Feature Article

September 03, 2013

Five Important Things to Know About HD Voice (Today)

Do people want HD voice? Judging from the turnout at the "VoIP Voice Quality" session at ITEXPO in Las Vegas last week, the answer is an unquestionable "yes." More importantly, you don't have to pay anything extra to get it – but there are some hurdles involved before everything is all HD voice all the time, regardless of what network you are on.

First, HD voice is available on some U.S. mobile networks today, with all large carriers planning to fully support it by mid-2014. T-Mobile US turned up HD voice on its network in January 2013 and added support for Apple's iPhone 5 later in the year. AT&T says it will roll out HD voice support and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) later this year, while Verizon plans its VoLTE rollout in the first half of 2014.   All of these carriers and services use the AMR-WB codec for HD voice, including VoLTE. Sprint says it is rolling out HD voice now, but it has been promising that since last year and has yet to officially announce nationwide network availability. There's also the headache that Sprint is using Qualcomm's 1X Advanced codec on its CDMA network rather than the de facto AMR-WB standard. 

Image via Shutterstock

Second, HD voice support is already included in nearly all mobile phones. Google's Android and Windows Phone 7 (or whatever it is post Nokia-acquisition) incorporated AMR-WB into their OS releases last year, while the iPhone 5 officially supports AMR-WB.   BlackBerry also supports AMR-WB in its newest model phones. At the ITEXPO voice quality panel, Fraunhofer's HP Baumeister pointed out the "Full HD voice" AAC codecs are also available today on Android and Apple devices with a standards effort underway in the mobile world to incorporate AAC as a standard in the VoLTE world.

Third, U.S. carriers have talked little about plans and timetables to move HD calls seamlessly among their networks. Today, you can't make an end-to-end HD voice call between mobile carriers.

Fourth, as an individual or business customer, you should put HD voice on your "Must have" list when you draw up your next mobile contract and/or BYOD policy. You will get better quality mobile calls "on network" today with the ability to get better quality calls in the future as carriers interconnect for HD voice calling. Since HD voice is a feature enhancement on networks and handsets, rather than a (you pay more) service, it costs you nothing to put it on the check list. (You may, however, want to pay more for a higher quality handset rather than getting whatever is on sale this month; hardware does make a difference.)

Finally, how will HD voice evolve in the wired world? The Magic 8 Ball says "Unknown."  Higher voice quality on mobile phones may act as a "pull" to further adoption and interoperability of HD voice in enterprise and consumer worlds. HD voice via the G.722 codec is in just about every IP desktop handset sold over the past three years and every IP PBX-esque "cloud" service supports HD voice as a standard feature.   On the other side of the coin, there are issues with transcoding between the world of desktop G.722 and mobile AMR-WB and the desktop world moves slower than the frantic pace of mobile.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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