Is There a Market For HD Voice?

Recently, we were asked by the Indian market research firm, Markets & Markets, to contribute to its report on the “HD Voice Market: Forecasts & Analysis (2014–2019).” Since Voxbone is known to deliver services to many OTT communications providers in B2C and B2B, we were invited to share our view.

The firm was also interested in our perspective given that our experimental iNum service supports HD voice and video codecs. When we received the invite, the first question that crossed my mind was, “Is there a market for HD voice from a wholesale telecommunications perspective?”

Of course, there is a market for HD voice technology in telecommunication service provider core network infrastructure and communication endpoints such as mobile phones. In 2012 Samsung introduced support for HD voice codecs (AMR-WB) with the Galaxy S3; Apple did the same a year later with its iPhone 5 launch. In 2013, the first mobile operators started trialing HD voice services with their customers. To date, HD voice communications has become a feature for mobile voice subscribers in several markets. Where HD voice is available, it is offered as a complimentary service. This is the case in the United States, where many of the major operators have started to introduce HD voice services. Sprint started early 2013; AT&T and T-Mobile followed later on a limited basis. Full roll outs of HD voice have yet to be started. In many markets, HD voice services are in trial, or have not been introduced yet at all.

So, what about Voxbone? We have had recurring requests from customers and prospects about the support of HD voice codecs. Despite the fact that our core network supports HD voice codecs, which we offer in the above-mentioned iNum service, our DID services “only” support call delivery using G.711 and G.729 codecs. Voxbone interconnects with almost 200 local telecommunications network providers – partly in TDM, partly using SIP trunks. Over the last years, we have asked several providers to which we connect using SIP if they could add support for HD voice codecs. So far none have been able to answer positively.

Why? The reason is simple. HD voice services are not supported on voice interconnections between service providers. For a large part, this is due to technical limitations, as the vast majority of interconnections between networks are still PSTN/TDM based. The interconnections have been in place for a long time without a solid business case to move to IP-based interconnections. A minority of (usually more recent) interconnections are IP-based and could – technically speaking – support the transit of HD voice communications. For these IP interconnections, however, there is no business case for adding support of HD voice codecs because of the simple fact that there’s little or no money to make with it. After many years of industry insiders predicting its emergence and the revenue streams it might create, HD voice has made its appearance as a free service. As a result (and despite the efforts several start-ups and consortiums to create HD Voice peering federations , and organizations like the I3forum and GSMA on defining technical specifications and business models for such services), HD voice in the Mobile Operator realm for now remains mostly an experimental “on-net only” feature with little near term potential to become a ubiquitous service, at least not on the telephone network as we know it.

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