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HD Voice: Silence Isn't Golden
Robert Poe

While network operators engage in an extended game of "Can you top this?" regarding data and video services, voice traffic has become a virtual afterthought for most of the telecom industry. Not only has innovation in voice services largely stagnated, but the case can be made that the overall quality of voice calls has deteriorated since the golden age of the public switched telephone network.

HD voice technology is aimed at reversing that backslide by improving the quality of voice calls. HD voice calls carry more than twice the range of audio frequencies of conventional phone calls. The resulting clarity of sound brings callers several benefits, such as the ability to actually understand what other callers are saying. So far, however, HD voice is hardly resonating with telcos.

The latest Heavy Reading Insider, "Making HD Voice Happen: Choosing Codecs, Connecting Islands," analyzes why the HD voice market has been slow to develop, and points to factors that ultimately will move HD voice forward. More than a dozen technology suppliers are pushing the HD voice cause, including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). The variety of vendors is actually part of the problem: Interoperability of HD codecs is a hit-or-(mostly)-miss proposition, which means current HD voice systems operate primarily as islands, usually confined to large enterprises.

To date, the main sources of HD voice growth have been hosted and Internet VoIP providers and enterprises. But it will take the involvement of voice service providers, such as cable telephony and mobile operators, to make HD voice a mainstream service. Such carriers have at least one good reason to take the leap: It will give them a clear-cut advantage over incumbent telcos, whose TDM-based legacy infrastructures cannot support HD calls. But implementing the technology will also cost them considerable time and effort. At present, Orange SA is the only big-name carrier offering HD voice services on a broad scale.

Our view is that HD voice is not likely to show up as a significant commercial offer until the end of 2011. When it does, it could put even more pressure on incumbent telcos, especially if cable operators figure out how to use HD voice as another lure to steal enterprise business away.

Robert Poe, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Insider

Making HD Voice Happen: Choosing Codecs, Connecting Islands, a 20-page report, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Heavy Reading Insider, priced at $1,595. This report is available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/insider.