Voice XML Will Let You Phone The Web

Online addicts who get the jitters when they are away from cyberspace, sports fanatics who absolutely need the latest scores from games, opera lovers who want to order tickets--all could soon find their needs met through voice-enabled applications that connect them to the Internet via telephones. AT&T, Lucent Technologies, and Motorola have formed the Voice eXtensible Markup Language Forum. Another 17 companies have signed up to work on a standard for voice- and phone-enabled Internet access, says David Unger, an AT&T product strategy and development division manager.

Besides appeasing consumer demands, the VXML standard will lead to business applications. Many of the companies are already testing applications for call centers, banking transactions and electronic commerce. The New York City Opera ran one test. The opera invited music lovers to "call in from a phone and listen to clips of music on the opera Web site. After they listen, they could decide what opera they wanted to go to," Unger says. Then opera fans use their telephone keypad to connect to the ticket service and place their order with a staff member.

But other applications will let Internet users check e-mail from telephones, access weather reports, stock quotes and other data found online, Unger said, noting that people will be able to write their own VXML applications to fit their needs. AT&T, Lucent, and Motorola all have been working separately on different versions of VXML, but the companies have the same roots in dealing with the technology. VXML started several years ago in the AT&T labs, before Lucent was spun off from the giant telco, Unger says. Researchers from AT&T went to work for Lucent and Motorola.

The forum expects to post a standard on its Web site this spring. They'll accept public comment, then submit a proposed specification to the World Wide Web Consortium later this year.


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