A couple of stories floating around this week seem to be second-guessing the mass-market arrival of HD voice into the telephony world, more specifically Sprint's (News - Alert) introduction of HD voice to the U.S. mobile market.
But HD voice has been around for decades – like the internet before it became The Internet. It's time to turn back the clock a couple of decades and examine HD voice in the context of these technologies, such as ISDN and point-to-point videoconferencing.
When I was young, working for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) called DIGEX in the mid-90s, Bell Atlantic (now Verizon (News - Alert)) was trying to foist this shiny new technology called ISDN upon its customers. ISDN had been defined in 1988 and offered a mix of voice and data services over PSTN, delivering up to 128 Kbps of data and digital voice using G.722 – the baseline standard for HD voice delivery.
ISDN sounded wonderful for its data capabilities, since everyone was rushing to get onto this new fangled thing called "The Internet" and visit all those free "World Wide Web" sites. Higher quality voice was kind of an afterthought, with Bell Atlantic reps having problems articulating just how much better an ISDN phone call was over PSTN service. Sound familiar?
But there was a very big catch to ISDN: it was a nightmare to install for most U.S. phone companies, requiring specialized equipment both within local phone company network and at the customer end, plus specialized knowledge by the service provider installer if anything went wrong or was out of spec.
The net-net here is ISDN was too much of a challenge to install on any large scale by U.S. phone companies, so its' wonderful capabilities never reached critical mass in any market other than the broadcast industry and point-to-point videoconferencing. The broadcast industry demanded high-quality voice, so it uses a single ISDN line or multiple ISDN lines "bonded" together to establish the connections it needed for remote broadcasts.
Videoconferencing systems, such as those delivered by Polycom (News - Alert), utilized multiple ISDN lines to establish point-to-point connections.
We do everything using IP and high-speed broadband today, because the Internet allows users to connect to anyone anywhere (more or less) in a seamless fashion. Deploying HD voice over mobile networks – LTE (News - Alert) or otherwise – offers a vast advantage in end-user adoption for one simple reason: Mobile phones have a shorter lifespan than other types of consumer hardware, due to wear, tear and battery life. The Apple iPhone (News - Alert) family practically has an end-of-life self-destruct date built in based upon the endurance of its lithium battery, and the fact you can't easily crack the case to drop in a new one.
Consumer tastes and trends also help in "refreshing" and rolling in new technology, with younger generations wanting the hottest phone and older ones ultimately shifting to newer phones due to a combination of worn-out hardware and seeing what the kids can do.
HD voice is arriving to the U.S. on mobile phones first, simply because there are fewer hardware headaches, along with a critical mass that will be rolled in within a two to three timeframe, as old phones are replaced by newer ones. As this happens, you'll see that deployment pull more broadband HD voice in the business community as companies want to talk in HD for interactions with customers and employees.
"HD Voice 2012: Proliferation," a similar report on the HD voice ecosystem, is available for purchase through TMCNet here.
Edited by Braden Becker