Wednesday, May 7, 2014

With HD Voice, better call quality is coming

Cellphone calls sound terrible. And the quality of the calls over the years has grown worse, in contrast to the evolution of other modern technologies, degrading into bad digital shouting matches, stutter starts and misunderstandings.

The reasons for these bad calls are many and complicated and basically come down to lousy audio technology that breaks up and squeezes the sound of your voice into little bits and pieces. Then, as those bits get transmitted over a bad or congested carrier connection , some get tossed away or lost and what comes out the other side is garbled or incomplete, sort of like a game of telephone.

Hope always seems to be near. In 2010, next-generation phone networks were supposed to route calls without delays and require less of that squeezing. In 2011, those high-speed LTE (Long-Term Evolution, sometimes called 4G) networks were even closer, and they'd be combined with better phones that would, this time, really truly improve call quality.

But all that turned out to be a lot more expensive and difficult than the carriers had anticipated, and so they haven't done it yet.

Now, there's yet another call quality fix looming: HD voice. While the technology has some promise, I'm not sure it will arrive before most of us switch to Skype, Google Voice or give up calling completely.

HD voice is an industry term for a combination of better audio compression (the act of squeezing digital data to make it take up less space), a wider range of audio frequencies and phones meant for better sound and noise cancellation. HD voice expands the sound of a cellphone call from about four octaves to more like seven. That's closer to the sound of an actual human voice and to what we can actually hear, which is about 10 octaves.
The result is better-sounding calls, less background noise and hopefully less delay — quality as good as a landline , or better.

T-Mobile was the first American carrier to introduce HD voice on its network, first announced at the 2013 CES conference. It's running now, but with some major caveats. Both sides of a call have to have T-Mobile service, for one thing, and both must have a phone that supports HD voice. Oh, and it can't just support HD voice, it has to support the specific compression program the carrier is using.

Phones that have all that technology include the iPhone 5 and newer iPhones, the Samsung Galaxy S3 and new versions, the HTC One line and a few others. That's a popular lineup, so if you have a family plan on T-Mobile and you all have newish phones, you can enjoy high-quality calling, and you maybe already have.

Source: TOI

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