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Is HD Voice Really Heard 'Round the World?Is HD Voice Really Heard 'Round the World?

The GSA says HD voice is creeping closer to mainstream, but I'll believe it when I hear it.

Sarah Thomas

August 15, 2013

3 Min Read
Is HD Voice Really Heard 'Round the World?

The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) has put out a curiously optimistic forecast on HD voice, claiming that the high-definition technology is already widely available and will soon be mainstream.

That should be HD music to your ears, but I'm having a hard time believing it.

According to the industry association, 83 operators have commercially launched HD voice services on mobile networks in 61 countries, 84 percent more than supported it a year ago. In 17 of those countries, two or more mobile networks offer it. This is important to note because seeing the full benefits of HD voice requires support on both the network on which the call originates and that to which the user is calling.

Figure 1:

That's part of what makes HD voice so tricky. It requires support at the network level and device level, and it requires both handsets and both networks to support it. In case that's not specific enough, operators can support different radio standards of HD voice that might not interoperate anyway. So, if you have a HD voice phone on Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), not only can you not necessarily get a crisper call when calling a Verizon Wireless user, but maybe not even when calling another Sprint user if he's on a Samsung Corp. -built base station and you're on an Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) one. (See Sprint Delays HD Voice Launch to Q2.)

The tech uses Adaptive Multi Rate Wideband (W-AMR) technology to amp up the quality of the call, a codec that must be baked into new handsets, along with two microphones and noise-canceling software. The GSA says that the number of compatible devices has increased by 53 percent in the past six months to 245 phones from 17 manufacturers. However, it does point out in the fine print that some of these phones are operator specific or not available on all HD voice networks or in all markets or may require the W-AMR codec to be activated…

I am impressed with the number of operators and handsets supporting HD voice. It's certainly more than I thought, but numbers doesn't necessarily make a service viable. We are still a ways away from fulfilling the true potential of HD voice.

A lot of operators are looking to deploy it at the same time they roll out voice-over LTE (VoLTE), although the two technologies are not interchangeable. In fact, the GSA says that 76 of the operators that have deployed HD voice did so on 3G networks. Only two have it on LTE. VoLTE won't be common until next year or beyond, and the same goes for HD voice.

Even so, it is an important technology to keep an eye on. Sure, no one makes voice calls any more, you say, but maybe they'd start again if the quality makes them more palatable. HD voice promises to do that -- some day, soon, just not yet.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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