Will Cable Finally Play Its Home HD Voice Card?

By Doug Mohney May 30, 2014

AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile are all putting HD voice into production, with Verizon saying it will do so sometime by the end of the year.   Since cellular carriers are now educating consumers on HD voice, will cable companies finally bring a broadband offering to the home this fall?

The cable industry has been preparing for HD voice for years.  Formulation of the PacketCable standards for HD voice started in 2009 with the latest definitions released in August 2012. Specifications cover everything from in-network transmission to CPE support of both wired analog HD voice hardware and DECT CAT-iq 2.0 wireless phones. G.722 is the supported HD voice codec under PacketCable, with voice moving via SIP regardless of the customer CPE.

Comcast has long been advocating HD voice behind the scenes, engaging with all of its vendors to push HD voice support on gateways and phones.  Its executives talked about HD voice service as early as 2010 and 2011. Sources within the industry say the cable company had deployed firmware across its customer gateways to support HD voice over a year ago in conjunction with other network upgrades.  Vendors such as Intel and Technicolor have reportedly had extensive talks with Comcast on its requirements to support HD voice.

However, no cable company has ever moved to deploy HD voice service beyond its business offerings.  Sources have cited two main problems for delays, legacy network gear and customer CPE.  Between acquisitions and upgrades, cable operators (like their telco competitors) have a lot of legacy gear within the network.   Upgrading to DOCSIS 3.0/3.1 equipment and gigabit Ethernet speeds has enabled operators to get rid of the disparate gear and all of its quirks.  Most, if not all, cable networks are likely HD voice ready/capable at point in time.

Customer CPE has been the bigger source of angst.  Cable operators have a variety of views on what equipment to stock and where customers should get it. One camp has pushed analog HD phone support, complete with a handset connected with a cord to the cable CPE device -- a simple solution resulting in few configuration headaches and support overhead for the cable operator, but effectively tethering the customer to a single location in the home.

DECT CAT-iq 2.0 is the wireless solution embraced by CableLabs, but support within cable customer CPE has only arrived within the past year or so.  It's also more expensive.  A CAT-iq 2.0 cable gateway should be able to support third-party CAT-iq 2.0 cordless phones from any manufacturing meeting specifications, but customers have to be educated to look for an HD voice and/or CAT-iq 2.0 logo along with major retail distributors stocking the gear.

At this point, cable HD voice deployment to consumers is down to marketing.   Comcast is currently pushing its Xfinity platform and could offer HD voice as advantage over AT&T and Verizon broadband offerings.  It could also roll out the service to highlight its technology savvy and raise its stock a bit in promoting a merger with Time Warner. Or, it could wait another two to four years.  There's no telling what will get Comcast in gear to deploy HD voice on its network.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing Editor

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