While the U.S. popular media has finally discovered HD voice (an irony to be examined shortly), is this “The Year for HD voice?” Or will it be next year? I believe it depends on which part of the world you live in.
Mobile carriers in Europe, lead by France Telecom starting in 2009 and encouraged by Ericsson (News - Alert), have deployed HD voice across the continent. In many major markets, there are at least two carriers offering HD voice. It's easier to count the European HD voice have-nots: Finland, Sweden, and a rough line of countries from north to south between Russia and points west.
You could argue that Europe is having “The Year” this year, but the biggest point against it is the lack of interconnectivity and transcoding between networks to fully enable HD voice. France Telecom (News - Alert) is in the process of connecting its territories to deliver seamless end-to-end HD voice calls, but right now it's only available in country; for example, you can't currently have a mobile HD voice call from the UK to France between two Orange subsidiaries.
France Telecom is also working with other carriers to make sure you can have an HD voice call from end-to-end between them. Since it is sharing resources with Deutsche Telekom (News - Alert) on a number of fronts, making sure this happens soon is a priority with the company. The ultimate test of end-to-end HD mobile voice interconnection in the HSPA and LTE worlds will look something like making a call from France (Orange) to Australia (Telstra). France Telecom expects to have this done in the 2012-2013 timeframe.
Transcoding between mobile and broadband HD voice calls is also on carrier agendas, specifically moving between AMR-WB and G.722 codecs. Success cases here are being able to make a clean HD voice call between a mobile phone and an IP handset and with mobile and broadband HD phones dialing into a conference call bridge with HD voice quality preserved for all participants. France Telecom expects to have interop going by 2013.
If you look at all of this, you could assert 2013 will be Europe's HD voice “Year.” Figuring out when HD voice turns the corner in the U.S. is more complicated for a number of reasons.
If we use mobile HD voice as the yardstick for large consumer acceptance with the expectation of pull-through to the enterprise akin to tablet adaptation, U.S. carriers aren't really going to get rolling until 2013 with the current state of affairs. Voice over LTE (VoLTE) deployments with HD voice aren't going to start until the second half of 2012, between MetroPCS and Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless announced plans. Sprint's 3G CDMA HD voice is arriving in “late 2012” as well.
Things really start to swing in 2013, as AT&T and Sprint are expected to deploy VoLTE, with T-Mobile (News - Alert) USA and Clearwire bringing up the rest of the pack.
But there are some wild cards in the deck. U.S. carriers have been slow to roll out HD voice. You can find HD voice in places like Kenya and Uganda, but AT&T and T-Mobile USA have not deployed the software upgrades that would allow them to introduce the service in America -- the latter, a point Ericsson has not hesitated to underline. Both U.S. HSPA+ carriers could choose to announce and deliver HD voice on a much quicker rollout than 2013. We'll see if Sprint's announcement spurs them into action.
Speaking of Sprint, there's also the question of what/if/how transcoding occurs between a 3G CDMA HD voice call and one in the AMR-WB world. The EVRC-NW codec is a relative newcomer on the scene compared to AMR-WB and G.722, so Qualcomm and Sprint will have to line up more support so it doesn't quickly join WiMAX on the same quick obsolesce path.
Next week, I should be putting out my latest report, “HD Voice 2012: Proliferation,” in cooperation with TMC. We'll planning on some fairly aggressive pricing to get the word out and get people up to speed quickly on the ins and outs of HD voice technology.
Edited by Jennifer Russell