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October 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 10
Feature Story

Can HD Reverse the Decline of Voice?

By: Paula Bernier (News - Alert)

HD is the only growth opportunity for voice and will reverse the decline of voice usage. That’s the word from Daniel Berninger, CEO of’s Free World Dialup, which has launched a project called HD Connect to move HD voice forward.

Berninger says every other product on the market matches customer need and willingness to pay, but that important people like President Obama use the same voice services as everyone else, although he has the best food, the best transportation, and a really nice house. “It just doesn’t make any sense,” he says.

“Even if you think about the iPhone (News - Alert) and how compelling that is, that’s the same lousy voice,” he adds.

But that’s all destined to change with the advent of HD voice, Berninger says. Today HD-enabled handsets are already coming onto the market, he says. By the end of 2010 this will be a feature that consumers ask for, he adds, and by the end of 2013 everyone will have it.

That will be quite a payoff considering HD voice only exists because, as Berninger explains it, Broadcom (News - Alert) three years ago had some extra processing power on its chips that it didn’t know what to do with, so the company added an HD voice capability.

Like HDTV, Berninger adds, nobody is asking for HD voice. But HD Connect is working to create a need by educating both high-level government officials and the public at large about the benefits of HD voice.

And the benefits, of course, are crystal clear communications.

“If you talk to person you know, and then you talk to them on HD, your jaw will drop,” Berninger says. “It sounds like they’re right there with you.”

To put it into perspective, the PSTN samples voice at 8,000 times a second. But HD voice samples at the rate of 16,000 times a second.

Jeff Rodman, co founder and CTO of voice communications at Polycom (News - Alert), whose phones are all HD voice-capable, says the increase in fidelity enabled by HD technology can be particularly helpful during conversations in which the parties are not very familiar with one another, there’s a lot of background noise or a party on the call has an accent that may impact understanding during the conversation.

“It makes a surprisingly big difference now,” says Rodman.

He points out that the consonants at the edges of words have very strong bearing on meaning. Polycom’s favorite example illustrating this point is that the President might say he wants to restore “peace,” but at the other end of a phone it can sound like he’s asking for “cheese.”

The HD Connect To Do List

Address Interoperability

The group wants to make sure HD phones from different suppliers can communicate to one another.

Educate the Powers that Be

The organization is working to make policymakers in Washington, D.C., aware of HD voice.

It has asked the FCC (News - Alert) to convene HD voice players at a neutral forum to drive the market, which is what the agency did to create a market for HDTV, says Berninger.

Another goal is to get the White House to use HD voice for its hotline to Moscow. “We want some high-profile” case studies, he adds.

Become a Brand

That will help fuel interest in HD voice. In fact, HD Connect is meant to be a consumer brand. The first products bearing the brand are expected on store shelves in the second half of 2010.

HD Connect already has published the requirements of using the logo, but will not charge for that privilege.

But whoever’s in on a conversation, Rodman says, if the voice is not clear “you get tired of asking people what they just said.

“If you can restore that part of speech that was cut out you make the conversation much more lively, more interactive,” he adds, and the people conversing don’t get as tired.

While the first commercial video systems with HD voice, or wideband audio as Rodman refers to it, came available in the 1988-90 time frame, that capability is just moving downstream to the telephone. Rodman says that’s because delivering wideband telephony five to 10 years ago would’ve cost a lot of extra money. “But as time has come along the incremental cost of narrowband to wideband is going to virtually zero.”

Rodman goes on to say that as corporations move from old phone systems to regular IP phone systems they have to make changes to their networks to accommodate that and allow for QoS. Once they’ve done that for narrowband, he says, they can do it for wideband voice because the bit rates between older codecs such as 711 and 726, and the HD voice codec known as G.722, are comparable.

“If you are a company buying phones for your network today you really need to be buying HD-capable phones,” he concludes. IT

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