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The Magic Behind That Voice on Your Phone PDF Print E-mail
2007-03-15 01:32:07
Ali Çınar

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Connecticut- Every day, as we all know, millions of telephone calls to companies around the world are answered by a familiar voice message: "Welcome to such-and-such company. For English, press '1,' for Spanish, press '2,' press the star key if you know the extension you are looking for, and press '0' for the operator." What we might not all know, though, is that behind this familiar piece of technology, which has become a critical part of so many businesses and organizations, lies the work of a Turkish scientist and engineer.
 
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Dr. Mehmet Binal and his wife Yadigar.


Dr. Mehmet Binal is one of the most prominent names to be involved to date in the formation of the technology that has turned voice messages digital. Dr. Binal is the founder and CEO of the BICOM telecommunications company in Monroe, Connecticut.
 
BICOM is a company that works on everything from developing the foundation for telephone and fax communication, turning voices digital and then recording them, making digital voices audible, and coming up with technology which can interpret what certain telephone tones mean. In short, work done by BICOM is behind every sort of technology that  you might take advantage of after your initial "hello" on picking up the phone.

BICOM was formed by Dr. Binal in 1988, and has since been a leader in many revolutions in the telecommunications sector. BICOM's "signal and voice service" technology has allowed the voice messages, automatic operators, and call centers used by small and medium size companies to be integrated with telephone central systems. 

In the past, it used to be that the systems described above had to operate outside of the main telephone exchange, and were implemented with a special network card over a separate computer. This was not only more expensive, but it also meant that the systems were never able to be fully integrated into the telephone exchange's data base. BICOM’s special "In-Skin" enabling technology meant that these systems could be integrated into central phone exchanges, bringing the prices of these systems down, and allowing full integration into data bases too. 

BICOM, which has been among the fastest growing top 50 companies in Connecticut for the past three years, has seen its products receive annual awards many times from the famous technology magazine "Computer Telephony". BICOM's name first became well-known in 1989, after it signed an agreement with Fortune 500 company Philips. BICOM produced and marketed the Philips Speech Processing chip card, working with Philips until 1994. In later years, it turned the DSP technology which it had previously only worked with in connection with Philips into a general voice processing technology, and then began to market this to the general sector.  
 
BRINGING THE PBX SYSTEM TO THE GIANTS
Though technology was evolving quickly, BICOM was able to keep up, developing and producing new products. Putting together the chip cards it had prepared for infrastructures with computers, BICOM developed the PBX system.

This system, which effected a deep-rooted change in the classic telephone operation seen up until that day, rapidly became a boon for businesses. The PBX system worked like a telephone central exchange, but allowed calls to businesses to be made without having to be connected to any operators.

It also made it possible for co-workers to talk to each other at the touch of a button, for employees to connect through an outside line automatically, or for calls from outside the company to be connected to either a live operator or robot operator automatically.

BICOM signed agreements for its PBX system in 1996 with NEC, in 1998 with Samsung, Panasonic, and later with ComDial. Changing its strategy, BICOM left production aside, focusing on giving other firms licensing rights to sell its products. At this time, BICOM gave NEC sales rights for 15 of its products, and Samsung sales rights for 5 of its products. Since its formation until today, BICOM has granted licensed sales for more than 150,000 systems, with an annual average of 30,000 licensed sales.

STUDIED WITH A NATO SCHOLARSHIP  
Dr. Mehmet Binal graduated from the Advanced Degree Electrical Engineering Department of Istanbul Technical University in 1969. In 1971, after receiving a scholarship from NATO, he went to England to further his education in the area of telecommunications. After working at the British firm Eddystone, Dr. Binal returned to Turkey in 1976 and started working as an electronics researcher at TUBITAK-MAM.

In 1981, Dr. Binal went to work in Holland as a researcher at the NATO Shape Technical Center. When he received an offer from a Canadian company, BNR, his North American adventure began. After a two-year stay at BNR, Dr. Binal moved to a different Canadian telecommunications company, Voice & Data Systems, as a director.

Here, at one of the first companies in the world to develop voice message systems, Dr.Binal signed off on many important projects. When Voice & Data's technology was sold in 1985 to the Dictaphone Corporation, Dr. Binal took on the directorship of a new company, and moved from Canada to the US. Dr. Binal then took his place on a team of engineers who developed the first numerical computerized registration system. This new system, known as the DS700 system, made 800 million dollars in sales for the company. Dr. Binal was a large part of this success.

NEW PROJECT
Dr.Binal, who says that his company has no real competition since the market they are active in is so specialized, notes that despite the fact that voice message systems are not widespread in Turkey, without them US companies have a difficult time becoming successful. "Some of the companies which are our companies could, in their current state, enter the market and become our competitors, but it would actually be more profitable for them to buy production licenses from BICOM, rather than spending lots of money."

BICOM, which has a representative company in Austria, is working on joint projects with Karel, which set up the first electronic telephone central exchange in Turkey in 1986. Karel, which introduced PBX products to the Turkish market, became a leader in the sector when it passed from electro-mechanical communication systems over to electronic communications systems. BICOM-Karel is currently working on a multi-media internet-based telephone communications system which, when completed, will be prepare the company to enter into talks with other companies like Skype regarding products. BICOM also has its own research center in the Technology Zone in one of Turkey's developed industrial cities, Gebze, outside of Izmit.

RIGHT-HAND MAN AT THE COMPANY  
Dr. Binal's most important helper is his wife, Yadigar Binal, who has worked since 1989 as Vice President of BICOM in charge of Operations and Finance. The last name to join the business has been their son, who was working at IBM. The Binal pair has gained tremendous amounts of experience from the last twenty years of working at BICOM, but they note that the lack of firm laws in Turkey is discouraging people thinking of investing in Turkey. 

Dr. Binal notes that the research company formed by BICOM in Turkey has encountered many obstacles, saying "We hope to see immediate reforms aimed at encouraging foreign investors." Both Binals also complain that they are not able to find the same atmosphere of work ethics in Turkey as they are able to find in the US. Yadigar Binal is convinced that for women to succeed in a business world dominated by men, it is more difficult. She says, "But this general conviction can, when approached positively, actually be a motivator for women."

Binal talks about the danger of losing control from time to time in the fast changing stream of technology these days: "It's the case that even when you find yourself on a wrong path, with no return, you have to keep working and working until you find an exit, and this is very difficult."

(March 2007, 24th Issue)
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