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Cable Technology Feature Article

May 23, 2012

Final Hurdles for HD Voice on Cable

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Three problems remain before HD voice really starts rolling in the cable industry. Through CableLabs (News - Alert), MSOs have set technical standards for HD voice delivery all the way to customer phones. Cable also has a solid mechanism for SIP peering and already exchange vanilla narrowband VoIP calls and SMS text messages between themselves and third-parties. But two mindset problems and hardware issues are delaying the industry in crossing the HD voice finish line.

First, most of cable's hardware suppliers have a lackadaisical view of HD voice. 

"It's voice, we've got that mastered," said one company representative. Cisco and Motorola didn't bother to mention voice at their The Cable Show 2012 booths, while Arris (News - Alert) talks about voice but without promoting HD -- a stark contrast to last year, where the company touted its Puma 5 firmware upgrade to support HD voice.

Beyond hardware suppliers, there is a general complacency stemming from offering digital narrowband voice. Among the wireline telecommunications industry at large (cable, old-line telco and some equipment manufacturers), most product managers and marketing people have a hard time believing there's a product better than their own residential  narrowband offerings.    Start talking about HD voice and you hit this big mental block of "We have the best voice." It's like saying you have the best AM radio station when the conversation should be around FM radio and CDs and the richness they bring to the experience.

Both issues lead into the third problem -- hardware. The cable industry has one specific hardware issue and faces a more general one. Legacy hardware abounds across deployed cable plant, still remaining under the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule. When you start surveying at the network core and moving all the way out to customer CPE, there are multiple vendors with equipment ranging from purchased yesterday to turned up four to five years (or longer) ago and still going strong. 

Sources within the cable industry say there are issues with handling G.722 within the network once you start passing calls between legacy wideband-designed (but never put into production) hardware and IP-based (SIP) calling. Add in numerous DECT (News - Alert) CAT-iq 2.0 phones and there's plenty of room for bugs to be found.  

One example cited was a test run between IP phones using the same manufacture's chipset. Narrowband phone calls between the two had higher MOS scores than G.722 calls. If a silicon manufacturer can't assure high HD voice MOS scores with its own product, there's plenty of room for error when you start adding in different vendors at all parts of the call network.

Solving this problem should be relatively simple. The large MSOs -- the same guys who have teamed up for www.cablewifi.com -- need to sit down as a group with their suppliers and say they are getting behind HD voice.   Yes, it will take time to get all the bugs worked out, but manufacturers need to stop assuming their products are fully HD voice ready and start testing to make sure they are fully HD voice capable.

"HD Voice 2012: Proliferation," a report on the HD voice ecosystem, is available for purchase through TMCnet here.

Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

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