This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility Magazine.
When you use Skype (News - Alert) or Facetime over good Internet connections, it sounds far better than any telephone call. It’s like being in the same room. This kind of HD voice quality has been part of high-end videoconferencing systems for decades. It’s much more affordable now but, although used by Skype since 2003, HD has been slow to penetrate the rest of telephony. Yes, there are enterprise PBXs with HD capability, some landline HD voice services in France and recently Sprint announced a mobile HD voice service, but these are small islands that don’t interoperate. Finally that’s changing, at least in Europe and parts of Asia.
There is a standard for Mobile HD Voice that is being adopted around the world. Today, more than 100 handsets (including the iPhone (News - Alert) 5) support Mobile HD Voice on more than 50 mobile operators’ networks in 38 countries. Subscriber counts are growing rapidly, projected to reach 400 million in 2015. Unfortunately, the U.S. is not one of the countries where this standard is deployed.
The winning standard comes from the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project). This group sets standards for the GSM community. Its HD standard, marketed a sMobile HD Voice, works on 3GSM networks (WCDMA and HSPA) and 4G LTE (News - Alert) networks. So far, it’s the 3G versions that have been deployed in 38 countries. SK Telecom (Korea) launched the first HD voice over LTE in August 2012.
Unfortunately, the U.S. will have to wait until 2014 or perhaps 2015 to catch up. We have two major operators with HSPA networks, AT&T and T-Mobile, but neither is supporting Mobile HD Voice. We have multiple operators deploying LTE networks (Verizon (News - Alert), AT&T, Sprint/Clear and MetroPCS), but only MetroPCS supports voice services on a U.S. LTE network and then just traditional telephony. Verizon has the leading LTE network, but its launch date for voice over LTE has slipped from 2012, to 2013, to late 2013, so far. Data services remain the primary focus for U.S. LTE operators.
This is sad for U.S. consumers, but it’s also a missed revenue opportunity for mobile operators. Mobile HD Voice is so comfortable sounding that average call times increase (as much as 50 percent or more).
The good news: We are likely to see Mobile HD Voice in the U.S. in 2014. Verizon says it will support HD when it finally launches voice over LTE. Competitive pressures will bring the others on board, so the U.S. should be contributing to HD subscriber numbers in 2014 and 2015.
Brough Turner is founder and CTO at netBlazr (News - Alert) Inc. (www.netBlazr.com).
Edited by Brooke Neuman