The market for speech recognition software in Asia is ready to explode into the mainstream as advanced communications infrastructure and services in the region are rolled out, industry experts said. The main drivers for this projected demand include growth of call centre facilities, wireless communications systems expansion, improvements in speech recognition technology and so-called voice portal applications. Brian Strachman, senior analyst for voice applications service at market research firm Cahners In-Stat Group, said that new microprocessors were making speech recognition faster, better and cheaper. 'Demand from service providers and voice portals are creating new markets for speech recognition products,' he added. Mr Strachman forecast that sales of speech recognition software engines would reach US$2.7 billion in 2005. The main software engine providers include Nuance, Speechworks, Lernout & Hauspie, IBM, Lucent Technologies, Locus Dialogue and Philips. 'Any region with a growing telecommunications infrastructure and a need for mobile communications will grow,' he told Technology Post. In-Stat expects application developers and providers to make significant gains from this growing market. 'The result is a speech recognition-enabled world where the technology can be found at every office, call centre, wireless provider and e-vendor,' Mr Strachman said. He added that many speech recognition software vendors already offer engines equipped for several different Asian languages and dialects. 'I see the language diversity as a market driver,' he said. 'Any time there are numerous languages spoken in close proximity, it makes it financially smart to have a multi-language speech recognition-enabled call centre rather than pay for multilingual agents.' Under that scenario, voice portals are said to be refocusing their efforts toward the enterprise. Mr Strachman said service providers and other subscriber-based businesses were now demanding a simple voice interface to their services. Typical voice portals are speech-enabled Web sites that deliver speech-enabled business services such as e-commerce, call-centre, employee self-service, product and sales information, and customer care to any phone or wireless device. Enterprises using a voice portal platform now can share their Internet content with customers via the telephone. The voice portal market is where Internet telephony services provider iBasis is aiming to generate plenty of business in Asia. 'Our strategy in Asia is to expand the capabilities of our global VoIP [voice-over Internet protocol] infrastructure with speech-enabled services that combine the power of the Internet with the convenience, simplicity and ubiquity of the phone,' said iBasis president and chief executive Ofer Gneezy. He said the voice portal concept would allow Asian enterprises not only to be more productive and satisfy customers, but also gain new revenue opportunities. 'We expect this to have an important impact on the region's wireless carriers and service providers, who are now expanding their infrastructure, as they try to differentiate their services,' he added.