Next year is shaping up to be "the year" for mobile HD voice service in the United States. As I look over the industry event schedule over the next 12 months, it is helping to shape what I think we'll start to see and (more importantly) hear with new services.
When I say "Finally, finally, finally?" keep in mind HD voice has been around -- kind of like e-mail and texting -- for a long time. In the business world, it's been around for years in the form of G.722 and continues to make slow but steady progress as new IP phones, IP PBXes and cloud services replace legacy hardware. Consumer-wise, Europe has had HD voice for a while in the form of ISDN along with VoIP-based HD voice broadband services as a drop-in replacement for wireline phones.
But there's been no ubiquity, no critical mass defining moment where everyone wakes up and says "I gotta have some HD voice!"
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Europe is close to that moment. With over 60 percent of EU countries having access to mobile carriers offering HD voice and more countries having at least two mobile carriers offering HD voice, it's the best bet for the "gotta have it" moment. Add in consumer broadband voice services supporting G.722 -- a drop-in replacement for ISDN digital voice -- and Europe will be the first region to be "fully" HD voice as much as any part of the world can. (The qualifier here is that there's plenty of PSTN/POTS legacy that is being replaced over the next decade and it won't all happen overnight).
In the United States, deployment of LTE networks and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) will be the enabler for widespread mobile HD voice service. AT&T, Clearwire, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are either deploying or in the process of deploying LTE networks. When it comes to VoLTE, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have said they will have VoLTE deployed in 2013 --and I'm assuming it will come with AMR-WB wideband codec out of the box, the worldwide standard for mobile carrier HD voice. MetroPCS has deployed VoLTE with a narrowband codec and plans to introduce HD voice in the future.
We should start to hear a bit more about HD voice in January at the 2013 International CES. A number of handset vendors will introduce LTE phones with HD voice as a feature, Sprint may likely announce its latest-and-greatest handset supporting HD voice both in the 3G CDMA and LTE world, and the ecosystem of Bluetooth vendors will get the opportunity to slap "HD voice" on to their latest product introductions.
I expect a bigger splash on HD voice and higher voice quality in February at Mobile World Congress (MWC) . Everyone in the GSM community will be preaching the benefits of LTE and how AMR-WB is better than the traditional stock narrowband voice experience.
Both CES and MWC should be the background work for an LTE "celebration" of sort at the International CTIA Wireless Show in May. U.S. carriers will be discussing their LTE and VoLTE plans and progress at the show in Las Vegas, with "World View" country-specific pavilions including Canada (2 HD voice carriers), Germany (Deutsche Telekom), and South Korea (3 LTE carriers).
The big question in the equation is how broadband HD voice plays into the proliferation of mobile. Once people become used to higher-quality wideband calls on cell phones, will that lead to more "pull" of HD voice in consumer and business? The mobile world pulled through the concept of apps and the app store into general use, so it is likely there will be an impact upon the broadband HD voice world as mobile HD voice comes into wider use.
Edited by Brooke Neuman