HD Voice: Can You Hear Me Really Well Now?

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    Three things can be said about high-definition voice: It is being widely deployed by carriers, it is surrounded by a bit of uncertainty and good audio is a very important thing.

    The third point is important to understand. Studies have shown that audio is one of the big determining factors in viewer satisfaction. In short, when things sound better, people tend to think that they also look better. The high-end audio systems that come with home theater systems are proof that the consumer electronics industry understands the importance of what programming sounds like.

    Audio would seem to be even more important when it is the only thing that users are experiencing. That suggests that high-definition voice is very important for mobile carriers, and they indeed seem to agree. This week, Light Reading and other sites reported that Sprint is accelerating its rollout of HD Voice.

    At Oracle Connect, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said the carrier will deploy the feature across its footprint this summer. The story provides some context to HD voice and the nature of Sprint’s acceleration:

    HD Voice increases the clarity of a voice call across seven octaves, as opposed to the four octaves that many current smartphones support. Sprint seen some delays to the service, which it first expected to have available in 2013, it is so far only deployed in a few markets like Kansas City.

    Sprint is hardly first to the HD Voice party. FierceWireless reports that the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) says that HD voice is offered by 100 mobile operators in 71 countries. Eight operators have launched this year and there are 31 percent more operators offering HD voice now than at this time in 2013, according to the organization. The story lists the countries offering the service – Morocco, Oman and Sweden are new this month – the types of networks offering the service (four, with 3G/HSPA dominating) and other details.

    Of course, nothing happens in the world of telecommunications, especially something this extensive, without a bit of complexity and a touch of controversy. Doug Mohney tells the story nicely at Tech Zone 360. Essentially, the GSMA and aligned companies set a standard for HD voice, along with a branding and logo program, for GSM networks.

    Sprint and Qualcomm, however, implemented HD voice on another standard: CDMA2000. This led the GSMA to release an annex to the standard. The rub is that the HD voice calls between GSM and CDMA2000 networks must be transcoded. The story traces that and another issue, which involves the DECT Forum and another iteration of the standard. Thus, the HD voice standard has a somewhat uncertain status.

    It sounds, no pun intended, like a typically convoluted situation. It is likely that all the iterations of HD voice sound good. It also is likely that the marketing departments of the companies in the food chain, from chip makers to carriers and handset makers, want to present themselves as having HD voice. The question that will be answered over time is what precisely this means.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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