A couple of recent reports augur bigger things for HD voice. Since I've been "in" the sector since 2009, I'm alternatively optimistic and skeptical about some of the data I'm seeing. I'd say the snowball is at the top to middle of the hill with mobile HD voice deployments. Putting a dollar value on the space is more problematic.
Good data is always provided by the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA, or www.gsacom.com). The organization's latest headcount lists HD voice deployments at 116 mobile operators in 75 countries. VoLTE (Voice over LTE) is up with 11 operators. If you want to play the statistics game, the number of mobile operators now offering HD voice services is more than 30 percent higher than a year ago.
The majority of HD voice operators—95—use 3G/HSPA-only. Nine operators are solely running on LTE with VoLTE. Two operators are only delivering HD voice on GSM while another 8 are offering HD voice on both GSM (2G) and HSPA networks. Finally, two operators use both HSPA and LTE to deliver HD voice.
Dig a little deeper, and there are now 29 countries with at least two mobile HD voice operators. "Interconnection between competing networks for end-to-end- HD voice calling is a priority," says Alan Hadden. Amen to that!
VoLTE is, of course, the future, both for HD voice and for the cellular world. The latest LTE headcount gives 71 operators that are investing in VoLTE studies, trials or deployments, including the 11 that have already launched. VoLTE launches is expected to reach 19 (that's another 8 carriers on deck) by the end of 2014, with a doubling (38) by 2015.
But statistics alone don't tell the whole story. A look at HD voice deployments since June provides a better window. NTT DoCoMo launched VoLTE, Vodafone turned up HSPA HD voice service in the Netherlands and the UK, Telenor (finally) turned up Denmark, while Verizon wireless quietly launched VoLTE only a week ago. Larger carriers are moving towards VoLTE, while Vodafone and Telenor are playing catch up with other carriers in Europe. Orange's deployment in Poland can be called "fill in," since Orange has led the way on mobile HD voice.
VoLTE deployments are also worth examining. Multiple carriers in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States have all launched VoLTE, so the technology is more than a science project. I'm willing to bet other Japanese carriers launch VoLTE service sooner rather than later, since the trend seems to be if one carrier has gone VoLTE, most of the others have to follow soon after.
How much money is involved with HD voice? MarketsandMarkets estimates the global HD voice market to be around $815.5 million today and forecasts it going up to nearly $2.3 billion in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent. North America is expected to be the largest market in terms of size, while Europe and Asia-Pacific "are expected to experience an increase in market traction during the forecasted period."
I'm skeptical about putting dollar amounts on HD voice. Five years ago, pundits and the companies that paid them were yakking about the ability of HD voice to drive new revenues because people would (allegedly) pay for better service and it would drive more billable voice minutes. Both assumptions have proved to be false, with the latter killed off by a combination of text messaging, email and unlimited calling plans. There are a lot of unknowns in the HD voice world, including how broadband-based IP phone "islands" will interact with the larger world of mobile HD voice.