New chips, faster networks to improve phone audio

Mar 02, 2012 By Steve Johnson

Smartphone owners can surf the Web, pay bills, watch videos, enjoy music and send email. But while their gadgets have been designed to handle increasing amounts of data, experts say, less attention has been paid to their ability to clearly convey the sound of someone's voice, especially in noisy restaurants and other places.

A recent J.D. Power and Associates study of wireless-device performance concluded that problems such as voice distortion and echoes have contributed to "a halt in overall call quality improvement." One reason for that, according to some industry observers, is that phone service providers in the United States have yet to offer comparable to "High-Definition Voice," which is extensively used in other nations.

As a result, "you can get better quality mobile phone calls on networks in India and Uganda than in the U.S.," said Doug Mohney, editor-in-chief of HD Voice News, which closely tracks the audio capabilities of consumer devices.

But that could change soon. One reason is an expanding wireless network called 4G Long Term Evolution, or LTE, which by 2013 is expected to provide high-definition voice calls in this country. Another could be a developed by Mountain View, Calif.-based Audience.

Designed to enhance the quality of a person's voice, while removing , the already is available in many phones, including some operating in countries with HD Voice. And once high-definition mobile audio services are launched in this country, the chip could gain much broader use and could eventually help human-to-machine in everything from automobiles to TVs, said Andy Keane, the company's vice president of marketing.

Instead of having to punch in keyboard commands to a machine, he said, "you should be able to just tell it what to do and it will do it."

HD Voice, which was launched in 2009, is available in 31 countries. And in a recent publication, the industry group Global Mobile Suppliers Association said calls using the technology are like "speaking to the other party in the same room."

That's because HD Voice operates in a frequency range close to what the human voice uses, according to Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson, which is among the businesses promoting the technology.

People speak in a range of 50 to 12,000 Hz - meaning hertz, or cycles per second - Ericsson noted in a report last year, while many phones today only operate between 300 and 3,400 Hz. But HD Voice phones range from 50 to 7,000 Hz, the report added, providing clearer conversations, easier-to-decipher voice messages, better conference calls and more accurate voice-to-text translations.

Verizon Wireless has been testing high-definition voice technology and is widely expected to be the first to offer it for mobile phones in the United States. Its recently installed 4G LTE network currently serves 194 cities nationwide.

Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Heidi Flato said she didn't know when such a service might be offered in this country, but industry experts have speculated it could be this year or next.

When that happens, executives at Audience hope it will increase demand for their voice-enhancing chip, called earSmart.

They say the chip and a software algorithm they developed in collaboration with auditory neuroscientists helps phones isolate and focus on individual sources of sound within noisy environments - just like the human ear.

Say someone makes a call from a bustling restaurant or airport. The Audience chip in the phone of the person receiving the call would analyze the pitch, harmonics and other acoustic properties of the incoming call and categorize the data into separate audio streams, the company explained in a recent regulatory filing announcing its plan to go public. Then the chip would isolate and highlight the stream associated with the caller's voice, while minimizing the rest.

Founded in 2000, Audience shipped its first-generation chip in 2008 and has since sold more than 135 million of them to such mobile-device makers as Apple, Samsung, Sharp and Sony.

Keane says the chip improves the sound of phone calls even when it's not operating on a high-definition audio network.

But as high-definition services become more prevalent, he expects the chip to be incorporated into a growing number of consumer devices.

After all, Keane said, "once people get used to voice quality, they don't want to go back."

Explore further: Verizon launches rewards program with tracking

5 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sprint mobile calls get Google Voice

Mar 22, 2011

Google on Tuesday announced an alliance with Sprint to add the Internet giant's online telephone capabilities to mobile phones serviced by the US telecom firm.

Nokia, Land Rover Offer Advanced Handsfree Solution

Oct 06, 2004

Handsfree system with flexible mobile holder for Land Rover vehicles enables use of diverse mobile phones Nokia and Land Rover have jointly developed the Personal Telephone Integration (PTI) System, an integrated automoti ...

Philips announces new Bluetooth audio and voice solution

May 24, 2005

Royal Philips Electronics makes the world of the Connected Consumer even more enjoyable with the introduction of a new, simple to use Bluetooth 1.2 Stereo headset reference design. This Bluetooth stereo solution provides ...

Recommended for you

FX says overnight ratings becoming meaningless

3 hours ago

(AP)—It's a rite nearly as old as television: the morning after a new show premieres, network executives wait impatiently for the Nielsen company's estimate of how many people watched, and rush to report ...

Verizon launches rewards program with tracking

Jul 21, 2014

Verizon Wireless is launching a nationwide loyalty program this week for its 100-million-plus subscribers. There's a twist, though: To earn points for every dollar spent, subscribers must consent to have their movements tracked ...

Verizon boosts FiOS uploads to match downloads

Jul 21, 2014

Verizon is boosting the upload speeds of nearly all its FiOS connections to match the download speeds, vastly shortening the time it takes for subscribers to send videos and back up their files online.

The goTenna device pitch is No Service, No Problem

Jul 18, 2014

In the new age of Internet-based crowdfunding with special price offers, where startup teams try to push their product closer and closer to the gate of entry, goTenna's campaign offers a most attractive pitch. ...

Maths can make the internet 5-10 times faster

Jul 17, 2014

Mathematical equations can make Internet communication via computer, mobile phone or satellite many times faster and more secure than today. Results with software developed by researchers from Aalborg University ...

User comments : 0