Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Can Apple and the iPhone 5 drive HD Voice and VoLTE?

You can always count on Apple to bring a technology into the mainstream discussion. And the launch of the iPhone 5 has people talking about all sorts of formerly telecom or ICT-specific subjects – mapping technology, bandwidth for video calling, LTE spectrum in Europe, and … HD voice.

The new iPhone supports HD voice, and the service will be supported by more than 20 operators worldwide and will be supported on both GSM/HSPA and LTE networks.

From the Verge:
An iPhone, which will undoubtedly sell tens of millions of units, could be just the catalyst that (HD voice) needed to gain widespread acceptance.
HD voice had already been gaining momentum this year, to the point that Doug Mohney of HD Voice News has said 2012 could be “the year” for HD voice, at least in Europe. And, at least in Australia, where Telstra will support HD voice, the reviews are starting to come in, and they are good.

There is only one hang up in all this good iPhone buzz – HD voice will not be supported in the US, even by Sprint, which offers HD voice service. The problem is that Sprint runs its HD voice service using a different technology than the worldwide standard. So there are lots of articles with headlines like this: Why iPhone 5's Support For HD voice Will Mean Nothing To U.S. Users.

This confusion reflects the benefits of sticking to standards, but in the end any publicity is often good publicity. Most consumers in the US had never heard of HD voice before last week. Now more of them have, and they might perceive it as a cool feature they want. (Plus, it will be available on two networks in neighboring Canada).

Another silver lining is that Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile seem to be focused on what PC Magazine calls “the real future” of HD voice, which is over Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

The new iPhone will also give VoLTE an indirect boost, as it drives LTE subscriptions, with Verizon in the US particularly looking to leverage its LTE network to attract iPhone users. In turn, this can only help VoLTE gain traction. And VoLTE opens up a lot of business possibilities for operators from video calling to chat to content sharing.

In the following video, Apple praises LTE and video calling, albeit with its own OTT system, FaceTime.

Previously, FaceTime could be used only over WiFi. Now it has gone cellular. Again in the US, AT&T is getting criticized by consumers and net neutrality advocates for only allowing cellular FaceTime usage for subscribers to new shared data plans.

At FierceWireless, Tammy Parker suggests that AT&T could charge for FaceTime usage by the minute. But she also wonders if the company is looking for a showdown over net neutrality.

So what’s the big picture here? We see Apple focusing on making voice calls better, through HD voice and an additional microphone, as well as prioritizing video calling (even if OTT). One of Apple’s strengths is its laser-like focus on consumer needs, rather than just the latest technology. Apple is not going to bother with features that don’t please their customers, and it is clear Apple thinks voice is worth investing in.

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