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December 03, 2009

VoIP Developer Feature: HD Voice, Video Connectivity Pave Way for Industry Growth

By Amy Tierney, TMCnet Web Editor

High definition voice and video connectivity are two emerging technologies that will likely have a significant presence on the telecom industry moving ahead to 2010, according to officials at a U.K.-based provider of enabling technology for the communications market.
While the technologies have far-reaching applications, both in the consumer and business sectors, a number of challenges still must be addressed for HD voice and video to reach their full potential,  according to Andrew Nicholson, product manager for Aculab, a VoIP developer.
For its part, HD voice offers users an enhanced audio experience, as well as enables new applications and more effective communication. But when it’s transported across networks, problems with the signal can occur, Nicholson wrote. And the inconsistency that often is present in network infrastructure can “seriously impair” the HD voice quality, he said.
For example, if a standard network connection between a caller and an HD conference service or HD endpoint has the highest quality and high-fidelity equipment, the signal delivered to users can only be “as good as the weakest link in the network connection,” Nicholson said. If the service provider guarantees that the full bandwidth required is available end-to-end, and the connection is never routed through a traditional TDM switch, then users can “hear” the true benefits of HD voice.
However, if the network connection transits an IP/TDM gateway, at the PBX (News - Alert) or in the PSTN, a conversion will occur to a traditional narrowband codec. As a result, the wider spectral content of the HD signal will be lost.
When Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, first emerged on the scene in the 1990s, the technology to encode voice into IP packets rather simple, Nicholson said. But when capabilities allowed network infrastructure to manage voice traffic differently from data, the results became unpredictable.
While things worked well in a LAN or intranet setting where excess bandwidth blocked some issues, sending VoIP across the public network was a risk until IP and TDM gateways matured. With the adoption of IP gateways, VoIP has become more mainstream.
Beyond network issues, HD has numerous codecs to carry the technology. It’s so large, it’s nearly matches the number of players in the market, Nicholson said. ITU’s G.722 series of wideband codecs is one example. Some Web-based service providers have adopted Skype’s SILK codec, where others use the iSAC codec from GIPS.
And if the IP gateways in the network don’t support the HD codec used in the endpoint, the systems reverts to narrowband mode, according to the Aculab (News - Alert) expert.
“For HD voice to go mainstream, the new generation of network devices must support the widest possible range of HD voice codecs,” Nicholson said. 
Video is not without its own challenges. While the technology has been around for years, it has recently started to build its momentum. Thanks to video sharing sites like YouTube, the technology is gaining ground, but the industry is looking to take a different direction beyond the desktop.
According to Nicholson, a number of competitive service providers have the capability to deliver video content to mobile devices, such as video clips, video messaging, video conferencing interactive voice and video response and video-enabled call centers. But transporting technology that requires a lot of resources to mobile devices with minimal bandwidth and limited processing power presents some issues, he said.
What’s more, the hardware and software standards, codec choices and screen sizes further add to the challenges to provide high-quality IP video to users.
For instance, mobile devices require a camera and screen on the same side to support video conference calling. Meanwhile, streaming and real-time content providers need to deliver content to screens and devices at specific frame rates, and the network must support transcoding of video content at a moment’s notice to match the bandwidth and display characteristics of the user’s mobile device, Nicholson said.
But there is some hope. Solid transcoding services have cropped up from Dilithium (News - Alert) Networks and Radisys, he said.
Like HD voice, the opportunity for network operators to address these challenges will propel video to become “a high-margin, mission-critical business application that customers will pay for,” Nicholson said. And while enabling gateways, codecs, transcoders and endpoints are beginning to crop up, challenges remain for now to bridge different networks that have varying capacities and capabilities, he said.
“For video and HD voice to succeed, service providers must recognize the fact that IP-based solutions are bound by the ability to traverse technologically disparate networks,” Nicholson wrote. “Investing in enabling technologies will not only pave the way for greater HD voice and video adoption, but will continue to pay off as more advanced applications enter the market.”
For more on VoIP developer content, check out Aculab’s channel on TMCnet.

Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering business communications Her areas of focus include conferencing, SIP, Fax over IP, unified communications and telepresence. Amy also writes about education and healthcare technology, overseeing production of e-Newsletters on those topics as well as communications solutions and UC. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Amy Tierney

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