company.

The software will facilitate direct interaction between a phone user and a voice services system. Users could tell a call-placing service that they would like to "Call Bill," for example--at which point the service would place the call. In addition, other features will be able to organize voice mail messages into certain categories, or block certain calls.

The software is applicable for both wireline and wireless phone service, the company said.

Lucent's new technology will compete in a niche typically dominated by smaller firms. The company's new competitors include General Magic, with its so-called Portico set of software, priced as low as $19.95 per month, according to the company. Priority Call Management, a privately-held firm, targets the same corporate audience as Wild Fire.

All of these firms have entered the market with the expectation that both phone companies and businesses can gain a competitive advantage through the use of advanced services--which, in turn, can lead to new revenue streams.

"There hasn't been that much success [in the market]," said Dan Johnson, a product marketing manager at Lucent. "We feel very confident that we have the answer for what's holding these products back."

A Wild Fire representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lucent offers a full set of call processing software used by carriers and service providers. The new Personal Assistant package can be used in conjunction with that software, or independent of it, according to the company.

Chicago-based regional Bell Ameritech, a current Lucent voice services customer, charges $12 per month for a its so-called Privacy Manager services technology, developed by Ameritech and built by Lucent.

The service--which works in conjunction with caller identification systems--can block calls from unidentified parties, such as telemarketers, and route them to a voice mailbox before a customer's home phone actually rings.

In the first two weeks the service was offered, Ameritech experienced six times the demand it had expected, according to a company spokesman.

"We're always looking for more ways to give consumers more control over their incoming calls," the spokesman said.

The Ameritech service is currently available in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Columbus, Ohio, with plans to soon roll services out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Privacy Manager is one function among many that will be offered in Lucent's new set of services. The company expects phone companies to offer a set of entry-level services, for possibly as little as $5.

The new Lucent software currently has limited availability among North American carriers and service providers, according to the company.