Software developers from Optus have debuted what they called a “step change” in the phone call. The telco is using software to transcribe and translate phone calls in real time, a feature it believes can fundamentally change telecommunications and open up a host of new use cases.

A prerecorded video demonstration of the technology on stage at Red Hat’s annual user conference in Boston last week showed near real time transcriptions and delays in language translations of less than one second.

The demo did not include details of the underlying technology being used for transcription or translation and Optus has not yet responded to Which-50’s follow up questions.

Real time translation has been offered before through various platforms before — Skype for example, displays captions in real time as an accessibility feature — but doing it “in line” is a first, according to Optus.

Optus senior innovation manager, Guillaume Poulet-Mathis said in a follow up interview at the event the value proposition from Optus is delivering the transcription and translation capabilities in line without a reliance on a particular platform or piece of hardware.  

“The value we add is to move from having an ad hoc translation request … to integrating this in one of the most natural communication channels which is person to person.

“The phone call is a perfect pace to start.”

The feature would allow Optus to facilitate multilingual conversations over the phone in real time, differentiating them from competitors. But it could also integrate the text into other areas, including natural language processing and artificial intelligence. AI is currently good at analysing data like text and images but tends to struggle interpreting human language.

The software was developed on Red Hat’s OpenShift, a Kubernetes platform which Red Hat bills as more portable and flexible than its competitors. The Optus developers said the platform was simplifying a traditionally complex process.

“By abstracting the complexity of our network and harnessing software advances we are opening a safe environment for software developers to build, deploy and operate a new breed of telco applications,” Poulet-Mathis said.

“This is a unique opportunity to uplift equipment legacy into the digital age.”

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