Continuing its strategy for expanding into new
telecommunications applications, Excite@Home is offering a new suite of voice-based
services that open the door for further telcolike products.
Through its "Excite" Internet portal, the company
is offering "Excite Voice Chat," which enables users equipped with regular
28.8-kilobit-per-second dial-up connections, plus microphones and speakers for their
personal computers, to engage in live voice conversations over the Web.
The application, hosted by General Magic's
network-operations center, enables people to call a toll-free number and use an
"Excite Voicemail" user's personal extension to leave a voice message or send a
fax, which then are sent as files to the user's mailbox.
Although both applications are being offered to Web users
with regular narrowband connections, Excite@Home has indicated for a while that such
functions would be more useful as more broadband connections such as its own @Home Network
cable-modem service become available to consumers.
"We want to make this as ubiquitous on Excite as
possible," Excite Voice Chat product manager Corrine Finnegan said. "We
definitely want to leverage it and enable our users to communicate in as many ways as
Finnegan said there were no specific plans to tailor a
voice-chat application that leverages @Home Network's cable-modem capacity.
But the company is exploring the possibility of linking
voice with streaming video or other features to create such applications as e-commerce
sites where customers can talk with salespeople or Web-based videoconferencing with live
"Our first implementation has been chat, but we want
to move on to one-on-one applications," Finnegan said. "The great thing about
this technology is that the opportunities are huge."
To use Voice Chat, a visitor to the Excite Web site
downloads a browser plug-in that opens a channel to Lipstream Networks Inc. servers,
provided at a Qwest Communications International Inc. data center.
Those servers direct the voice traffic to one of 16 chat
rooms chosen by the user or to a one-on-one chat room set up between two users.
The application uses Qualcomm Inc.'s "PureVoice"
codec, which enhances voice quality by compressing voice files some 10 times smaller than
typical WAV sound files, reducing their transmission time.
Users talk by pressing the "control" key on their
computer, and they can speak simultaneously or interrupt each other.
Finnegan said that in the first week or so of availability,
private rooms accounted for about one-half of the total usage, indicating that many people
were using the application as a telephone substitute.