3 UK shows off HD voice -

High definition (HD) voice over cellular. It's one of those technologies you didn't know you wanted but will soon desire. And 3 UK is looking to offer it, just because the company can.

Techeye was lucky enough to be invited down to the wilds of Maidenhead for a hands-on demo of HD voice in action. It's impressive but not in the way you might expect.

The idea is that speech over a 3G connexion will sound crystal clear with HD. In fact what happens is that the person you're talking to sounds like they're four feet away.

Where HD voice comes into its own, however, is when you turn on the handset's loudspeaker and use it like a speaker phone. You can really hear people well, so it will improve conference calls significantly.

Techeye suspects that 3 UK shot itself in the foot a bit with its choice of demo handsets. These were modified Sony Ericsson Cybershot jobbies.

Pretty ordinary, really. What would make HD voice more impressive is a demo on a handset with a decent microphone and loudspeaker.

What would make it a must-have technology? Techeye suspects that old Farts whose hearing is beginning to disappear will be one group to benefit. Apparently, it will also make emergency calls easier to hear, too.

The catch with HD voice – or wideband AMR (WB-AMR) as it is technically known – is that you've got to have a decent backhaul network to make it work. 3 UK has recently ditched the infrastructure gear it bought originally from NEC and now has Nokia Siemens stuff.

Hence it has an all-IP network and therefore it can look at offering HD voice. It's early days for 3UK but charging extra for the facility wouldn't make commercial sense.

The bad news is that handsets will have to be made HD compliant - it's not a software upgrade. The good news is that WB-AMR has been around for yonks and is tried and tested.

A special interest group of those planning to offer HD voice is expected to make an announcement at the forthcoming MWC show. The news should encompass a method for inter-connecting HD voice ready networks.

Of course, 3 UK has been beaten to offering a commercial HD voice service by Orange. But then the network in question is in Moldova. So it is hardly mainstream.

The most intriguing part is how will Bluetooth headset vendors treat this new trend? The better speech quality will make handsfree calls even easier to hear and understand. But what Bluetooth profile supports hd voice, Techeye wonders.

Perhaps the first handsets to offer it will be ones claiming to supprt HD graphics. What's the point in viewing HD movies if the loudspeaker is rubbish. Fit a decent one and you might as well offer HD voice, too.