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Key highlights from France Telecom's HD voice deployment

Going over my notes from the HD Communications Summit last month, it is instructive to look at the European carrier most bullish on HD voice — France Telecom (FT).

The comapny currently has the largest documented HD deployment in the world having sold over 400,000 HD handsets to a VoIP customer base of around 6 million users in France — that’s about a 7 percent penetration rate at last report, but the numbers will continue to grow moving forward for a number of reasons. For one thing, HD calls are charged/billed the same as regular phone calls.  Any FT VoIP customer who buys an HD handset automatically gets HD service, with no activation required.

And HD support is being “baked in” to handsets of all shapes and sizes.  Last month Cisco reportedly was adding G.722 support to the firmware on its flagship small business handset.  Ooma is putting G.722 in its handsets for the home (OK, so ooma isn’t in France yet, but give them time) and other manufacturers are joining the HD voice club.

FT turned up HD over VoIP in its home territory (i.e. France) in 2006, and has continued to expand its HD footprint across its territories.  Spain began getting HD handsets for VoIP in the first quarter of 2009 while the UK and Belgium are getting mobile HD service.  As the third largest mobile operator in Europe, FT serves 123 million customers — there are a lot of customers to upgrade to HD out there.

According to FT’s research, voice quality is a key criteria when choosing a VoIP or mobile service.  Half of VoIP users would change providers (Vonage: Take note here) to get better voice quality.  In addition, 30 percent of non-VoIP users would siwtch to VoIP if it had voice quality akin to face-to-face communication.  Finally, customers want “mobile with the quality of a fixed line.”

FT says HD voice has had a positive impact upon retention; in other words, they are keeping customers, rather than watching them leave to cheaper alternatives.

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