Voice technologies were prevalent at Mobile World Congress in various shapes and sizes. Growing operator interest in this area is plain to see as shipments of voice-activated remote controls and smart speakers are increasing steadily, with many tier 1 players envisaging a future where voice technologies play a pivotal role in everyday life, embedded all around the home and on the go. We first came across Djingo in our Voice TV Remote Control forecast from Rethink TV, launched in January this year.
One example is France’s Orange, which has even dedicated an entire department to Anticipation in Smart Access, headed up by Thibault de la Fresnaye, who explained to Faultline Online Reporter at MWC how Orange is gathering vast amounts of data from its Livebox home gateway deployments and combining this with results from some 30,000 consumer surveys. From this, the Orange Lab is building a smart home strategy to rival not just competing operators in Orange’s territories around the world, but also the major US technology vendors in the space.
To achieve and own a comprehensive smart home ecosystem, Orange is using its consumer data to improve network technologies, both hardware and software, to enhance the smart home experience, rather than going all out before the infrastructure is ready. Therefore Orange’s smart WiFi strategy is a key component, aiming to ensure the home LAN is state of the art and adding features such as new WiFi diagnostic tools, and de la Fresnaye also said IoT applications via LPWAN integrations are happening as a result of the Smart Access Anticipation project.
This is all about building foundations for future businesses, to which end Orange was showcasing various applications for its new smart assistant called Djingo, which launched in November. We were shown a demo at MWC of a prototype smart speaker, manufactured by Orange itself, which was connected to an Orange set top via WiFi to control TV functions using voice commands. Orange explained that although Djingo is currently only processing French, the technology is claimed to be capable of instantly being switched to handle other languages, without requiring any tweaks back at base. It is likely it relies then on a mature voice understanding system, possibly Dragon from Nuance.
Orange would not disclose the chip powering its Djingo smart speaker or discuss any vendors involved in development other than the deep learning techniques behind Djingo being based on IBM Watson. Deutsche Telekom announced it was developing a voice control system for its services in November, with “well-known partners,” yet Orange revealed that DT’s voice tech is in fact Djingo and the German operator will soon be deploying its smart speaker as a white-label product, as part of its Magenta offering.
Announcing its voice efforts came in the same month that DT and Orange spoke about a collaboration on a cloud-based API for smart home devices, based on the OneM2M standard, but the knowledge of two major operators rolling out a jointly developed voice-controlled ecosystem, centered around the TV, suggests a trend of operators combining resources to compete with the might of Amazon, Apple and Google in voice-powered virtual assistants.
Djingo is currently being used in the Orange mobile banking app and other business verticals, but the voice-controlled TV experience is expected to roll out later this year – available exclusively to Orange customers. Orange representatives at MWC mentioned that a clear bonus of being a telco deploying a smart assistant with its own smart speaker hardware, is enabling control of text and call functions – going as far as to activate calls via the fixed home network. A voice remote control will also be launched “soon”, which was as much detail we could squeeze from Orange.
Orange could not reveal the chip powering its Djingo smart speaker, or any other vendor involvement for that matter. However, we know the Orange Livebox uses a Broadcom BCM63138 chip with just 5000 DMIPS of processing power, running the SoftAtHome platform with dual mode WiFi, but with G.fast components bundled onto it for connection to G.fast and VDSL lines.
Looking to the future, Orange also demonstrated a prototype smart mirror capable of bringing up useful info such as a diary schedule, or directions for a journey. From here Orange can integrate with a local taxi company or ride-sharing service, allowing users to order a ride and track its progress while getting ready in the mirror and not having to lift a finger – one of many directions a smart home strategy might take Orange.
Hooked up to the Djingo smart speaker, functions are activated using the “Ok Djingo” command – but Orange is already looking beyond this and teased a video demo in which all the smart speaker technologies, microphones and speakers, are embedded in the smart mirror itself. Once it reaches this goal, Orange said it wants microphones all around the home.