Orange launches HD voice in UK

Mobile operator Orange UK is really talking up its decision to be the first service provider to launch High Definition voice – an event the company is calling “the biggest advance in voice calls in twenty years”.

While all its peers are spending on data optimisation, the launch of HD voice is an interesting choice, for the France Telecom owned operator. But the company clearly thinks the technology will be a differentiator, especially for business users who wish to increase call clarity and filter out background noise when during important business conversations.

Orange conducted a poll of 1,000 business users in the UK and found that 75 per cent believe clear call quality to be the most important aspect of their mobile device; with 33 per cent saying they routinely struggled to hold phone conversations due to the noisy environment they work in.

According to the carrier, the arrival of HD voice is also hotly anticipated by the broadcasting industry, which believes that the service could reduce both its reliance on expensive ISDN lines and the need to ferry guests to studios for interviews. The BBC is trialling the platform as a low cost alternative to the traditional methods of live contribution for both its reporters and potentially for guests and to improve the sound quality for breaking news reports which are often conducted over a mobile phone.

But the catch is that the technology is not supported by all devices. The first HD voice supporting devices, both of which are already available, are the Nokia E5 and the Samsung Omnia Pro 5230. More HD enabled handsets are set to follow in the coming months.

HD Voice uses the WB-AMR (Wideband Adaptive Multi-Rate) speech codec, which benefits from a wider speech bandwidth of 50–7000Hz compared to the current narrowband speech codec of 300–3400Hz. The WB-AMR codec also delivers significantly enhanced sound quality whilst utilising the same network resources, Orange said, “making it sound as if callers are actually in the same room.”

But as Jeremy Green, an Ovum practice leader, pointed out, a HD voice user will only enjoy a higher-quality call if both parties have an HD-enabled phone – so calls to fixed line users, or to users with older phones, will still be in low-fi. “And until some tricky issues with inter-connection and inter-operability are sorted out, both callers will have to be on the same network. So the chances of actually experiencing the improved quality are not very high – it’ll just be a nice thing that happens sometimes, rather as poor-quality calls are nasty things that happen sometimes.”

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