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Get ready for high definition cellular and landline telephone calls November 3, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Fiber Optics, Telecommunications, VUI Voice User Interface.
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For over forty years, the quality of telephone calls has changed very little. The shift in the 1990’s from analog to digital cellular technology promised crisper quality, but the results never panned out. Struggling with 30% annual increases in cellular traffic, cellular telephone companies used the improved technology to add capacity, not improved quality.

Today the demand for cellular minutes is nearing its zenith, with mature growth levels of only 3% in the past year. Now the relentless advance of digital technology advances in cellular communications can be used for purposes other than simply packing more telephone calls into the cellular airwaves.

To this point in time, the big U.S. carriers plan to use their growing capability to provide all sorts of data services, but eventually, the cost of better sounding voice calls will be too cheap to ignore. Today’s carriers convert telephone calls into 6,000 digital bits per second, a tight squeeze and the major reason telephone calls sound so poor today. In the tiny European country of Moldova, French wireless carrier Orange has now deployed the world’s first high definition cellular telephone network, which uses double the number of bits per second. The highs and lows of the human voice are not so badly mangled using the high definition cellular telephone system.

In the U.S., chipmaker Broadcom is working on new equipment that will allow even better-sounding telephone calls. 32,000 digital bits per second will produce voice quality that is virtually indistinguishable from face-to-face conversation. The technology portends a clear audible improvement over not just ordinary cellular telephones but also landline telephones, which chop off high frequencies, especially above 3 kHz, the frequency range in which much human speech falls into.

Another big problem with cellular telephone calls is the annoying apparent lag that occurs between the moment when one caller speaks and the time his voice reaches the other person’s ear. Many people assume that’s an inherent drawback of cellular telephones, but it is not. Wireless digital cellular signals fly through the air at the speed of light just as they do in optical fiber – the delays come from slow software and circuitous routing. The new Long Term Evolution (LTE) gear set for deployment next year should cut that lag by at least 75%, so much that most human ears won’t notice it anymore.

Landline telephones stand to gain from the same quality advances as well. Orange has already installed 500,000 high definition landline telephones in Europe that use voice over internet technology (VOIP). When this style of telephone connection first hit the scene, it was roundly criticized for its poor sound quality relative to traditional landline telephones, but Orange and other carriers, some of whom are in the U.S. like Vonage, have shown that better technology can close that quality gap and then some. Both cellular telephone and Internet landline telephone calls may soon sound terrific as a result.

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