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September 27, 2010

HD Voice - U.S. vs. Europe - And the winner is...

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

I've been carefully following HD voice over the past 15 months, so I was shocked to read a piece over at TechEye that said, "IP and HD voice had taken off in the States and in Asia but the U.K. and Europe has been slower to adopt."   It there is a race, Europe is clearly ahead in a number of metrics of HD voice, with the U.S. only starting to roll.

Let's start off with some basics. BT (News - Alert) has about 2 million HD-voice capable end-points deployed via their IP-based Hub service. Unfortunately, BT, doesn't call it HD voice and doesn't talk about its G.722 capable hardware; instead it's some wonky marketing speak about Hd-S/High-definition sound. France Telecom (News - Alert) has around 500,000 HD voice broadband subscribers running over their network in France and was supposed to add a couple more countries this year. There are also smaller independent service providers spread across UK and the rest of Europe providing VoIP and HD voice service, so I feel comfortable in saying Europe has at least between 2.5 million and 3 million broadband HD voice users in operation today -- not to mention two major carriers (BT, FT/Orange).

Compare that to the U.S., where the largest "island" of HD voice resides at Packet 8 (News - Alert), with about 90,000 to 100,000 business G.722 users on a single network, and up to a couple dozen independent hosted VoIP/ITSP service providers across the country with anywhere from 5,000 to perhaps 20,000 business end-users with G.722.   Compounding the problem is that the "little guys" are not publishing or talking about numbers of deployed HD voice end-points, so there's a lot of smoke and mirrors. A ballpark number would start at a conservative estimate of 350,000 HD voice endpoints (handsets), with a midrange of 500,000 and perhaps an upper-end number between 800,000 to 1 million handsets in operation and being used with G.722.

Clearly, Europe has a lot more broadband HD voice end-points deployed, documented, and in operation at this point in time.   However, Verizon Business is in the process of certifying its Enterprise ViPER VoIP "We don't touch the PSTN unless we have to" service to support G.722 by the end of the year, so the company will end up bringing a lot more HD to the table. Still, Verizon's only one Tier 1 carrier and it's only its business side, so BT and FT trump the major carrier count as well.

In mobile HD voice, it's not even a race. Through the efforts of France Telecom/Orange, mobile HD voice is turned up all over Europe, including Belgium, the UK, France, parts of Spain, Moldova and Armenia. SFR (News - Alert) is in the process of offering Orange mobile HD competition in France while other UK mobile carriers have made noises about matching Orange, but it isn't clear how long it will take for them to offer it.

At the Metaswitch Forum last week, executives there made it clear that "major carriers" in the U.S. are talking about HD voice support in the form of AMR-WB for voice on LTE networks, but there's no clear timetable as to when carrier-supported HD voice will appear on LTE networks -- or voice and smartphones for that matter, other than around 2011 or 2012.

Metaswitch is very gung-ho about supporting over-the-top (OTT) softclient voice on wireless networks, enabling CLEC/ILEC carriers to tie wireless services into wireline business services (i.e. the IP PBX and hosted VoIP) services.   It announced a big deal with CounterPath ( to do joint development, enabling the Metaswitch Class 5 softswitch and other Meta-software offerings to tightly integrate with Counterpath's Bria softphone client.   Bria is rolling G.722 support into its iPhone and Android (News - Alert) clients with release dates by the end of the year, in what company officials are terming "enterprise grade" softphone support.

About the only area where U.S. carriers may lead is in HD voice/SIP interconnects. The "major carriers" are discussing both direct interconnection and offering their own spoke-and-hub model aggregation services. Xconnect had a HD voice "trial" earlier this year, but the company has yet to publish follow-up statistics on the number of current participants, number of end-points/phone numbers served, number of minutes, and (the big one) paying customers signed up after the trial.

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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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