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Voice Assistants, an IoT Opportunity for Carriers

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

We clearly live in a screen-based world. We spend our days clicking, typing, or swiping on our smartphones, our desk monitors and our TVs. Now, the emergence of IoT connected devices is only increasing our screen time, because so many manufacturers rely on smartphone apps and built-in touchscreens to enable users to manage those devices.

Does this mean that we are sentenced to spend more and more time looking at screens in order to keep up with our overly accelerated lives?

Fortunately, the answer is no! In case you haven’t noticed, the use of voice/conversational user interfaces (voice UI) is booming, and Gartner predicts that by 2018, 30% of our interactions with technology will be through “conversations” with smart machines.

We may only be at an early-adopter stage, but there is a lot of potential in voice UIs. A recent industry report from VoiceLabs, estimates that there will be 24.5 million voice-first devices shipped in 2017, which is almost three times more than the total amount shipped last year.

Are you wondering what voice-first devices are? Perhaps Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home ring a bell. These devices basically consist of a speaker, a microphone and most importantly, an embedded intelligent voice assistant. Probably every large tech company wants a piece of the voice-first market.

For now Amazon is leading the way. There are two key reasons for this. First, Amazon has at least a one year head start in the market, which has resulted in more than seven million Echo devices finding their way into homes all over the world. Second, Amazon made a smart move by opening its Alexa platform to third-party developers early on. Alexa is the brains behind the Amazon Echo devices, and “skills” is the term for apps in the Alexa/Echo world. Amazon has greatly benefited from this move, and there are now more than 10000 skills available online. With these hands-free voice skills, consumers can do things such as turn on their lights, pay credit card bills, play music, or even order a pizza—all by simply speaking.

These may sound like fairly simple tasks, but consumers love performing daily activities by just talking to their smart devices—and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Accomplishing simple things in our busy daily lives by just speaking is way better than the “traditional” method of   pulling out your phone, selecting one app from dozens and then navigating your way to the right action.

Where does the opportunity lie?

When checking Alexa’s store, I was really struck by the fact that there are few Alexa skills related to “Communication”. Only 38 of the more than 10000 skills fall into that category, and only two of them caught my eye. The first one was AT&T’s one-sided solution for sending SMS to 10 preconfigured contacts. The other one was the Mastermind skill, which appears to enable users to send and read SMS, make and answer phone calls, get caller ID and notifications and launch apps on your mobile device.

These kind of initiatives are a good start, but there is still a lot of potential in voice-first devices. From the communications side, I believe that efforts should be focused on providing full telephony support, with skills or apps that are integrated into the carrier’s network. Imagine if consumers at home could make a receive calls with a spoken request without having to have their phones on their hands or even having their phones turned on!

IoT and smart devices are about to become the old new thing. Voice interfaces have already started to move beyond the home and be more and more present in our lives. Personally, I am delighted by the idea of working with network providers to exploit voice interface-related opportunities. After all, consumers are hooked on their voice-first devices and looking to move away from their screens. So, doesn’t a telephony Alexa skill fully integrated in your network sound like a great opportunity to you?

Diego Vivas