Mark Bridge writes:
"Sounding good to me". So sang Charlie Dore, back in the day when radio stations started to realise that quality was as important as quantity. "AM, FM, I feel so ecstatic", opined Cliff Richard, although I’m betting he’d have preferred the lack of hiss and crackle on FM stations.
Yet no-one’s really thought much about the quality of a phone call. Until now.
Last week, Orange Moldova announced the launch of the world's first mobile telephone service with high-definition sound. Yup, HD mobile phone calls. It’s all thanks to WB-AMR technology, which is available on the Nokia 6720c and a few other handsets, although it’s the Nokia model that’s been chosen by the Moldovans.
WB-AMR (advanced multi-rate wideband) provides high quality over relatively low bit rates. As far as I understand it, this means you get a more natural sound without too much extra data traffic clogging up the network. Because yes, this is a 3G data service. That’s one of the reasons it was launched in Moldova – that country’s network can support speeds of up to 14.4 Mb/sec – although Orange says it’ll be here in the UK by the end of next year.
But do we want it? Orange France did some research with their HD voice VoIP customers last year; it seemed to suggest that almost three-quarters of customers would want their next mobile handset to be compatible with HD voice.
And I can see some clear benefits. High-definition sound would make telephone interviews much clearer. And it would turn ipadio into a personal broadcast-quality radio station!
But I’ll ask again. Honestly, do we really want it? After all, we didn’t care much about EFR. Sure, we’d like it. Video calling seemed like a good idea, too. And just like video calls, HD voice needs two compatible phones – one at each end.
Of course, given the choice between high-quality and low-quality at the same cost, the vast majority of us would choose the former. But given that HD voice only works where 3G coverage is good and where you’re calling someone else with a WB-AMR phone, those HD mobiles will spend most of their early years making non-HD calls. Which means early adopters probably won’t be in a hurry to spend their hard-earned lei... and that means neither Ms Dore nor Mr Richard will be rewriting their hit singles for a while.