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8×8 gets ready for HD communications

Business VoIP provider 8×8 is getting ready for the introduction of high-quality voice services sometime in the near future. The company anticipates deploying the G.722 codec in a firmware push to its over 16,000 customers, with the exact timing and business model to be determined.

“[High quality voice] would just simply be a firmware upgrade we would push to the phones, ” said Huw Rees, VP Business Development, 8×8. “We’re deploying Aastra 67 series phones… the acoustic cavity provides better than the standard 3 KHz frequency response and has much better audio characteristics. So we’ve got a nice high-quality full-duplex speaker phone and we want to deploy a codec better than G.711 or G.729.”

8×8 is currently testing the G.722 wideband codec internally for IP-to-IP calls and is also reviewing a few other codecs to “see if something sounds even better,” said Rees. “The nice thing is G.722 doesn’t use a lot of bandwidth, but it sounds very good.

Implementation for testing has so far gone smoothly. “It took about 3 days to get it up and running and working,” Rees said. “We were quite surprised.”  Since 8×8′s call handling software already handles different media types for audio and video, it is a matter of making sure both sides of the call use the “highest common denominator.”

The exact timing of the roll out has yet to be determined. “I don’t have a schedule yet,” stated Rees. “My gut feel is sometime this year, that’s a guess… We’re cautious in terms of doing firmware upgrades and doing as few as possible on an annual basis, but we have the mechanisms in place to have hundreds of thousands of endpoints upgraded in providing services. We’ve got the process down, but there’s always little ‘gotchas’, so you don’t want to do [firmware upgrades] too often.  We may be ready to do it next month but hold off until we have something else we need to push to the phone as the same time.”

G.722 will likely be introduced in a more “controlled” release to make sure customers and the network are not adversely affected; the codec will require some additional bandwidth.

Another area 8×8 is examining is the justification/business model for deploying HD. “Where the pricing thing comes in, is this something you charge for or is this something you provide to make the service ‘sticky’ ?” Rees said. “It’s potentially a churn reducer. When someone gets used to this type of service, is that something they would every want to give up? Probably not.”

HD interoperability with other carriers is something 8×8 is “philosophically on board” for, but past efforts with vanilla VoIP exchange have been difficult. “The issue in the past has been is the effort worth the final reward?” Rees commented. “Just the number of [VoIP] providers, the probability of talking to another compatible service provider, having a compatible codec, the percentages start to multiple… there’s been a lot of initiatives with ENUM data bases… Someone … needs to pull it all together. We’d be very happy to participate if there’s any real benefit.”

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