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Voice search has been put on the map over the past few years with the advent of free directory assistance service providers, not to mention Google (Goog411) and Microsoft (Tellme) entering the space. These services are increasingly educating the U.S. mobile market that there is a better alternative to paying $2 for a carrier-delivered DA call.

“We’ve had 500 million calls since we started three years ago,” said Scott Kliger, CEO of Jingle Networks, whose 1-800-FREE411 was the first major free DA play on the market. “That’s three quarters of a billion dollars that we’ve diverted from carrier directory assistance calls.”

According to TKG data, total DA calls will grow from 4.78 billion to 5.9 billion by 2012. The challenge with free DA, like a lot of other things, is monetization. Much of this comes down to human operators, which have proved more expensive than advertiser demand levels have been able to support.

Both Kliger and fellow panelist Craig Hagopian, president and CEO of V-Enable, agreed that market factors are driving usage to levels where ad-supported models will be more attractive over the next few years. V-Enable also touts a higher-end subscription service that supports the cost of live operators with monthly fees. This involves cost containment through a hand-off to an informed operator only in limited cases where automation doesn’t satisfy.

Hagopian also contends that ad support will become more attractive as the aforementioned consumer education is combined with more general adoption around mobile local search. These will be driven by an increasingly sophisticated mobile market. The intuitive nature of voice also lowers adoption barriers, while advertiser appeal will improve as search volume and ad inventory increase.

This will happen through AT&T’s acquisition of Ingenio and as Google continues to push Goog411 in parallel with its Radio Ads initiative. Given that 411 and radio ads are both audio, they’ll have synergies and help each other over the perennial chicken-and-egg inventory issues.

In the meantime, early-adopter advertisers are valuing mobile touch points with users though voice search, says Kliger. Jingle boasts 15 million active users and 100 million calls per year. It has 150 national brand advertisers, 1,500 regional advertisers, and 120,000 local advertisers, which it reaches with sales channel partners such as Citysearch.

This is all offered in a targeted way based on age, gender, location and time of day. Jingle does this based on contextually targeting voice searches. V-Enable, being a search application on the mobile device, does this too but adds registration data to targeting ads.

“Seventy-five percent of users give us this information when they sign up, which has given us a 2x increase in advertising rates,” said Hagopian. “Combine this with targeting by location and time of day, and it can be a powerful tool for advertisers.”

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  1. Tried the new da service,1800411save. Found out that they have more services to offer aside from residential and business listings they also have government listings, search by a number or an address, directions,SMS, call connection and they have live operators.

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