From the television to the telephone, high-definition (HD) makes images and sounds drastically clearer. Now, with HD voice, phone conversations will sound like they are taking place in the same room. Surprisingly, upstart VoIP players, and not the long-standing telephone companies and wireless service providers, are the ones turning consumers to HD voice.
Fist, Skype touted the value of HD voice, while Google (News - Alert) also recognized its value, and in May 2010, it paid $68.2 million to acquire Global IP Solutions (GIPS), a Norwegian VoIP firm.
"The Web is evolving quickly as a development platform, and real-time video and audio communication over the Internet are becoming important new tools for users," said Rian Liebenberg, engineering director at Google, at the time of the acquisition.
As consumer interest in VoIP and the HD voice capabilities enables expansion, the technology is forming the basis of the future for voice calls in the contact center. A recent Destination CRM article explained that IP telephony delivers lower costs, more flexibility, and more voice quality than traditional telephone services, which is why analysts predict that most contact centers could have the technology in place within just two years.
With the increasing number of call centers using voice recognition technology, the clarity of HD voice will improve the interaction with interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Voice biometrics, transcription, call recording, and speech analytics engines can yield accurate results with HD voice because the sound quality makes it easier to distinguish between similar sounding words.
Paul Stockford, an analyst Saddletree Research, estimated that 61 percent of contact centers currently have VoIP technology, while 13 percent are evaluating it. So, according to Stockford, the majority of the contact center industry is ready for HD voice.
"HD voice will eliminate a lot of the misunderstandings and make the conversation go faster. The agent wouldn't have to ask the caller to repeat himself as often," Jim Machi, senior vice president of marketing at Dialogic (News - Alert), an advanced communications systems provider, told DestinationCRM.
Additionally, there are a lot of business benefits. HD voice clarity allows mobile workers to make calls in noisy environments. Also, the technology enables clear voicemail playback, eliminating the need for the user to listen multiple times to understand a message. Specifically with conference calls over traditional telephone lines, participants struggle to figure out who is talking. Misunderstandings are common, and background noise can all render parts of the conversation unintelligible, but these problems are nonexistent with HD voice.
A Siemens study recently found that 97 percent of people who were exposed to HD and standard audio found a huge difference in sound quality with HD, and 91 percent expressed a preference for HD voice capabilities on desktop phones, while 94 percent felt that improving voice quality with HD voice would have a positive impact on their businesses.
HD voice accomplishes this clarity by using digital signal processing technology to capture higher-quality sound through SIP Trunks over a broadband Internet connection, which are less expensive than voice lines. Because HD voice works with a larger frequency, more sound waves and speech data can be squeezed into one channel. The wider frequency enables the speech to be clearer, capturing the natural inflections in voices.
As business telephone systems have adopted VoIP technology, support for HD voice has followed. Telephone equipment from major manufacturers now incorporates degrees of HD voice components, while suppliers of integrated circuits for telephony equipment include wideband audio in feature portfolios.
The challenge with HD audio, though, is that all ends of the phone conversation have to support it for any benefit to be achieved. Right now, especially in the U.S., most customers calling a contact center are not connected to an HD voice line. Currently, no U.S. consumer landline or cellular network is HD voice-capable. In April, Sprint (News - Alert) announced a HD voice rollout beginning later this year, while Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have laid out plans to add HD voice to wireless networks by 2013. HD voice-over landlines aren't being discussed just yet, and the U.S. cable industry has yet to announce an HD voice deployment, though Comcast (News - Alert) has come close.
Europe, on the other hand, is ahead of the rest of the world in its adoption of HD voice telephony. At the end of 2011, there were 39 commercial mobile HD voice networks in 31 countries, mostly in Europe, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association. Until the big U.S. carriers support HD voice across their entire networks, adoption in America will be fragmented.
That U.S. carrier adoption is slow, especially considering that research conducted by Skype which revealed that average person-to-person call duration can grow from 21 minutes for standard-definition calls to 32 minutes for HD voice calls. Since the sound quality is much better, people don't mind talking longer. Slowing the deployment of HD voice is what many see as a lack of urgency.
HD voice is "a low priority right now even among contact center operators,” according to the article. "There are a lot of other more important things to do to improve the customer experience and create a better customer interface before putting in HD voice."
And though there is some disagreement about the timeframe, technology experts agree that the switch from standard-definition audio to HD voice will happen. "As time goes by, we'll be all HD voice," Machi said. "Just looking at our business and how it's changed, it's vastly VoIP-driven already."