Optimum Lightpath, the metro fiber and business services division of Cablevision, began offering HD Voice to its customers last week. Lately, I have found myself wondering, just what the heck is HD Voice? Not at a definitional level, that part is easy - HD Voice uses a wider channel and therefore just sounds so much better than a traditional phone call. I mean, as a phenomenon does HD Voice really have legs? And if so, what kind of legs are they? Lately, VoIP bloggers have been making an increasingly loud roar on the subject, much of which seems to have come out of Jeff Pulver's recent conference. Today Andy Abramson gave his endorsement to the idea it can re-invigorate the VoIP segment. Those are certainly the right names in the VoIP blogging community to have behind you.
In terms of technology and excitement, VoIP has been in the bargain bin for a couple years now. In effect, all that effort of 5-10 years ago went into replicating the PSTN, the promise of really new capabilities just sort of sputtered out and we were left with cost savings. Important, yes. But also boring - the buzz went elsewhere. HD Voice promises to bring the power of the internet to bear, making voice better than the PSTN ever was. It's something that can only reach critical mass now because so much of voice is now VoIP and can bypass the PSTN. Transcending the PSTN has long been a dream of the VoIP community, and HD Voice is perhaps the first step toward discarding it as an anachronism much like dialup is now next to broadband.
But from the other side, Skype has been doing this for a while, so what's the big deal? For years now my kids have talked to their grandparents on Skype, with the wideband voice making it seem like they are right there rather than on the other side of the planet. Why isn't HD Voice from ISPs and carriers just a really obvious upgrade? Like moving from 150kbps streaming to 300kpbs streaming, increasing the fidelity of a voice connection seems like an inevitable use of increased bandwidth. Does it really add enough to the user experience that people will pay more for it, or will they expect to get it as part of the normal development of the internet?
I think it's certain that HD Voice will be implemented, but I am quite unclear on how much is it really worth economically as a 'new' product. So let me ask you: