How HD Voice Will Change the Way We Work
HD Voice creates an opportunity to shift the focus away from the desktop and into a fully mobile and application rich solution.
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:
- We have been hearing about the carriers putting PSTN out to pasture, and HD voice will be a huge contribution to that end. Once we all get used to high quality phone calls, we will hate going back to standard voice. It’s kind of like trying to watch Standard Definition TV after years of HD — I can do it if I have to, but it drives me crazy. Nobody will want to call an analog line from their cell phone anymore.
- Businesses will need to figure out how to support HD calling from wireless callers. As customers get used to the HD calling experience, they will expect the same level of quality when they call any business. This is, of course, much easier said than done, but the customers won’t care — they’ll just wonder why calling a huge company sounds like crap when calling their kids sounds great. Technically speaking, it shouldn’t be that hard in today’s world of uniform standards in communications technology … which leads us to point 3…
- This is likely going to be a regulation nightmare. In a perfect world, the wireless providers, wireline providers, and cell phone manufacturers would all get together and develop open standards for interoperability. And flying monkeys will appear out of the headphone jack on my iPhone. Getting HD interoperability between wireless carriers is the first step, but getting interoperability with wireline carriers is hard to even contemplate as a possibility. Last fall, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless announced HD interoperability for 2015. But what about T-Mobile and Sprint? Are they being left out of the party on purpose? Do the carriers have the right to choose which providers they offer HD interoperability with? Should we go down the same road as we did with TV when the FCC mandated HD TV to avoid this potential quagmire? (Did I really just suggest the need for more government intervention? Yikes!)
- For many businesses, this may very well bring an end to the need for a desk phone. Instead, users will opt for a high quality charging dock/speaker phone to take advantage of an overall better calling experience. This eliminates the need for complicated twinning and programming, as there is just one device to manage. There is still a need for a platform to manage call flows and application integration, but there is an opportunity to shift the focus away from the desktop and into a fully mobile and application rich solution.
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.