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HD Voice Really is Great

Dave Burstein

Listen for half a minute to a demo of a high-bit-rate codec and you expect they will transform our industry. The difference is like a CD with great headphones versus a little transistor radio. Suddenly, you realize just how awful the sound is on your regular telephone. Who wouldn't want their call to sound dramatically better was my first reaction. When Thomson and some of the cable folks discussed plans, I was enthusiastic.

Years later, nearly no one is taking advantage. That may simply be organizational inertia, ready to be broken wide open when a local carrier makes a big move. Both ends of the call must have the right equipment so you need to quickly build a large number of users. That's impractical for anyone but a carrier with a large base of customers. A Cablevision in Long Island or a France Telecom could make this work, I believe. They'd have to inexpensively offer a new phone and the service to enough homes that there's a good chance the person you want to call also has a high quality phone. It's easy to imagine that once you reach critical mass, somewhere between 20 and 50% of a region, everyone else would want to join. It would be an extraordinarily effective way to pull customers from competitors.

Or maybe not. A hundred million people have given up landlines for the inferior sound quality of mobile. A respected engineer writes "I have done quite a bit of work on "HD" voice. There were numerous projects at Bell Labs in the 1980s on the subject 7 kHz and 20 kHz voice were investigated perceptually. The big win was capturing the 3 formant in the female voice. The early results were positive for both 7 and 20 kHz sound and AT&T seriously considered bonded POTS lines and ISDN for business use. It never happened for a variety of reasons. Around 2004 I was involved in another serious trial. It was interesting that most people could identify the difference in 7 and 3 kHz voice, but there was not an overwhelming preference, In fact people under 30 had a preference for the lower quality sound. A few other people have reproduced this result. ... I've done a lot of work with audio and a bit with video. What amazes me is people will tell you they want "quality" and techies love to work towards it, but large masses of people really don't care as long as what is delivered is good enough."

If I managed a carrier with the data capacity, I'd jump in and give it a try. New customers are hard to acquire in telecom, mostly a saturated market, and this would be a real differentiator. But until we have results from a couple of large efforts, we can't be sure. The potential is so large, most carriers should send at least one person to join Jeff and Dan bringing HD Voice to the forefront this week in New York. I'm chairing a session with the cable guys, some of whom believe offering far-better-than-telco-quality-voice will be their trump card.

By Dave Burstein, Editor, DSL Prime Dave Burstein has edited DSL Prime and written about broadband and Internet TV for a decade. Visit Page
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Good Luck With That John Berryhill  –  May 24, 2009 12:19 PM PDT

US Pat. No. 5,195,132, "Telephone network speech signal enhancement"

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