Orange won't be the last to launch HD voice on its IPX

Orange Wholesale has announced that it is making high definition (HD) voice services available to international wholesale customers over its IPX. Having tested HD voice provision between Orange group companies it is now making good on last year's promise to open up HD voice interoperability for non-group service providers, facilitating calls between fixed and mobile networks.

Orange claims to be the first operator to launch an international HD voice service, although it is not the first to offer an HD voice solution. We understand that BT has been offering HD voice pass-through over its IPX for some months, and to more than a handful of paying customers. That notwithstanding, Orange's announcement is important, because Orange has done more to drive critical mass of HD mobile voice users than any other telecoms operator. HD voice is now available in 15 Orange networks, accounting for nearly a third of all global implementations. According to statistics from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) there are 36 other mobile networks offering HD voice services. HD voice is also already available for users of some fixed telecoms and OTT services (including Skype and corporate VoIP applications). The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) is closely tracking the growth of the HD market (see: http://www.gsacom.com/hdvoice/). A quick look at its other statistics shows that HD handset availability is also growing, with 127 HD capable mobile devices in the market. Whilst it will be a long time before a customer with an HD handset will know the majority of their calls can be completed in high-definition, HD voice is here to stay, and in our view, will ultimately become the norm.

So far lack of interoperability between HD voice implementations has meant that provision of HD voice between service providers and domains has been problematic. The new IPX-based HD voice solutions will open up the international (and in many cases national) markets for network-to-network HD voice services. Our research has shown that other IPX providers will be following in the footsteps of the HD voice pioneers, and that there is customer demand too. Half of the mobile operators we spoke to for our recent report said they were using or planned to use IPX for international HD voice, with many more in the evaluation phase. The user benefits of HD are obvious  - better quality calls made from public places, better quality for conference calls (and especially international calls where a combination of language barriers and poor call quality can make long conversations really hard work).

From a technical perspective an IPX network is not a pre-requisite for an HD voice interoperability service. HD voice interoperability can be delivered over any IP network - it is the media gateway sitting in between networks that does any necessary codec translations /  conversions. However IPX networks are a natural place for HD voice services, as the end-to-end (i.e. inter-network) quality assurance delivered at the application level, combines with the codec-level quality, to deliver a solution that OTT voice cannot easily match.

Now, I realise I do sound like I have swallowed a wholesale network operator's marketing manual, and I realise the quality also needs to be assured within the originating and terminating voice networks as well as over the IPX for a true end-to-end quality experience. But having sat through one too many over-the-top long-distance conference calls suffering from jitter problems, and one too many business calls with people drowned out by the noise of the world passing them by whilst they make their call, I am looking forward to being able to hear what people say...and will be factoring availability of HD voice into my next mobile handset choice.

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