August 15, 2013
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.
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
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