HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

NEW ORLEANS -- International CTIA Wireless -- Have you heard? Voice quality on smartphones is starting to get more attention.

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) was the first in the U.S. to announce inclusion of high-definition voice, on the High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) Evo Long Term Evolution (LTE), and Samsung Corp. last week unveiled the Galaxy III smartphone with a voice equalizer for better-quality calling. (See Sprint to Fully Support HD Voice in 2013, Sprint's LTE Evo Has HD Talk, No WiMax and Samsung's New Galaxy: A Data Hog Approaches.)

These improvements are more than just nice-to-haves. For the wireless operators they are a way to lure customers away from text messages and back to the phone call, maybe even to make up for the revenue lost to instant messaging services. At least, that's the big hope.

Salt SA provides some evidence that they may be on the right track. It was among the first to launch HD Voice in September of 2009, first in Moldova, then in 15 other markets, reaching 1 million customers. Orange says that hundreds of thousands of full HD calls -- meaning between two compatible handsets on 3G -- are made each month and that the figure is doubling every month. (See Orange Boasts HD Voice .)

It may be slight, but from January to July 2011, Orange observed a 3 percent increase in voice usage for customers who switched to a HD Voice handset in France and Belgium, a carrier spokesman says.

The carrier's users -- 96 percent, according to its own survey -- have so far been satisfied with the service, and 86 percent said HD voice will be a criterion of choice when they buy their next phone.

The wait for HD Voice
In Orange's 15 markets, those customers will have 46 different devices to choose from. In the U.S., it's slimmer pickings: Sprint's HTC Evo, and nothing else.

To get the full HD voice experience, both handsets must have the technology and be on the same wireless operator. Orange says that it is working on interoperability, both between VoIP and mobile HD voice, as well as between mobile operators. A spokesman says to expect all that by 2013. In the U.S., on the other hand, there's been no such commitment. Most of the wireless operators have plans to implement voice-over LTE (VoLTE), but there's been no indication from any, including Sprint, on whether that would be HD VoLTE.

It could take years to get enough support for the technology to make it worthwhile, according to 8x8 Inc. (Nasdaq: EGHT) VP of Business Development Huw Rees. 8x8 has been offering HD voice to its enterprise customers for the past two years. Rees says there's a lot of activity around the technology, which operates on the G.722 standard, but the pool of service providers using it is still too small for your HD voice call go through every time.

His take is that when HD voice reaches critical mass, it will be a draw for consumer or enterprise users who aren't happy with the level of quality they get today. And, it just makes sense to do HD VoLTE, he adds.

"It's like HDTV; if you've never seen it, you don’t get it," Rees says. "It's the same thing with voice; people are not aware of the terrible quality. Hopefully at some point, there will be a demand push, but right now, it's a supply."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:33:59 PM
re: HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

I'm surprised we haven't seen more of a commitment to HD Voice in the US. Seems like an obvious move alongside VoLTE. I don't think the two are synonymous though, so it'll take cooperation from all the operators to make VoLTE HD and worthwhile.

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:33:58 PM
re: HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

Yeah, and I wonder if landline erosion would get even worse if cell phone voice quality was better...I bet some people are keeping the home phone, because they can't rely on their cell phone.

Keene 12/5/2012 | 5:33:58 PM
re: HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

History repeats!  ISDN was supposed to be the future in wireline telephony providing high quality digital voice along with data services.  But most wireline carriers did not market it as such.  And the public assumed that phone calls were supposed to sound crappy.  Of course, wireline audio quality is typically far better than cellular.  Go figure!   The public's expectations have always been low.  Sigh!

I assume those who have experienced Skype or other VOIP/AOIP services are more apt to want better voice quality from their cell phones.

opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 5:33:57 PM
re: HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

If I understand it correctly, right now all these HD voice platforms are islands. Sprint uses a different codec from the business IP phones, which use a different codec from VoLTE.

So you only hear high quality voice if you call from one Sprint phone to another...that is, unless someone transcodes (converts) from one codec to another.

I haven't heard anything about anyone planning on doing this transcoding in the US. HD voice is not going to be too useful without it.

Flook 12/5/2012 | 5:33:40 PM
re: HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

Doubt if HD voice will reduce text messaging. People who do a lot of text messaging do it because they prefer to text than talk.

Flook 12/5/2012 | 5:33:34 PM
re: HD Voice: Can't Hear You Now

I believe you're right. Also, don't understand why 100% percent--instead of 96% of Orange customers did not say better voice quality would be a creterion in the purchae of their next phone. Heck, if a phone has better voice quality, why would ANYBODY not say, "Yeah, I'd like that with my next phone."

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