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AT&T to activate HD Voice over 4G LTE in four states on May 23

Verizon promises HD Voice capability over LTE later this year

May 15, 2014 02:25 PM ET

Computerworld - AT&T will introduce a high-definition voice service over its LTE network in parts of four Midwest states on May 23, the carrier announced today.

Appearing first in "select areas" in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the HD Voice service will continue to expand to other markets, but AT&T didn't announce a timeline.

For years, HD Voice technology has promised to make calls sound clearer and crisper without patches of lost communication. Widespread adoption of HD voice-calling capability in the U.S. is far from well established, however, even as multiple surveys show that customers want high-quality Voice communications in choosing a carrier.

"As demand for speed, connectivity and enhanced wireless services grows, the introduction of HD Voice on our all-IP 4G LTE network is just another way we're working to provide our customers with the enhanced services they need, while also effectively utilizing our spectrum," an AT&T spokeswoman said via email.

To work, HD Voice requires that both parties in a call have an HD-capable handset and a cellular base station (usually located at the base of a tower) between them that's equipped to pass the HD signal. To enable HD in the handset, the AT&T spokeswoman said the carrier will begin selling "very soon" the HD Voice-capable Samsung Galaxy S4 mini with a 4.3-in. Super AMOLED display.

Both T-Mobile and Sprint started rolling out HD Voice to their 3G networks last year. T-Mobile sold its first version of the iPhone, the iPhone 5, with HD Voice capability last year.

T-Mobile said it has 30 HD Voice-capable devices on sale, and also confirmed that both parties in a call must be using one of them on the T-Mobile nationwide HSPA+ and LTE network for HD Voice to function. A spokeswoman said T-Mobile expects to deploy HD Voice over LTE soon.

Sprint has enabled HD Voice over its 3G CDMA network in 100 U.S. markets as of late April, a Sprint spokesman said.

By the end of the year, Sprint expects to have 20 million customers on HD voice-ready phones and offers a number of handsets that support that capability. Sprint's HD Voice helps reduce unwanted background noise and expands the normal Voice call from a four-octave range to seven octaves.

Sprint said that for HD Voice to work, both phones in a call must be Sprint HD voice-ready phones. Sprint hasn't revealed any plans for moving to a future HD Voice capability with LTE.

The nation's largest wireless carrier, Verizon, hasn't deployed HD Voice even though it has a nationwide LTE network rolled out. The carrier told Fierce Wireless in April 2013 that it would have HD Voice rollouts in late 2013 or early 2014, but hasn't so far moved ahead.

"We have said Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is coming in 2014 and we will have HD Voice using the AMR (Adaptive Multi-Rate ) wideband codec, which we believe will be the industry norm, as part of VoLTE," Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debra Lewis said today.

AT&T's HD voice, which also operates on VoLTE, is expected to interoperate with Verizon's HD Voice over VoLTE when it become available. But analysts believe it will take years for both carriers -- the two largest with more than 230 million customers combined -- to have such capability widespread in the U.S. with a multitude of users on HD Voice phones.

"HD Voice is a great feature as long as both ends support it," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. Given AT&T's success at other technologies, he said HD Voice won't necessarily be a "huge differentiator, so I don't think it's too big of a deal [to AT&T's success] in the long run."

This article, AT&T to activate HD Voice over 4G LTE in four states, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at Twitter @matthamblen or subscribe to Hamblen RSSMatt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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