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How HD Voice Will Change the Way We Work


So much has changed in the last 50 years or so. I have been enjoying binge watching all the seasons of the popular TV show "Mad Men," and it has been amazing to look back on how far things have changed in the office environment since the 1960s.

It is amusing to look back see all of the typewriters and secretaries, ash trays and whiskey bottles, and period furniture and hairstyles -- even if it is a stylized snap-shot of New York office life in that era.

So much has changed. The complete process for how work is done has been completely reshaped, thanks to the tools developed in the computer age that followed. And while cell phones have changed how we communicate out of the office, in the office we are still using basically the same type of device used by Don Draper: the desk phone. LED and LCDs have now replaced flashing buttons, but they are functionally the same thing.

So why are we still using these things? We are trending to a place where very soon half of residences in the U.S. won't have landlines. But while consumers have ditched their home phones for cell phones, businesses have (for the most part) kept their good ole desk phones. Analysts have been predicting the end of the desk phone for years, but the mass migration to cell phones has not happened yet.

While the reasons are many, the only thing holding me back from going completely mobile is the lack of even decent voice quality on cell phones. Let's face it -- voice quality on cell phones stinks and has not changed much since the conversion from analog to digital. Bellsouth Mobility moved Atlanta over to digital cellular technology to support the 1996 Olympic Games and the voice quality on my Olympic Edition Motorola flip phone is about the same as my $850 iPhone 6 Plus.

And the bar for "voice quality" isn't even that high to begin with. Think about the advancements in audio engineering over the last 50 years that have passed the PSTN by. Meanwhile, our standard for voice quality has remained unchanged, even as we have entered in to the VoIP era.

I still have a desk phone and a home phone. I keep them both because I value a quality voice conversation, relatively speaking. As the wireless carriers continue to roll out HD voice, we are inching closer to a world where your smartphone becomes the device of preference, not solely because of it's mobility, but because it can offer a substantially higher quality experience. We will all begin to prefer mobile-to-mobile connections, rather than merely tolerate them.

And yes, HD voice is out today in the VoIP world. But the complexity of the PSTN, the sheer numbers of carriers out there, as well as the old hardware and wiring make the reality of HD interoperability seem impossible for some time to come. Comparatively speaking, on the wireless side, only a few carriers need to work together ... and frequent hardware refreshes could make for a rapid adoption of HD voice.

This will complete the transition from a wired-preferred world to a wireless-preferred world. Below are four implications that I think will be significant as this transition unfolds:

These implications are just the beginning, and don't even begin to address the possibilities of deeper integration with the carrier networks possible as we move away from a switched network model. And while I would love to travel down that road, it seems hard to fathom that the nature of the closed carrier network is going to change anytime soon. But who knows? T-Mobile or Sprint might see it as a huge differentiator and pursue it aggressively. There is a big win-win here if a large cloud and/or UC provider were ever able to leverage direct carrier integration into their applications.

Gotta go. I think I see monkeys flying out of my iPhone headphone jack.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.