This Radish Is Ripe
Small Telecom's Innovation Sparks Big Interest
VoiceView may become another Xerox, a brand name that defines an industry. Then again, it may turn out to be nothing more than a pit stop on the road to more powerful technologies.
Either way, the company behind it, Radish Communications Systems Inc., stands to harvest a tidy sum.
Radish, a small company with high hopes, is frantically signing licensing deals with computer and communications industry behemoths in an effort to establish its voice/data/graphics telephone-line transmission technology as an industry standard.
The Boulder-based company recently announced support from Microsoft Corp. for its VoiceView protocol as the technology of choice on which to base applications for its Windows and Microsoft at Work platforms.
"I really think the move towards this VoiceView capabilityis something that is underestimated in term of its impact," said Microsoft CEO Bill Gates during his keynote address to the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference last month in San Francisco.
With the benediction of Microsoft, other high-tech luminaries, including Rockwell International, Intel Corp. and Hayes Microcomputer Products, have placed their faith in VoiceView as well.
VoiceView permits callers to speak and exchange text, graphics and files during a call over the existing telephone network. The data can be displayed on a computer monitor, screen phone, fax machine or personal digital assistant. VoiceView is a switched protocol, so users must interrupt, but not sever, the voice connection in order to transmit data. Once the data has been exchanged, the conversation may resume with both parties viewing the same data.
"Callers can converse while they display information, exchange files, play games, or work collaboratively on a document-- all over one ordinary phone line," said David Klein, president and CEO of Radish.
Rockwell International, which owns of 80 percent of the global modem-chip market, will be incorporating VoiceView in its products. Three leading fax modem manufacturers, Hayes, Intel and U.S. Robotics, plan to embed VoiceView capabilities in their modems, as does Digicom Systems, a programmable-modem manufacturer. Dialogic Corp. and Octel Communications Corp. will offer VoiceView-capable voice-processing systems and components.
"The participation of so many major companies helps ensure device interoperability and opens up a large market for applications development," said Jim Burton of Comupter-Telephone Link, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm. "By 1995, we will see millions of modems, screen phones and other computer services using VoiceView."
But will we?
Liam Burke, an equity analyst with Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. who follows the telecommunications industry, is not so sure. A string of major alliances, he said, is no guarantee of victory.
"Here's what I think about these deals: They [major companies] will make an agreement with anybody," said Burke. "It's a low-cost insurance policy. If they hit, great; if not, so what?"
Not surprisingly, Cynthia Kemper, marketing communications manager for Radish, takes a different view.
The much-heralded ISDN, or interactive digital services network, technology, she said, offers great promise in terms of features, functionality and productivity. Full-blown ISDN, however, requires specialized infrastructure and equipment, and its cost would bust the wallet of the average user. She argued, nobody seems to know when, if ever, ISDN will be fully implemented. Radish doesn't think it will be universally available before the end of the century.
Then again, said analyst Burke, "I think that ISDN is closer than people suspect." Baby Bells are already introducing partial ISDN capability, he said. Indeed, Bell Atlantic, according to spokesman Larry Plumb, will offer ISDN on-demand over its entire network by year's end.
Radish co-founder and VoiceView inventor Richard A. Davis worked on ISDN technology at AT&T Bell labs for more than a decade before realizing the average person wouldn't see benefits for years, Kemper said.
"Over the last decade, there have been attempts to bring voice and data together via ISDN. The only problem was the expense involved," said Kemper.
VoiceView is, in fact, nothing new. It's already been in use almost two years by businesses to enhance communications capabilities with remote employees. What is new, however, is the method Radish has adopted to profit from its patented technology. The original VoiceView was a proprietary product limited to some 1,000 users. Radish decided to switch gears and change the protocol with input from its new partners like Hayes.
The new VoiceView is an open protocol, so application developers do not require a license to exploit it, and hardware manufacturers can obtain information or a license by after paying a one-time fee to Radish. Microsoft plans to distribute information about VoiceView its roughly 300,000 Windows application developers in July. Kemper said Radish envisions many business applications for VoiceView, including desktop conferencing, remote presentations, multimedia phone calls, and more.