back to article Orange punts quality calling

Orange UK is upping the quality of voice calls over the next year, branding the development "HD Voice" in the ongoing search for market differentiation. The improvements come with use of Wideband Adaptive Multi-Rate (WB-AMR) as a voice codec, which has been around for a while but never deployed. The common wisdom has been that …

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Not expensive?

I can see how "expensive" might be a relative concept... software upgrade vs hardware for example. But saying the the upgrade from EFR to AMR-WB will not be expensive is crazy. We are talking millions of £ here. This isn't some appstore update, this is playing around with the single biggest revenue generator for the Operator and the core of the software on ALL of it's basestations. This will be a long, carefully planned, expensive and risky upgrade. Or else it will be an absolute f&*^$%*( fiasco.

BTW, AMR-WB is to current call quality as Tournedos Rossini is to chuck steak.

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Orange and HD Voice

This article made me laugh and not for the usally reasons of witty sarcasm.

I think orange needs to concentrate on thier network not dropping calls evey five minutes instead of trying to push a new 'feature' of thier network. I mean I'd love to be able to hear people's conversation in higher quality, in fact I'd love to be able to hear that for more than 1 minute before the call drops out.

Give it a rest Orange, why not concentrate your efforts on working with the handset manufaturers to ensure the phones actually work %100 of the time on your network at the exsisting quality and so they don't drop calls when you move from one cell to another.

Oh and about to be Orange Iphone customers, just to let you know it's not your new shiney Iphone thats the problem....Just don't go ringing Orange telling them your phone calls keep dropping out as you'll probably get the same responce I did after the fith call...'Yeh that happens, these things were never designed to switch between cells and not drop calls'.

On a plus side for Orange unless you're about to be an Iphone user they absolutley annihilate the competition on tariffs if your an existing customer and push them hard enough. Got to give em' some credit after slagging them off!

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"the quality of a voice call hasn't improved since the first GSM call back in 1991."

No. We got EFR (Enhanced Full Rate), in the mid 1990s, as a spin off from the Americans playing with the standard for 1900MHz.

The original codec was optimised for the German, male voice. It's no wonder the Americans took exception to this.

There was also the promise of EHR (Enhanced half rate) to double capacity, but it sounded rubbish and has only been used in emergency situations.

That said Wideband AMR from Orange is to be appluaded. It's got overtones of the old Orange which was great at rolling out advanced tech.

Simon

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Yes, I remember EFR

Thanks for the reminder - I did remember the call quality improving but couldn't remember the term.

This is a good development. I like it. It would be nice to see a return to the old Orange of innovation and customer service that ended up being the UK's largest, in terms of customer numbers, before morphing into Britain's biggest French mobile network.

The future might once again be bright.....

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HD is the new i

Blegh.

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It's not audio quality that's the problem

Drop out and other symptoms relating to poor reception is the main issue with mobile phones. What's the point of "HD" quality audio if every few words are missing or the caller sounds like a Darlek? If Orange have money to burn on marketing ploys then they should try dropping their data charges. I'm sure that will win them extra customers.

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Good for Orange

I think this is the long term direction for all telephony, be it mobile or fixed. I guess the main problem for mobile HD is going to be the fact that half the quality issues pertain to poor signal strength/reception rather than just not being able to hear what he other person is saying. I expect that the Orange HD voice codec would still suffer from this, perhaps more so.

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hmm - its probably for capacity yet again..

The ETSI WBamr specification has a top rate of 23.85kbps but I'm pretty sure only the three bottom rates of 6.6, 8.85 and 12.65kbps will be used. Orange could possibly limit to 6.6 kbps and hence gain extra capacity. The good news is that 6.6 sounds better to my ears than the standard 12.2 narrow band rate.

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Happy

Heh

As Spinal Tap had it... GSM = Gimme Some Money.

So, that might mean that WB-AMR might mean something like We're Broke - Accelerated Money Requirement. Or something like that.

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Astonishing

How long has mobile comms been ubiquitous in the developed world? Must be 15 years by now.

Does it not strike anyone that, after BILLIONS of handset sales, MILLIONS of contract sales, MASSIVE corporate sales, hefty data charges, cheeky stealth charges etc etc........ mobile network providers are now starting bunfights over call quality, network coverage & bandwidth.

2010 will be the year when network providers claim "my phone makes clearer and more reliable calls than yours, and sends emails/SMS more reliably too"

What on earth did they spend all their profits on????/

Oh wait......shareholders

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@Astonishing

Yes... shareholders, spectrum licences, subsidised handsets and salaries and things like that.

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Pah!

I'd just be happy with a signal in my house.

It used to be fine.

Then about a year ago it got worse... A month or two later I got a text message telling me that they had performed some modifications to my local cell and I should notice an improvement in the signal.

It's been the same crap level ever since.

I can move the phone 2 inches on the table and it will go from 2 bars to nothing. Earlier today as I picked it up it had 4, I looked in disbelief, and then they all vanished.

Oh, and I'm talking old 2G signal here, let's not even go near the 3G signal level!

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I'd rather....

I'd rather they fixed their network.

I get random call drops, and sometimes my calls just go to voicemail without ringing, even in a 'full signal' area. This seems worse with 3G, but has always been a problem.

The quality of voice is fine - just improve network reliability.

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Anonymous Coward

Missed Calls

The missed calls on 3G is a known problem on all networks. It's not an Orange-specific issue - It's how the standards work. I'm guessing you have a smartphone? If the phone is in an active data session (ie transferring data) it cannot respond to the paging message from the network and the call will be missed even if you are in 5-bar coverage.

For all those complaining of worsening coverage, try your old phone - say a decent bog standard Nokia or suchlike. I reckon in many if not all circumstances your coverage will improve. The current coverage problem on all networks is mostly caused by handset sensitivities and transmit powers getting worse and worse over time on many models - HTC Diamond being a particularly bad example.

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Earth to Orange...

Its not voice quality people are crying out for, its data capacity.

I'm still hoping the day will come when I can replace my 1MB/s landline (although paying for 8 Mb/s) with a mobile handset that will provide a substantial improvement. Unfortunately, in some parts of the house, there is still no mobile signal - even though I can see the transmitter mast 3 miles away!

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Back to the future

Seems we are back in mid 90s territory again where the operators are competing over call quality, capacity and coverage.

How llong before Orange launches a TV ad featuring a native American tracker or simiar (a la One2One's launch of EFR) trumpeting this service at £x a month.

Not long I reckon.

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half rate and megabits

"There was also the promise of EHR (Enhanced half rate) to double capacity, but it sounded rubbish and has only been used in emergency situations."

Oh here in the US, AT&T uses half-rate (AMR-HR) *all the time* on a lot of their network. (I don't mean "all the time" as a figure of speech either -- people on howardforums say they'll make calls at like 2AM and they are still half rate.) And it does sound rubbish. Phone companies here haven't competed on quality in ads for years (Sprint did initially, advertising how you could hear a pin drop on their calls, until they oversold and you couldn't.) , They are presently competing on coverage and reliability -- I've averaged less than 1 dropped call *a year*, and had 3G data for about 900 out of a 930 mile road trip I was on recently. My provider uses CDMA and EVDO though. I do pay dearly for all that coverage though.

That said, wideband audio codecs are not just a gimmick and should sound better than standard calls. Will haing extra clarity make any difference? My calls already sound pretty good unless the signal is pretty weak, so I'm inclined to say "no it wouldn't make any difference." But I won't say that, I'll reserve judgement until after I've heard a wideband call.

"I'm still hoping the day will come when I can replace my 1MB/s landline (although paying for 8 Mb/s)"

1MB/second *is* 8Mb/sec. MB's are megabytes and Mb or mb are megabits. If you mean 1mbps, that's a shame if you can't get that wirelessly. I get 768kbps-1mbps here pretty regularly, and that's not even considered to be that great a speed (I also have a out-of-date EVDO rev 0 card instead of rev A.) I got over 1mbps most of the time on my recent road trip too, in a 70MPH vehicle. The cell cos here charge a rather dear $60 for 5GB for tethering or aircard plans (I have a grandfathered $60 for unlimited though). As a consequence, though, it's not oversubscribed, and for all that cheddar, netiher GSM provider (AT&T and Iowa Wireless) has 3G, but all 3 CDMA providers that cover my area have EVDO (Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular).

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Call quality

Call quality is important. I use O2 and it's a bit pants, in fact, nearly as bad as when I sneakily got free calls for many months, using VOIP over GSM on the 3 Network, (using the free 'Fring' app on Symbian to run my Skype account through) which had 150 to 500MB free mobile broadband included with every payg voice topup. Now the bitrate on that was REALLY low. Relatives refused to speak with me because of the long delay; callcentre operatives would shout at me to stop 'talking over' them... nice.

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Other operators will follow suit ?

"If Orange gets any traction then it won't be long before all the operators follow suit"

Little chance. New handset required - even less chance.

As mentioned earlier in the article, the higher call quality is a the expense of capacity. I'm on O2, there are significant capacity issues (esp. in London) - they took on too many customers (exclusive iPhone may have had something to do with it)... they now need to spend that extra revenue on their infrsatructure.

I moved away from Vodafone, they were the best at one time (c. 1992/1993) but in the last year I found their coverage and capacity seemd to be degrading - I should have done some more homework before jumping ship (eg.borrwing an 02 sim) as I have poor coverage in my house, it's worse than Vodafone was though the 02 coverage map indicates it should be better.

Data is increasingly important and may be causing issues with voice (i.e. operators choosing to prioritise that rather than voice) - Google are going to cause even more problems than Apple if their phone works well and is priced competitively - at least it'll be spread on all networks (less on 02 I'd guess because a lot of their owners will have an iPhone already).

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Anonymous Coward

It would be nice if

VOIP and mobile could eventually, with all the technological advances, make calls possible that are as clear as the old unreliable, bad quality, wired analogue calls used to be in the bad old days.

The number of times you hear people repeating themselves loudly as calls drop in and out, inadequate bitrates fluctuate, and crap codecs make intelligible speech speech nigh on impossible. Or saying "I'll have to call you back it's a bad connection" (and pay for another call).

Amazing - no moving parts yet crap connections. Makes the old mechanical exchanges all the more remarkable.

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Say that again ?!

I have poor hearing and I just hate using mobile phones.This sounds like a great idea to me.

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Call Quality on GSM and 3G

So, many of the comments noted that call quality has improved since 1991, EFR came out and was standardised in 1995-6 reaching networks in 1997. AMR provided the improved EFR quality over a much wider range of radio (C/I) conditions and could be used to offer that quality in a HR channel when radio conditions were good, thus saving significant amounts of GSM base station investment - which is why the main vendors of the time delayed it's incorporation into their products for as long as possible.

Other call quality improvements came from independenrt vendors using Signal Processing on the GSM A-Interface, notably Tellabs to reduce back ground noise transmitted from the mobile and remove acoustic echo from the mobile. Cellnet, now O2, in the UK implemented the system as Clear Call in 1999 on GSM. These problems were created by inadequate acoustic specifications in GSM standards which were carried through to 3GPP.

WB_AMR is built on top of the GSM & 3G AMR standards using the Transcoder Free Operation spec (a s/w upgrade to most TRAU equipment). The problem is that the acosutic specs were never upgraded to allow for WB-AMR and TFO drops from WB to standard NB for every handover. That combined with the increased psychoacoustic expectation that WB brings and the issues of transmission planning to reduced delay in an increasingly IP network and it is a very tricky technology to inrtroduce successfully.

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