People with hearing or speech impairments can now hold faster, more fluent telephone conversations thanks to a 'next generation' text relay service, which is now available.
Text relay enables people with hearing or speech impairments to communicate with others over the telephone. A relay assistant acts as an intermediary to convert speech to text, and vice versa for the two people in conversation.
In October 2012, Ofcom decided that an improved text relay service must be made available to UK users, allowing them to have more natural conversations and easier access on a wider range of mainstream devices, such as PCs, laptops, tablet computers and smartphones.
The new service has been developed by BT, but all landline and mobile telephone providers are making it available to their customers.
Ofcom has today published a new consumer guide to text relay to help users make the most of the additional benefits offered by the 'next generation' service.
Research among users of the old text relay service found that callers were frustrated by their inability to interrupt and hold 'real time' conversations. Users also reported that the speeds of conversations were generally slow, as callers had to take turns to speak or type.
Ofcom therefore worked closely with disability stakeholders and industry to ensure that a 'next generation' text relay service delivers an improved experience to its users. The main improvements are:
Ofcom told all UK landline and mobile providers that they must give their customers access to an enhanced text relay service by 18 April 2014.
Ofcom approved BT's service, called the 'Next Generation Text Service', earlier this year after assessing it against detailed criteria and performance targets. These include minimum requirements covering staff training, service performance, technical resilience and complaints handling.
Disappointingly, BT missed the April deadline for launching the service after its testing revealed technical problems relating to the connection of emergency calls.
BT has now resolved this issue and has reported to Ofcom that it is fully confident that the service is working as it should. Ofcom is investigating the reasons for BT's delay in providing the new text relay service to its customers and expects to publish its conclusions later this year.
Ofcom will monitor the new text relay service to ensure it meets the required standards. Ofcom has also commissioned research to compare the current and new relay service and will monitor developments in speech recognition technology. This may support further improvements to text relay services in the future.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer and Content Group Director, said: “We're pleased that hearing and speech impaired customers can finally start to benefit from the new 'next generation' text relay service.
“The enhanced service delivers real improvements to the text relay experience, allowing users to have conversations more easily and fluently. We'll monitor the performance of the new service to ensure it meets our expected standards.”