Optus are Launching a Translator for Postpaid Customers

Optus Voice Genie

Voice calls are getting a welcome improvement with Optus’ call translate

Not everyone in Australia speaks fluent English, and many have friends and/or relatives who speak foreign languages. So how do such people communicate over the phone if both parties don’t speak the same language?

Optus is answering this question by introducing ‘call translate’, an in-call translation service that’s powered by Google technology. The service will translate your speech live during calls to the other party’s language so they can understand you without missing a beat.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about Optus in-call translator, as well as the broader “Optus Living Network” which the translation service is a part of.

Optus in-call translation service was first demonstrated in 2019

In-call translation has been in the works at Optus for a while now. Back in 2019, the telco demonstrated the service in Boston during the Red Hat Summit 2019 in Boston. Back then, Optus referred to the in-call transalation service as “Voice Genie”, and displayed its performance through a business conversation over the phone between different language speakers.

And even before that, reports show that Optus was working on the service back in 2016 with a different name – Optus.ai.

The initial demo in 2019 began by displaying the service’s transcription skills. During a conversation between two parties, one of them summoned Voice Genie to begin taking notes and the assistant began transcribing the phone conversation in real time.

Later in the demonstration, a business phone call between two parties who spoke different languages was translated in real time by Voice Genie. However, back then, that particular demo was pre-recorded, making it difficult to analyze the performance.

The new in-call translation service, powered by Google

After 2 years of silence, Optus has now announced that postpaid customers will test the in-call translation service on an expressions of interest basis. However, the telco did not refer to the assistant as “Voice Genie”, the name it used in 2016, referring to it as “call translate” instead.

Also, Optus has partnered with Google to power the translation service. Google’s involvement alone brings confidence to the service’s performance, unlike 2 years ago when it was only only demonstrated as a pre-recorded conversation.

The new in-call translation service will interpret conversations between parties that speak different languages. The translation will occur in real time, making this a truly unique feature.

According to Optus spokesperson Bayer Rosmarin, call translate’s purpose is to “break through language barriers for customers.”

She went on to point out how helpful the service can be by describing the following real-world scenarios: “Imagine you want your English-speaking child in Sydney to chat easily over the phone with their Italian speaking Nonna in Melbourne, or when English is a second language, consider the ease of simply booking a medical appointment or managing an over-the-phone customer service enquiry.”

The Optus Living Network

There’s a bigger picture here, more than the translation service. Optus recently unveiled their “Optus Living Network” which details the telco’s vision of where they want to be by 2030.

The ‘Optus Living Network’ looks into how the telco can offer services that give users as much control as possible over their services. Bayer Rosmarin describes the Optus Living Network’ as “unique features that enable the network to adapt to our customer’s needs, at their demand.”

Call translate fits right into that broad vision of giving customers control and improving services, but expect even more interactive features to roll out soon, especially with their 5G network growing daily and opening doors to a range of use cases. Frankly, it is exciting to see any innovation to phone calls at all, considering voice services have been written off as ancient tech.

Final words

We’ve seen Optus unveil great ideas in the past, but they don’t always follow through. The telco obviously has high ambitions, but they are sometimes stymied by a focus on too much process rather than on what the process is going to deliver. It seems like that has happened here, but perhaps it has happened in a potentially good way.

Instead of inventing their own translator, Optus have partnered with Google to perform the translation of voice traffic as it occurs. Perhaps bringing Google on board is the best move the telco could have made for such a bold innovative step.

Also, Optus took an additional 2 years to bring call translate to the public, after the first translation service demo in 2019. This isn’t really a bad thing – in fact, it is a good thing. Why? Because there are many of these ‘innovation’ ideas that are announced in a demo and then quietly die behind the scenes. Optus have stuck with this idea and they seldom make a decision on gut – there will be a lot of research and data which has informed the decision to deliver this to market.

It will be interesting to see who uses it and how often. 

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.