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July 18, 2013

SoliCall Addresses General Purpose vs. Personalized Noise Cancellation Tech in Telephony Challenge

We all know the problem: When talking on the phone in a noisy environment we would love to have the background noise muted or eliminated so we are not distracted and the person we are talking to also can hear what we have to say clearly. An interesting company called SoliCall has been working on the problem of context-driven noise cancellation and the good news is that help is on the way in the form of personalized noise cancellation.

Using patented technology, SoliCall has developed a way to significantly improve audio quality in telephony.  The company’s personalized noise cancellation technology includes:

  • Server side/network echo cancellation
  • Noise reduction
  • Personalization
  • Automatic gain control

It offers “a unique voice pass filter that can be integrated in any phone system and in any voice call to improve voice quality on the network side of things or on (e.g. PBX, Media Gateway & Conference Bridge) or on the end units (e.g. mobile phone & laptops).”

Why is this so important? Aside from making phone calls more intelligible, the advent of mobile phone usage, which tends to be in noisy environments, has caused a lot of interest in improving noise cancellation technology. The challenge has been that general purpose solutions using sensors and multiple microphones to identify and separate the legitimate part of the call from the noise can only go so far.

In essence, general purpose solutions are not smart. They are not capable of capturing a prior information, i.e., they do not learn from previous experience and improve like voice recognition systems for popular interactive voice capabilities do. In even more understandable terms, this means as SoliCall points out the difference between music in a nightclub that needs to be filtered out, and music they you wish to have the receiving party here. The SoliCall technology, because it uses a prior information, learns the difference and applies it based on calling context. 

“The general-purpose noise reduction solutions are limited in their power. It is clear that there are physical limitations to the one-size-fits-all approach,” said Moses Benjamin, director of marketing for SoliCall. “In order to remove these limitations and take this technology to the next level, personal communications devices (e.g. mobile phones) should use a user-specific noise reduction technology. SoliCall’s personalized technology take advantage of personal voice prints and brings the next generation of noise reduction to modern telephony.”  

Image via Shutterstock

A walk down telephone history lane

For those who are unfamiliar, most telecom industry historians agree that the birth of competition in the telecommunication industry started with the 1956 Hush aPhone decision. Here is why. 

The Hush-a-Phone was a scoop that was attached to a telephone handset so the speaker could talk softly into the phone and not be heard by others. It was a non-electric attachment that had been manufactured starting in the 1920s. In the late 1940s, an AT&T lawyer saw the Hush-a-Phone in a store and decided to sue.

At the time, the regulatory regime maintained that anything that was attached to what it considered the telephone network broadly defined (and I do mean anything, including some years later AT&T argued that plastic covers on phone books should be included) could not be attached without AT&T permission.    AT&T brought suit before the FCC. It may surprise you but the FCC agreed that despite the fact that the Hush-a-Phone was not an electrical device, it did pose a technical interference threat to the network. 

Hush-a-Phone appealed the FCC decision to DC Circuit Court, and the court reversed the Commission stating that AT&T's restrictive tariffs were an "unwarranted interference with the telephone subscriber's right reasonably to use his telephone in ways which are privately beneficial without being publicly detrimental." [Hush-a-Phone v FCC, 238 F2d 266 (1956)]

It was that wording about being able to attach things to the network that were privately beneficial without being publically detrimental that was the spark that lit the competitive fire subsequently leading to the more expansive Caterfone decision regarding electrical equipment being attached) and ultimately in codification in Part 68 of the FCC’s rules. 

In short, history would never be the same, and it all started because people wanted something that they could use to make a phone call without distraction. 

While personalized noise cancellation is not likely to start a revolution, it is certainly not something that should be overlooked because it is not sexy. With all of the talk about improving the customer experience this represents a major leap forward for smartphone users. That is why personalized noise cancellation in general, and SoliCall specifically, command attention.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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