* Sales to more than triple annually
* Sees breakeven in first year
* Service does not require Internet or new software
* Lexifone working with BT, Telefonica
By Tova Cohen
TEL AVIV, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Israeli group Lexifone, which provides automated voice translation from any phone, expects to more than triple sales annually in its first few years of operation, its CEO said.
The company, which launched its service a few weeks ago, can transmit and translate calls to over 100 countries in 15 languages and dialects.
"Our original plan was for annual growth of 200 percent," co-founder and CEO Ike Sagie told Reuters. "The way we see market acceptance and the way we see the market welcoming the technology I think we have the potential for growing faster than that. Some of the contracts we are negotiating now already have those numbers in one deal."
While the company had expected sales of $1 million in its first year, Sagie now thinks the number will be much higher with the company breaking even in its first year.
"With this product we change the way people communicate. It is about people and not technology," said Sagie, an expert in computational linguistics who used to work for IBM Research Labs.
Lexifone is already working with BT Group and Telefonica to offer its service to their customers, and is discussing a pilot with AT&T in Texas. It is also in talks with the United States government and will shortly launch in Mexico.
The firm buys up minutes of phone time from operators so customers using its service are billed only once, by Lexifone.
The service requires an access number that must be dialled but no Internet connection or software installation is needed. Callers say a sentence in their own language and this is translated and transmitted in the language chosen. Callers can also check that the right words were translated.
Sagie's son Itay, vice president of sales, said for a business customer the translation is close to 100 percent accurate. For personal conversations, if someone uses a lot of slang the translation would be less accurate but there is a learning mechanism that improves accuracy over time.
The price including the call ranges from 25-40 cents per minute for those buying $10 worth of prepaid calls and drops to 15-20 cents for monthly packages of $20-$200, Itay Sagie said.
The human interpreter industry is estimated at $14 billion a year, with the cost running about $4 a minute, he said. The global market for outsourced translation technology will reach $33.5 billion in 2012, according to market research firm Common Sense Advisory.
Sagie, who took the company Attunity he co-founded public on Nasdaq in 1992, believes Lexifone could be of particular value to call centres. It could also be used in hotels to translate calls between guests and the reception.
Lexifone is backed by Intertainment Media of Canada, which paid $2 million for a 25 percent stake in the company and has an option to buy the rest for an undisclosed price.
"I believe we will have enough revenue to sustain ourselves but if we want to expand in a major way quickly we would need to raise more money," Itay Sagie said.