Feature Article

May 10, 2012

HD Voice at CTIA: Sprint Wins, Everyone Else Not Playing

Looking over the news this week from CTIA's annual meeting, I am a bit gobsmacked (as the Brits would say) on the lack of mobile HD voice news. Sprint is reaping serious mileage out of its HD voice talk, while nearly all other U.S. service providers aren't even showing up. 

Sprint's HD voice PR win is all the more ironic, given commentary at News.Com indicating the company meetings are taking place off-site at CTIA, rather than having a large on-floor presence.   Given the biggest HD voice things Sprint did at CTIA were to announce pricing on the HTC EVO 4G LTE phone, availability, and clarification on service pricing and availability, it's all the more amusing/frustrating/interesting.

The HTC EVO 4G LTE phone is available to pre-order now – the doors quietly opened May 7 --  and will be available starting on May 18. Sign a two year contract and it's available for $199.99, but I suspect most people won't be rushing to pick it up. It's a great phone, but its two most powerful features aren't available to nearly all the country.   Sprint says its LTE service will only be available in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City and San Antonio by mid-2012 while 3G CDMA HD voice service is listed as "future" and "late 2012."

Sprint's clarifications on HD voice service boil down to two points. HD voice calling will be at no extra charge; industry practice around the world, regardless of network or pre-pay/post-pay. And "HD voice capability" is defined as a call between "two HD Voice capable handsets on an HD voice capable Sprint network." Again, it's no different than what's going on around the world today, except it will happen in the U.S. so all the American-centric pubs are treating this like it's some fabulous news and/or because news from CTIA isn't all that great.

Verizon Wireless could have used CTIA as an opportunity to point it will support HD voice via Voice over LTE (VoLTE) when it rolls out VoLTE starting later this year, but didn't. MetroPCS could have said it will have HD voice when it deploys VoLTE in the second half of 2012, but it didn't. To be fair, the company might have been too busy on merger talks with Deutsche Telekom regarding T-Mobile USA.

Instead, the only HD voice speculation was around Leap Wireless and subsidiary/marketing brand Cricket. Media coverage underlined Leap's commitment to 1X Advanced CDMA technology, initially announced back in January. All of Leap's new phones will support 1X Advanced; already the Huawei Mercury already supports 1X Advanced. However, Leap/Cricket hasn't said if it will enable HD voice service, or choose to squeeze more voice and/or RF spectrum capacity out of its existing spectrum by using the CDMA upgrade. 

In combination with Qualcomm's EVRC-NW codec, 1X Advanced allows a carrier to either run an HD voice call in the same spectrum required for a narrowband call today or it can stick with narrowband using the more efficient codec, freeing up spectrum for either more voice calls or data.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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