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1. Field of the Invention
This invention relates to a method of providing voicemails to a wireless information device. The term ‘wireless information device’ used in this patent specification should be expansively construed to cover any kind of device with two way wireless information capabilities and includes without limitation radio telephones, smart phones, communicators, wireless messaging terminals, personal computers, computers and application specific devices. It includes devices able to communicate in any manner over any kind of network, such as GSM or UMTS, CDMA and WCDMA mobile radio, Bluetooth, IrDA etc.
2. Description of the Prior Art
Voicemail has the sole purpose of storing voice messages from someone trying to call a user's telephone when that user is otherwise unavailable and then relaying those messages to the user when convenient. But today's voicemail systems, particularly for wireless information devices such as mobile telephones, fail to do this intelligently. The primary reason is the nature of the interface from the user's wireless information device to the remote voice mail server: typically, a mobile telephone user will call (or be called by) a voicemail server controlled by the network operator. The voicemail server will generate a synthetic voice announcing the number of messages to the user and then replaying the messages; various options are then spoken by the synthetic voice, such as “press 1 to reply”, “press 2 to delete”, “press 3 to repeat” etc. This presents several challenges to the user: first, he may not have a pen and paper to hand to take down any important information; secondly, he may forget or not be able to hear the options and hence will be unable to operate the voicemail system effectively.
Because of this inadequate and opaque interface, voicemail is not used by at least 45% of mobile telephone users. Of those that do use voicemail, it typically accounts for 30% of a user's call time and spend. One of the reasons for this perhaps surprisingly high level is that, because of the difficult interface, users frequently dial in again just to listen to key messages they did not get the details of the first time round.
Some efforts have been made to make retrieving voicemails easier: reference may be made for example to U.S. Pat. No. 6,507,643 to Breveon Inc: in this patent, voicemail is automatically converted, using a voice recognition computer, to a text message suitable for sending as an e-mail message and for viewing on a text display device such as a PC or laptop computer. Reading a written message can be quicker than having to listen to a spoken voicemail; there is also no need to write down important information from the message since it has already been transcribed. However, automated voicemail systems have quite limited performance and accuracy; they also slavishly transcribe the normal hesitations in human speech (‘er’, ‘um’, ‘ah’ etc.). When one is listening to human speech, one can readily filter out these sounds and concentrate on the substantive communication. Seeing these hesitations slavishly transcribed to an e-mail can make the sender appear less then lucid.
Automated voice to text conversion can in theory also be deployed within a mobile telephone itself: reference may be made to the Nokia Short Voice Messaging system (see EP 1248486) in which a user can speak a message to his mobile telephone, which locally converts it to text using an automated voice recognition engine and then packages and sends it as a SMS message.
The overwhelming bias in the field of voice to text conversion systems is in improving the accuracy of automated voice recognition software; current generation software nevertheless still either needs to be trained to recognise words spoken by a specific person or is limited to recognising a very limited vocabulary and has huge difficulties with context. Training requires the user to read out quite extensive test passages and to then correct the transcription errors introduced by the machine transcription. This is a slow and arduous task. Whilst this avoids the need to input a text message using the small keys of a mobile telephone, it does not address the inherent inaccuracy and inappropriate transcription of conventional automated voice recognition software.
The task of constructing voice recognition software that can reliably and accurately recognise natural speech relating to any subject, from anyone and spoken at normal speed, remains a daunting one. Nevertheless, it remains the over-riding goal in the area of voice to text systems. The present invention challenges this orthodoxy.
In a first aspect, there is a method of providing voicemail to a wireless information device, comprising the steps of:
Because human operators are used instead of machine transcription, voicemails are converted accurately, intelligently, appropriately and succinctly into text messages (e.g. SMS/MMS).
There are many advantages to providing voicemails using this approach:
There are two choices—Pre-pay or post pay either via micro-billing on the user's phone bill or credit/debit card and direct debit monthly payments. In fact any payment method available at the time via 3rd party Merchant Service providers, so even PayPal which is largely a US phenomenon is becoming available in Europe as a valid payment method.
Users will be able to sign-up with credit/debit cards for automatic monthly payments, including Direct Debit (UK) and PayPal for the US.
Users will be able to buy SpinVox credit (e.g. £b 10's worth) via a single reverse billed SMS which will confirm their new credit. Typically this will appeal to the pre-paid market. This neatly avoids the relatively expensive cost (60%+) of many individual micro-transactions each time they use the Services which otherwise make this too expensive and encourages some commitment from the user to the service.
The present invention will be described with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIGS. 1-3 are schematics of an entire voicemail process, starting from voicemail origination, voicemail processing and voicemail delivery; in accordance with the present invention;
FIG. 4 depicts the format of a message notification (displayed in a messages in-box on a mobile telephone) for a voicemail transcribed using the method of the present invention;
FIG. 5 depicts a conventional text message notification;
FIG. 6 depicts how a voicemail transcribed using the method of the present invention appears as a text message displayed on a mobile telephone;
FIG. 7 depicts a mobile telephone displaying a list of text messages in a messages in-box. A transcribed voice mail is present in the list; the callout shows how it would be displayed if selected;
FIG. 8 depicts a menu list of three new functions available as options relevant to a transcribed voicemail;
FIGS. 9A to 9D depict a GUI based voicemail management application for managing conventional audio voicemails;
FIG. 10 depicts the operation of an application that enables a user to speak a message into his mobile telephone and have that remotely converted to a text message;
FIG. 11 shows the overall flow of actions at a voicemail server, indicating the actions initiated by user inputs;
FIG. 12 shows the overall flow of actions occurring at the voice message transcribers;
FIG. 13 shows a screen shot of the web-based interface used by voice message transcribers.
The present invention is implemented by SpinVox Limited, London, United Kingdom as part of a suite of mobile telephone products:
1. VoicemailView™: Voicemail to Text system—This gives subscribers the option to have voicemail delivered to their mobile telephone as text (SMS/MMS or equivalent messaging format) with the option to hear the original voicemail on the mobile telephone. The term ‘SMS’ means the short message service for sending plain text messages to mobile telephones; ‘MMS’ means the multimedia messaging service developed by 3GPP (Third Generation Partnership Project) for sending multimedia communications between mobile telephones and other forms of wireless information device. The terms also embrace any intermediary technology (such as EMS (Enhanced Message Service)) and variants, such as Premium SMS, and any future enhancements and developments of these services.
2. VoicemailManager™: A new Voicemail Management Application—This adds a GUI (graphical user interface) to the mobile telephone; it supplements (or replaces) the existing audio menu system (UI) provided by cellular phone voicemail systems and integrates the phone's call divert features, greetings controls and other related controls to provide a single environment (application) on the mobile telephone for voicemail management
3. VoiceMessenger™: Speech to Text system—This allows users to speak a text message into their mobile telephone, have it converted to text remotely and then sent without using the often tiring alphanumeric phone-pad entry system.
Key to the accurate transcription of voice messages to text format (as deployed in VoicemailView and VoiceMessenger) is the use of human operators to do the actual transcribing intelligently by extracting the message (not a verbose word-for-word transcription), and not automated voice recognition systems. Key to the efficient operation of this system is an IT architecture that rapidly sends voice files to the operators and allows them to rapidly hear these messages, efficiently generate a transcription and to them send the transcribed message as a text message.
A. VoicemailView™ Voicemail to Text System
There are three solutions described which deliver the Voicemail to Text system:
Referring now to FIG. 1, the process deployed is as follows:
Referring now to FIG. 2, the process deployed is as follows:
Referring now to FIG. 3, the process deployed is as follows:
In any of the above variants, the mobile phone (or other wireless information device of some nature) will need to be upgraded OTA (Over the Air) or otherwise, in the following manner:
B.1 Viewing Voicemail-Text Messages
There are two options:
FIG. 4 shows a telephone handset icon that could be used next to a SMS message to indicate that it is a voicemail message in the messages inbox. A voicemail transcribed to text is present in the device's messages in-box; it has been sent from Homer Simpson. FIG. 5 shows what the current SMS text icon looks like. Another solution would be to precede each header with something logical such as “V:” for voicemail—hence “V: Homer Simpson” would indicate a SMS transcribed voice mail from Homer Simpson. In addition, inside the text file for the voicemail message, the time and date of the voicemail should be added (as not all gateways correctly timestamp sent messages), as shown in FIG. 6. FIG. 7 shows this in the context of a mobile telephone. The user has selected the ‘Read’ option for the highlighted transcribed voicemail (from Daniel Davies); the device displays the SMS in the normal manner, but with data and time added. It is also possible, just by pressing and holding a given key (in this illustration, key ‘1’) to activate the normal audio-based voicemail playback function.
When one opens a standard SMS message, one can generally readily access further functionality (via an Options menu in Nokia mobile telephones, for example), such as ‘Erase’, ‘Reply’, ‘Edit’ etc. Under this standard ‘Options’ menu, or equivalent, the present implementation adds three new functions, as shown in FIG. 8:
We expand on these new functions below:
Hear Original: This allows the user to now hear the original voicemail and uses the unique i/d encoded into the SMS/MMS message to correctly connect to the original voice file.
There are three options:
(i) The user goes into the standard voicemail system and follows the existing audio prompts for hearing the message.
(ii) The user goes into the new Voicemail Management Application shown below at B.2.
In either case, upon ending the call to voicemail, the user is returned to the same point in the messaging application to decide what to do with the text/audio version.
(iii) The user embeds the original sound file in an MMS message (or equivalent, such as e-mail) to be played back locally on the terminal.
This uses the caller's number recorded with the message to call them back.
Add to Contacts
This takes the caller's number and automatically adds it to a new contact/address entry for the user to complete with name, etc.
This is a specific example of the mobile telephone software being able to parse the text that has been converted from voice and to use that intelligently. Other examples are:
(a) extracting the phone number spoken allowing it to be used (to make a call), saved, edited or added to a phone book;
(b) extracting an email address and allowing it to be used, saved, edited or added to an address book;
(c) extracting a physical address and allowing it to be used, saved, edited or added to an address book;
(d) extracting a web address (hyperlink) and allow it to be used, edited, saved or added to an address book or browser favourites.
(e) extracting a time for a meeting and allow it to be used, saved, edited and added to an agenda as an entry
(f) extracting a number and saving it to one of the device applications
(g) extracting a real noun and providing options to search for it or, look it up on the web (WAP or full browser).
The extent to which this can be done depends on the intelligence in your handset (in essence its parsing capacity and interoperability with other applications and common clipboard where this data is normally stored for use in other applications). Today, nearly all phones support extraction of phone numbers, email addresses and web addresses from a text message. This is normally made available when the user is reading the message by the content being underlined (as a hyperlink or equivalent); the user then simply selects ‘Options’ (as found on Nokia telephones, or its equivalent on a different make of handset) and ‘Use’ (as found on Nokia telephones, or its equivalent on a different handset) and then depending on the content type, further context sensitive options (e.g. with a street address it might offer—Look up, Navigate, Save in Address book, etc . . . ).
B.2 VoicemailManager™: Voicemail Management Application
This application can be used in either stand-alone or as integral part of the VoicemailView Voice to SMS/MMS system (or equivalent text delivery system) described above at B.1.
The Voicemail Management application gives a user a GUI (Graphical User Interface) in addition to the standard audio prompts they are used to receiving when accessing and managing normal audio voicemail. When a subscriber calls (FIG. 9a) into their audio voicemail using their mobile telephone, they are first taken into their ‘Voicemail Inbox’ and then presented with the controls shown in FIGS. 9B to D.
For programming purposes, these controls will nearly all relate to standard DTMF tones that the voicemail system uses as input to it when the user currently presses keys on their phone's keypad.
FIG. 9A shows the user calling Voicemail; FIG. 9B shows how a new management application has been invoked which first displays an Inbox's contents (here, 3 new audio calls and 2 stored audio calls) of all voicemails. The options menu operates as follows:
|Item listed in Options Menu||Action|
|Play All||Plays all messages in sequence|
|Delete All||Offers which to delete - all New or all|
|Stored - and deletes them all|
|Mark all heard||Moves all New messages into Stored folder|
|Forward to||Forwards message to another subscribers|
|Store||Store - only available in New messages or|
|during play back - moves message to Stored|
Referring to FIG. 9C, if the user selects which category of audio voicemail he wishes to listen to (i.e. new or stored), he is then shown a menu list of the audio voicemails in that category, each identified with sender name if available, or failing that, the caller number. The transcribed text message ideally has added to it the caller name by the transcription service. This includes notifications when a user turns off the voice-to-text conversion in VoicemailView (i.e. they want plain voicemail) so that they will now be able to see the name of the person who has left them a voicemail before deciding whether to dial-in and listen to it/them. The user can readily navigate to and select the audio message he wishes to listen to. Once a message is selected, then, as shown in FIG. 9C, new Voicemail controls are displayed on screen. Their function is as follows:
|1 Erase||Erases current message - returns to previous screen, New or|
|Stored folder view for user to select which message to now|
|listen to, or goes straight to playing next message.|
|2 Next||Skips to next message. At end of messages, goes back to|
|previous screen, New or Stored folder view.|
|3 FFW||Fast forwards through message whilst button held. At end|
|of message, stops and shows next message to be heard (New|
|or Stored folder view) or at end of all messages, goes back|
|to top level view (New & Stored folder view)|
|4 REW||Rewinds back through message whilst button held. At end|
|of message, stops and shows previous message to be heard|
|(New or Stored folder view) or at end of all messages, goes|
|back to top level view (New & Stored folder view)|
|5 Previous||Skips to previous message. At beginning of messages, goes|
|back to previous screen, New or Stored folder view.|
|6 Call||Calls user back and ends Voicemail call.|
|7 Text||Opens up Text (SMS or MMS) application with callers|
|message||number selected as default recipient for user to send them a|
|8 Forward||Forwards message to another subscribers Voicemail inbox.|
|9 Add to||Adds number to contacts through phone's standard|
|contacts||contacts/address book application.|
|0||Configures voicemail - standard options for Record New|
|Configure||Greeting, Turn Greeting on/off, etc . . .|
|Integrates into existing phone software for configuring|
|Divert behaviour - e.g. divert on busy/no answer/phone|
|off to voicemail or specified number.|
During this process, the user is always offered the aural navigation options which are synchronised with what is shown on-screen, so that they have the best of both worlds. With the use of simple command based Speech Recognition, the user may just speak the command they want to execute, so if the user wants to play new messages, they would just say “Play” and the VoicemailManager engine would recognise this command and do just that—play the message.
Note: The exact numbers keypad numbers) and their related functions will be those of the existing voicemail system and so will vary by network operator/voicemail system.
B.3 VoiceMessenger™: Speech to Text (SMS/MMS) Service
It is often preferable for users to want to send a message in text format, rather than voice—e.g. if they do not want to disturb the receiver, but want to get the message to them. But it is often difficult for people to thumb-type text on a small alpha-numeric keypad. They may also be mobile, such as walking, or in a car or have only one hand available, or be unable to type, such as whilst driving. The VoiceMessenger™ speech to text service addresses this need.
The user goes into their Messaging/Text application running on their mobile telephone, simply selects the message recipient either from their phone's address book, or types their number in, then selects the new VoiceMessenger option, as shown in FIG. 10, by pressing and holding the ‘2’ key. The user might also be connected to the service to start with and will then simply speak the number or the name to a local (on the mobile telephone) or a remote voice recognition engine which will take the user through the process.
When connected to the remote VoiceMessenger Engine, the user simply speaks his message and the remote VoiceMessenger Engine records it, and then sends the audio file for conversion to text using the human operator based voice transcription system. The text format message is then packaged as a SMS/MMS (email or other appropriate messaging system) and sent through the SMS/MMS etc. gateway. The user will be given aural prompts for controlling the input, hearing the conversion and sending the message.
C.1 MMS Voice-Notes to Text
A user with an MMS enabled phone will be able to send voice-notes via an MMS which the human operator based voice transcription service will then transcribe and send on to their desired destination. They can also have their Voicemail converted and sent to their phone in MMS format if preferred.
C.2 Automated Voice Recognition
This is to speed up the processing of inbound voice files and reduce operating costs. The prime function will be to auto-detect spoken phone numbers, and detect language to route audio files to the correct human operator staffed transcription bureau. It will also be used for detecting names and spoken numbers and addresses from the users online phone-book (see below) and commands for VoicemailManager controls.
C.3 Online Address Book
There will be two forms of online address book that a user will be able to use when connected to SpinVox services by simply saying the name of the person they want to say:
Using Presently Available Servers, users can define what mode they want to be in for receiving communications, e.g. ‘Meeting’ lets a user know before the communicate that the person they want to contact is in a meeting and will accept say SMS/MMS or a VoiceView text message. Once out of the meeting, the user can then change their contact status to ‘Available’ and be contacted by a phone call.
1. SpinVox Voicemail IVR Structure
A standard voicemail server system with IVR is the foundation; the IVR is programmed as shown in the FIG. 11 flowchart.
The user's phone will (during technical provisioning shown below) have the ‘1’ key (standard voicemail access key) re-programmed to automatically call the SpinVox voicemail server and have them automatically logged-in (unique phone-number+PIN) which takes them to the top level of the IVR tree.
If at any point the user hangs up, then the session is terminated with the relevant outcome. If this happens during a recording, including a dropped line from another mobile caller, then it is assumed to be the end of a recording, and the system proceeds to the transcription stage.
Each transcribed voicemail will contain a unique number starting with say a ‘4’ (depends on final IVR tree configuration), so that when a user presses and holds ‘1’ to connect to SpinVox's voicemail server, they simply press the unique message i/d—e.g. 403 which takes them to the 3rd message they have in the queue.
2.1 Landline or Other Mobile Phone Access
As shown in FIG. 11, the IVR tree will allow a user to dial in using their unique Divert No. (Voicemail No.) and will then be prompted to enter their PIN.
The IVR system will accept a user programming in a speed-dial that allows them to dial their unique SpinVox number+PIN. They are then able to access all features shown above.
2.3 Leaving a VoiceMail
The user's phone is configured to divert to SpinVox voicemail under conditions they define shown below, where the caller will either hear:
The above IVR diagram shows how a user accesses VoiceMessenger, whether directly from their mobile phone, or via another phone.
The IVR system will accept a user programming in a speed-dial that allows them to dial their unique SpinVox number+PIN+‘3’.
If from their mobile phone, the technical provisioning below will have configured a speed-dial (by default key ‘2’) to dial and log them in (voicemail number+PIN+3) directly to the VoiceMessenger option.
They will then hear a standard prompt:
“Welcome to Spin Vox's VoiceMessenger. At the tone, please either speak the destination number or type it in, then dictate the message you wish to send. Hang-up to send, or press # to send a new message.” [tone]
During Technical Provisioning, user data (handset, network, etc . . . ) will be re-used to confirm to the user what they have selected.
Key will be the system sending the user SMS messages to part automate the configuration of the user's handset (diverts & V.Card for VoiceMessenger) and confirmation of successful setup. These messages are all sent as High Priority to ensure user/salesperson is not left ‘hanging’ whilst waiting for configuration SMS to arrive.
The steps are:
Step 1: handset selection, from a drop down list shown on the provisioning screen (usually at the point of sale)
Step 2: Voicemail View setup:
Step 3: Call diverts selection: this explains how the mobile phone is normally setup to divert to the user's voicemail (under all the following conditions). The user can change these if he specifically wants it to divert to another person or number, and not his own voicemail
Step 4: Call divert setup via SMS. Tells the customer that he has just been sent a SMS and should click on a specific button on the provisioning screen when received (or a different ‘not’ received’ button if not received within 3 minutes).
Step 5: Call divert setup: SMS. The provisioning screen informs the user that if he has received the configuration SMS, please do the following:
Step 5: Call divert setup: Mobile phone. The provisioning screen informs the user:
Step 6: Select delivery method. The provisioning screen allows the user to select how he would like to receive voicemails once they are converted to text (typical options are SMS, MMS, MMS with the audio file, e-mail, e-mail with the audio file). The system then sends an appropriate vCard to the user's mobile telephone.
Step 7: Voice Messenger setup. The provisioning screen informs the user:
Step 8: Congratulations screen:
This is provided to a human operator transcriber when they log-on to their account. All they need is a web browser, sound card, media player capable of playing and controlling playback of the media files or streaming protocol, and high-speed internet access. FIG. 12 shows the process flowchart for transcription. Each Transcriber logs in and starts receiving VoicemailView (see FIG. 13 for the screen into which they type the transcribed message and from which they cause the message to be sent), or VoiceMessenger audio files to be transcribed (see FIG. 14), one at a time. While logged-in there are only 2 states: message currently in the process of being transcribed, and pause.
5.1 Transcriber Control Panel Buttons (see FIG. 13):
Note: For User Data Protection reasons, the Transcriber will never see auto-populated telephone fields (or other user data fields), so the system will not show these unless it requires the Transcriber to type the destination number in.
5.3 Spell Checker
When the Transcriber hits ‘Send’, the system will automatically spell check the message and if any errors occur, correct them and display the corrections to the Transcriber with a prompt ‘Accept & Send”, or allow them to manually correct (as there might be a particular spelling they want).
To do this properly, the spell checking process will include a real-noun dictionary relevant to the geographic area and culture of the user. So for example, in the UK the real-noun dictionary will contain not only English names, but place names, landmarks, road-names, chain establishment names (e.g. pubs, bars, restaurants, etc . . . ), etc . . . .
Where there isn't a match, the Transcriber just double clicks on the underlined word and is offered the closest matches. If need be, they can rewind and re-listen to that part of the message to make the appropriate selection.
5.4 Transcription Bureau Manager
They can view the statistics for all the Transcriber accounts they own below them.
They will be able to view and analyse:
These are the requirements for the Transcription Services to be used for both VoicemailView and VoiceMessenger services.
The key requirement is to deliver the actual message, not all the redundant information which is often spoken and left in a message.
|Internet Website (i.e. no http:// required)||website|
|[shouting]||Shouting/Screaming (unless doing so to overcome|
|background noise as when in a bar or station in|
|which case ignore)|
|[screaming]||Screaming as when someone is highly distressed,|
|in trouble or frightened.|
|[frightened]||When the person is obviously frightened|
|[angry]||Angry as shouting and/or banging fists (should|
|be obvious from the content of the message)|
When the mood is unclear (e.g. may be just the way that person talks or the context that they're in), then don't add this in.
|O :-)||An angel|
|%-6||Not very clever|
|:-X||Not saying a word|