BARCELONA, Spain – One of the two top U.S wireless carriers in the United States – Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel Corp. – is testing an image-recognition technology that would allow marketers to connect directly to cellphone-toting consumers without relying on barcodes and other such interactive-marketing services, according to an Alcatel-Lucent executive.
Indeed, Alcatel-Lucent’s new service, dubbed “Mobile Enhanced Reality,” hopes to use video-calling technology to connect wireless users with advertisers via virtually any marketing image, from movie posters to magazine ads.
Wireless operators “are really interested,” said Stephane Saada, product manager for APPD/Multimedia & Ventures for Alcatel-Lucent.
Saada declined to say which of the two U.S. wireless providers was testing the service.
However, Alcatel-Lucent’s Saada said the fact that a carrier is testing the service doesn’t necessarily indicate an imminent commercial rollout. Indeed, perhaps the main obstacle to such a service is the sluggish rollout of video calling in the United States.
Although AT&T Mobility offers a type of video calling – where one caller can see the video stream from another – Saada said carriers in Europe have implemented two-way video calling over their 3G networks, a service that relies on a video-calling network standard. Such video-calling services allow both participants in a call to see the video stream from the others’ cellphone.
Interestingly, Saada said most European network operators are not charging extra for the service, in an effort to stoke the video-calling market.
“We’re talking about small starts here,” he said, explaining that Alcatel-Lucent is still in the very early stages of introducing its “Mobile Enhanced Reality” service to operators.
That said, the service brings a number of interesting technologies into the wireless marketplace.
Under Alcatel-Lucent’s “Mobile Enhanced Reality” scenario, a marketer would insert a note into its print advertising campaign urging shoppers to take a video call of the image. Once the call is placed, an image-recognition server would kick in and match the streamed image to one previously uploaded by the advertiser. If the two matched – as they routinely did in Saada’s demonstration of the service – a computer server would send the caller a bit of content as outlined by the advertiser, be it a ringtone from an upcoming movie or an SMS-based coupon for a new hair-care product.
“The business model . is really innovative,” Saada said, explaining that Alcatel-Lucent could license the technology to a wireless provider, marketer or content vendor.
What’s unclear is how Alcatel-Lucent’s offering will fit in among the many barcode-based marketing services rolling out across the country and world. Such services rely on two-dimensional barcodes and picture messaging, technology that is much more widespread in the United States than two-way video calling.
Article updated Feb. 18 to correct inaccurate information.