This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
Telecom has been slow to adopt wideband audio, now known as HD, but the advent of mobile HD will change everything. Today, mobile HD is just becoming visible in a few countries in Europe, but these are a leading indicator for the rest of the world.
From the earliest days of VoIP, wideband audio has been a potential VoIP competitive advantage, but early VoIP systems struggled just to reach toll quality so few were prepared to work on wideband audio. Skype (News - Alert) changed that in 2003 when it launched with dramatically better sound quality. From the start, Skype sounded like you were in the same room as the other person.
Today, Skype remains the leader in wideband audio telephony, but most PBX (News - Alert) vendors offer HD as an option, at least while communicating within the same PBX network. Unfortunately, most PBXs are islands of HD that only connect to Skype or to each other via the conventional phone network (with conventional telephone quality). Now mobile HD has launched in select European markets using a third set of (incompatible) standards. How could this result in any useful outcome?
There are two reasons why mobile HD will trigger the tipping point. First, HD provides a dramatic improvement in mobile voice telephony – much more than with traditional fixed line phones. Mobile calls have always been second best – noisy, distorted and with occasional dropouts. Mobile HD dramatically improves the mobile calling experience, providing crystal clear sound even in noisy environments and putting mobile quality ahead of fixed in most cases. Second, mobile is consumer oriented and ubiquitous. Consumers make the buying decision, not cost-conscious IT directors.
With mobile HD launched on the Orange (News - Alert) networks in the U.K. and France, we’ll soon be able to judge adoption rates and see how quickly the competition is forced to respond. (Several experts predict a competitive response in less than six months).
And as mobile HD becomes widespread, a whole series of business opportunities will arise. Since mobile HD, PBX HD and Skype use different voice codecs and different signaling protocols, someone needs to facilitate interconnection. Businesses may not care about connecting with other businesses’ islands of HD but, when their customers have mobile HD handsets, business call centers will benefit if they can answer in HD and senior-level road warriors will want to talk in HD with their PBX-bound colleagues.
Since the action is starting in Europe (the U.K. and France, for now), U.S. companies need to pay attention, or better, participate in EU markets. From a consumer point of view, this is the biggest change in telecom since the advent of mobile. For telephony vendors, this is a big opportunity.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi