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HD Communications Summit: Analysis – Will international needs bootstrap HD voice?

There’s a very good case to be made that international communications needs will pull HD into both the consumer and enterprise worlds.

On the consumer side of the VoIP world, European carriers are leading the way with HD voice deployment. BT, FT, Telecom Italia and T-Mobile are all deploying HD voice in their networks and should be able to exchange HD voice calls amongst themselves by the end of this year.  And HD voice is being held out as a better way for communication when multiple languages are involved; the PSTN’s limitation of 300 to 3000 Hz ends up clipping out information listeners need to more thoroughly process voice, so if you speak English and listen to someone on a PSTN-grade (or worse, thanks to VoIP compression schemes and low-cost minutes…) connection who isn’t not a native speaker of English, there’s a lot of overhead on both sides to “fill in the blanks.”

For businesses, the case justification is relatively simple:  Voice communication becomes much easier with the additional information delivered by HD to listeners on either side.  When non-native speakers with accents become involved, the consonant clipping of a PSTN connection– magnified by VoIP compression and/or agitated by mobile connections in some cases – makes listening and understanding much more of a challenge.  A better quality connection means more efficient communications with less strain to all involved, so more work gets done and/or gets done faster.

Multinational businesses already on the VoIP/IP telephony bandwagon can roll out HD VoIP in a relatively seamless fashion, as HD becomes “just another app” on top of the existing infrastructure.  Since G.722 seems to be emerging as the de facto standard for business wideband, businesses arranging federation/peering-style relationships can talk to each other in HD and everybody is happy.  Look for the SIP trunking community to figure out a way to leverage this with an HD peering service or some other mechanism.  I’d also look for someone like Verizon Business to try to figure out a way to leverage HD voice within the enterprise community, but they’ll likely be slower to the market because they’re just more conservative.

North American carriers – be they MSOs or telcos – are currently all sitting at the top of the hill and biding their time, waiting for the pebble to start an avalanche of HD deployments.  Will HD calling prove to be the pebble — a quality service that North American customers desire to talk to their overseas relatives in Europe today and Asia tomorrow?  Will T-Mobile unilaterally try to roll out HD cellular service in the U.S. next year both as a differentor and to keep a consistent set of service offerings across markets?

HD voice pundits such as Jeff Pulver and Daniel Berninger would argue that HD voice provides a premium “purple minutes” service allowing service providers to charge more, breaking them out of the current downward spiral of yet-still-lower cost minutes.   To be frank, there are not a lot of other fresh ideas floating around in the phone industry today, so HD might end up being a natural migration path for an industry seeking ways to bring up ARPU any way it can.

International HD voice minutes might be a no-brainer to more revenue – assuming someone in North America tosses the first pebble.

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