by Anton Shilov
04/29/2010 | 09:42 PM
High-definition television, radio and video are realities. It is ironic that the telephone, patented in 1876 – years before either radio or TV – is the last of the three to get the quantum leap in quality that “high-definition” provides. However it is here at last, and according to a new study from ABI Research, about 487 million mobile subscribers will use HD-enabled handsets in 2015.
Unfortunately, there are still roadblocks for the high-definition cell phone networks, which is why this market is virtually nonexistent today. Growth of HD voice is expected to ramp up quickly in 2013, and then skyrocket starting in 2014. Why will growth be so sudden, and where will it start?
“The upgrade to HD voice is not especially expensive. Newer 3G networks – those deployed since about 2005-2006 – can already use the new format and require only a software update and a changeover to HD handsets. That is why HD voice, unlike most technologies, will first find traction in developing markets: Eastern Europe, Latin America, Middle East, and Africa. In North America and Western Europe, 3G infrastructure installed earlier in the decade must be changed to a new format,” says ABI principal analyst Fritz Jordan.
Considering that many operators are investing into 4G/LTE now, it may be expected that HD voice calls will be the primary feature of the next-generation networks, which are projected to arrive sometime in the middle of the decade.
One HD voice pioneer is Orange. Having done some deployments in Eastern Europe already, Orange is expanding coverage into France and other Western European countries. Orange clearly hopes that the improved call quality will entice more subscribers to talk longer.
“Vodafone will be watching carefully, will notice that Orange is picking up subscribers, and will likely follow suit,” said Mr. Jordan.
More than 900 million VoIP users already enjoy the clear audio quality of wideband voice on Skype and other Internet applications; they will come to expect the same from their mobile services too when it arrives.
“Price per minute won’t go up for HD voice subscribers, but it may not erode as quickly as for subscribers to conventional services,” said the analyst.
But while the prospects for HD telephone calls seem to be bright, operators will have to solve the problem of unexpectedly high traffic in their networks because of rising popularity of smartphones. In general, 4G networks already feature better spectral efficiency than current technologies and 4.5G/4.5G+ are projected to improve it even further. In addition, many operators – particularly in Europe – have solve the problems of poor quality of international voice calls. Finally, before the HD calls arrive, operators will have come to an agreement on how to charge for 3G/3.5G/4G traffic roaming.