High-Definition Voice: Coming Soon?

NEW YORK — High-definition voice might be next great buzzword when it comes to mobile phones, conferencing and telecommunications in general.

But is it overkill?

At the HD Communications Summit last week, executives from Broadcom, Polycom and AudioCodes said that government, telecoms and even regular consumers will find value in high-definition technology that delivers all or most frequencies of the human voice instead of the small piece of it that current phones sample.

“HD voice matters,” said Jeffery Rodman, co-founder and CTO of the voice division of Polycom (NASDAQ: PLCM). He said that it allows business users to tell the difference between “$50 million” and “$15 million” and allows people calling 911 to speak quickly.

“Normally, if you’re calling 911, it might be difficult to tell the difference between 2016 H Street and 2060 8th Street,” he said. “Why is that you have to speak slower? We’re saying: It’s an emergency, please slow down!”

He added that current codecs enable the sampling of more frequencies without requiring more bandwidth. He called for innovation, saying that the audio spectrum of today’s phones is no better than those of 1937.

The first markets to adopt the technology will be broadband service providers and large enterprises, said Nimrod Borovsky, vice president at AudioCodes (NASDAQ: AUDC). He divided the market into five segments: enterprise, broadband, cable network operators, mobile networks and phone companies.

He added that cable companies have taken the lead in VoIP but will not take the lead in delivering HD voice.

“I predict that by 2012, all but the phone companies will make the leap,” he said.

The availability of technology will be key to adoption. “Once we have residential products for cable networks, I think we will see fast adoption in the cable segment,” Borovsky said.

Current events will further make the case for the adoption of HD voice by residential users, said Martyn Humphries, general manager of Broadcom’s (NASDAQ: BRCM) VoIP business.

He pointed to “social distancing” during the recent swine flu outbreak as one example. “People wanted to talk to their loved ones but not get infected,” he said.

He added that companies can add value beyond delivering a broader band of sampled audio spectrum by filtering out background noise in the sample, by handling packet loss so that the end user doesn’t hear it, and by using other technological tricks to eliminate noise in VoIP.

“A lot of people are on the same page but there are a lot of challenges going forward,” he concluded.

An audience member asked whether free HD voice codecs (also known as vocoders) such as Skype’s SILK — available at no cost since March — would further accelerate adoption.

“Free vocoders will fit specific niches,” Polycom’s Rodman said.

AudioCodes’s Borovsky agreed. “Open source will not take over,” he said.

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