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Cable Technology Feature Article

July 02, 2014

HD Voice: Free Market vs. Regulation

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

A circle of telecom voices has been pushing to mandate HD voice quality—whatever that is on any particular day of the week—as a part of the PSTN to IP transition.  By the time the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) gets around to deciding when that transition takes place, carriers may have little option but to offer HD voice as a part of the upgrade.

If I sound a little anti-government regulation on this particular matter, good, that’s the intention.  Look at the snail's pace it took to get the FCC to mandate and implement a digital TV transition and the time it is taking to unwind intercarrier compensation, lobbying for HD voice as a requirement for a move to IP seems to be forward thinking.

But against that backdrop is the fact wireless, business wireline, and now cable companies are offering HD voice.  Three out of four major U.S. wireless carriers have implemented or started to implement HD voice, with Verizon (News - Alert) planning to cross the finish with a VoLTE rollout by the end of the year.  Verizon Business has offered support for HD voice in its VIPER SIP exchange service for several years and all of the major cable companies offer support for HD voice in their cloud services.

Cable has an odd relationship with HD voice, having discussed standards and plans for delivering it to the home for years.  Cablevision last week became the first large cable company to roll out consumer HD voice service.  Comcast (News - Alert) probably has hundreds of gigabytes of documents socked away on its HD voice plans, given the years of stories I've heard from vendors about the company's requirements/demands for G.722 support in both customer end-point equipment. The technology for Comcast to do it is deployed and out there, but the company has never felt an urgency to cross the finish line.  All the VoLTE hype may push them over, allowing it and the rest of the cable world to piggyback on the wireless world's push to put HD voice into consumer's heads.

At the end of the road, AT&T (News - Alert) and Verizon's FioS service would be the last holdouts to deploy HD voice service.  Let's leave Verizon out of the picture for the moment, because it has turned its back on deploying more home fiber and can't get VoLTE out the door despite being the earliest advocate for it and LTE (News - Alert).

Rumors of AT&T HD voice broadband trials in Austin, Texas were floating about a couple of years ago.   More recently, the Voice Communication Exchange Committee (VCXC) filed some paperwork with the FCC to "investigate the benefits of a common HD voice implementation to replace standard definition" -- not narrowband, "standard"—PSTN voice services. 

VCXC's goal is to get the global telecom to all-IP and upgraded to HD voice by June 15, 2018—roughly four years from now.  Congress hasn't even talked about it.  The FCC is being encouraged to "investigate it"—and the worst thing that could happen would be to lock in something like G.722 without an upward growth path to better standards.

Capitol Hill mandated the Digital TV transition in 1996 to happen by the end of 2006.  Political jockeying kept the actual switchover from happening until June 2006—13 years after Congress stepped up to the plate and told the FCC to make it so.

The political calculus doesn't add up. You don't have any Representative or Senator making HD voice a pet concern.  There's plenty more interest in fighting over staking out positions on Net Neutrality.

AT&T and Verizon are likely to offer HD voice as a no-cost, value add to existing consumer IP voice offerings way before the FCC finishes its investigation and defining a standard.  So what's the point here?

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Edited by Maurice Nagle

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