HD Voice: More than Mobile, LTE

By Doug Mohney April 26, 2012

The U.S. media has recently "discovered" HD voice with Sprint's announcement to deploy the service in 2012 as a part of its CDMA upgrades. (Good for Sprint!) However, a lot of people think HD voice is all about mobile and/or Voice over LTE (VoLTE). It's not and a few wakeup calls are coming as people want/demand the same quality across all voice communications.

HD voice on HSPA networks has been rolling across Europe and extending into parts of Asia, Africa, Canada and the Caribbean. It's been here, it's not some shiny new tech and the real question publications haven't been asking: Why haven't AT&T and T-Mobile USA deployed the same technology on their HSPA network?

Seriously, Bell Canada can figure it out, but AT&T can't on its "4G" HSPA network? (T-Mobile USA gets a partial pass because of the chaos inflicted upon it when AT&T tried to buy them). This is a great example demonstrating there's not enough healthy competition in the U.S. mobile market in comparison to Europe or practically anywhere else in the world.

When it comes to LTE rollouts, I confess I've been a little behind the curve. VoLTE will deliver the same HD voice quality as HSPA networks. The two mobile network technologies use the same underlying voice codec, AMR-WB. There are a frightening number of LTE networks being deployed or in planning, with VoLTE service following shortly thereafter.

The bottom line is mobile is leading the wave of HD voice adoption at this point in time. But what about when people start asking for it on their business and residential phones?

Business HD voice is an easy, yet complicated answer. G.722 – the grandfather of HD voice codecs – is built into nearly every business IP phone and soft client shipping today.   The easy part is a lot of IP PBX infrastructure already supports and/or is running G.722-based HD voice and anyone serious in the business cloud/hosted voice/UC space offers HD voice as a standard feature.

Transcoding – in effect translating – between G.722 and AMR-WB HD voice codecs is where the complexity comes; throw in Qualcomm's EVRC-NW CDMA now used by Sprint and other CDMA vendors. in the future to make it more interesting. Service providers will be the primary source for transcoding between different HD voice flavors, but U.S. carriers haven't yet addressed when they'll support it.

Finally, you've got consumer HD voice. Observers of the cable industry are starting to take a few shots at MSOs for not rolling out a residential HD voice offering – all the more remarkable considering CableLabs website started published specifications for implementing HD voice starting in 2009 and 2010.  Comcast executives have been publicly commenting on HD voice for a while and privately nagging equipment vendors to deliver HD voice consumer CPE, but the company hasn't crossed the line into a large trial yet.

Businesses and consumer broadband providers may find themselves once again reacting to the "mobile effect," where a feature or product appears in the consumer world and then is desired in the workplace and home. Certainly, Apple's iPhone and iPad have brought apps and tables kicking and screaming to the doorstep of the business world. It is likely HD voice on mobile phones will do the same for businesses and consumer broadband services, stimulating adoption in both camps.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin

Contributing Editor

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