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Sprint seeks partners to extend network

Sprint has unveiled a new strategy calling for partnering with system integrators and hardware manufacturers to voice-enable corporate applications to be hosted on the Sprint telecommunications network. That's the word from Rob Hammond, Sprint's director of program management and a member of the company's National Integrated Solutions division, who delivered a keynote address at this year's VOX2002 speech technology conference in San Francisco last week.

Hammond told conference attendees that the telecom heavyweight plans to ''use a partnership approach to attack the market and do solution selling.''

Under its new Voice Applications for Preferred Partner Program (VAP3), Sprint will manage the platform and seek to host the voice-enabled corporate applications developed for it, Hammond said. But he said Sprint would continue to work with customers who prefer to host applications in-house. Sprint will also offer assistance with back-end integration, though Hammond allowed that system integrators were probably more qualified than network carriers or hardware suppliers to provide such support.

Hammond focused on telephony-based solutions that allowed users to dial into a network and then use voice commands to access company data. Voice represents the bulk of Sprint's business, he said, and so the company has considerable experience monetizing voice calls -- experience it intends to leverage to position itself in the emerging voice-enabled software ecosystem.

Hoping to strip away the mystique of these technologies, which many IT managers still view as exotic with questionable ROI, Hammond characterized voice as just another layer in the corporate network. He also advocated VoiceXML as the best means for ensuring easy integration of voice and existing applications.

''VXML is the next established standard to fuel that growth [of speech technologies],'' he said. ''VXML gives applications portability and access to corporate data.''

VoiceXML is a markup language used to describe an interaction between a caller on a telephone and a server. It uses XML tags to describe the call flow. It was written by the VoiceXML Forum, which contributed it to the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It was created to standardize the development of ''speech-in-speech-out'' telephony applications, and was specifically designed for Interactive Voice Response (IVR) applications.

Hammond also told attendees that Sprint has decided to standardize on J2ME for handhelds and handsets, because it is an ''open standard.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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