Improve voice quality (before HD Voice)

March 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Until we get HD Voice, which is being deployed, here’s how you can improve your voice quality:

Reduce Noise: buy a Jawbone headset, the best-rated bluetooth headset around (in the latest reviews by PC Magazine, others). Choose from among several models.

Improve Audio: replace the stock Jawbone ear bud with a custom ear gel from AverySound. This does not cost a lot, but greatly improves the sound delivered to your ear, physically blocking other noises from disturbing your conversation. Here’s a demo on the process and benefits.

Better sound for you and your caller!

Original Ear piece                                             Upgraded Ear Gel   

Jawbone ERA with stock earpiece

Jawbone ERA with custom ear gel

High-Definition Voice coming to Mobile phones

March 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Although the focus these days is primarily on data and smartphones, it’s exciting that Operators have continued to look for ways to communicate better, such as High Definition voice. Skeptical that improvement is needed? Try out the demo (from Orange, who is leading the charge to deploy HD Voice), check out the convincing 3rd-party evaluation, or compare Standard vs. HD audio. Not only is the voice clearer, but there is less background noise; HD Voice includes active noise reduction (similar in function to the Noise Shield(TM) feature that makes Aliph Jawbone headsets so great). The result is “Wow!” You will want to have conversations over HD Voice, as they are easier to understand, and richer, more nuanced … like a face to face conversation.

SInce Voice is still a cash cow for Mobile Operators, it is a great idea to enhance it, to assert the improved quality that you get from a Mobile Operator (vs. an Over The Top service provider, such as Skype). Now that mobile networks carry more Data than Voice traffic, it’s easy to allocate a bit more bandwidth to improved voice. The service uses a new codec, Wideband AMR (an improvement on the current AMR standard used in GSM).

Where can I get it?

As with most new mobile features/services, you will need for your Operator to offer it, and you need a compatible handset (probably a new now, in this case).

Operator Support: At last count, HD Voice is provided by 39 mobile nets, in 31 countries. Orange has been leading the deployment (including pushing the standards development), delivering HD Voice in many of its European and Middle East properties.

Handset Support: Only a few handsets currently support HD Voice, so you’ll have to look carefully. It has been rumored to be a feature of the new iPhone 5 (but, then, what new capability has not been rumored to be in the new, iPhone 5?).

Caller needs it, too: Both Caller and Called must have this feature, for it to work at HD voice quality (see Engadget demo). Makes sense, however, as it is an end-to-end service. Like a Skype video call, both parties need it for it to work, end-to-end.

Tariff: Orange does not charge anything more for this feature, interestingly. It simply establishes Orange voice as a superior service, and encourages callers to use Orange to call their family & friends with HD-capable phones. Nice move.

Soon, you will be able to enjoy HD Voice as more handsets and networks support this important, new feature.

Trend towards Improved Communication

Since mobile phones have become the primary phone that people use–replacing fixed/wireline/VoIP phones–they are incorporating the best features of wireline service:

Done: Caller ID, Call Waiting, Voice Mail, Three-way calling, etc.
Deploying: Calling Name (see related posts)
Coming: High-quality Voice

Next-Generation Hotspot: Maintaining Profitability of Mobile Data Services

September 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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To clarify the importance of Wi-Fi for Mobile Operators, this White Paper gathers the perspectives of a leading analyst, Service provider, and Wi-Fi equipment manufacturer. We prepared it on behalf of the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), but it is available at several sites, including the contributors and the WBA. Please read it here and share your comments!

To develop the Business Case for Mobile Operator use of Wi-Fi, we are expanding this paper to include the perspectives of leading Mobile Operators, as a task within the WBA.

“Who is Calling” coming to cell phones

September 25, 2011 at 11:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Finally! The most valuable voice feature ever–knowing who is calling–is finally coming to your cell phone. U.S. Mobile Operators are starting to deploy Calling Name (to let you know “Who Is Calling”). The latest, T-Mobile, now offers this service–check out the excellent Engadget analysis at “T-Mobile Name ID finally brings true caller ID to your cellphone.”

Other Operators are planning to offer this. Look for it! Thus far, Sprint, MetroPCS and T-Mobile offer this feature.

As mobile service becomes the replacement for wireline service, it is picking up all of the best features of wireline. Next up, High-Quality Voice!

Wi-Fi, as easy to use as 3G mobile data

April 6, 2011 at 1:50 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Although Wi-Fi was in bad shape (as Phil Kendall recently noted), it looks like monetization of Wi-Fi may have taken a turn for the better with the recent introduction of the Hotspot 2.0 spec, announced at GSM Mobile World Congress and CTIA (Wireless Broadband Alliance, Wi-Fi Alliance). Hotspot 2.0 promises to make Wi-Fi as easy to use as 3G–secure and simple. And that is just what has been missing.

With Operators looking for ways to reduce their cost/bit and to serve the growing data capacity demands, Wi-Fi is a potentially attractive solution … if only it can be made simple (as Hotspot 2.0 offers). Smartphones, laptops and tablets are all likely candidates to benefit from increasing offload of data to Wi-Fi.

For more details, check out the excellent Cisco White Paper, “The Future of Hotspots” (they led the Hotspot 2.0 Task Force).

Mobile Service Menu of the Future

August 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Subscribers select:
What
they want (Voice/Text/Data/Content)
How much (À la carte, or Bulk), and
When they want to pay it (Prepaid or Postpaid)

The days of voice plans are ending. The menu of services will change to reflect changing customer demands.

How will this change how Customers purchase mobile services?

Choice of Service Plan(s), Choice of Quantity

For each service, Customers can choose whether they wish to purchase a bulk package (e.g., of Voice minutes, Text messages, MB of Internet use, or Content consumed) or pay for it per incremental use.  This represents a significant change from the current service menu: as Customers’ appetites change, so does the service menu.

No Mandatory Components

For example, although operators may wish to mandate that all subscribers purchase large buckets of voice minutes, Operators will be forced to abandon this requirement. Customer freedom of choice of Service plan and choice of Quantity will enable several, new choices. Many Customers (that prefer text of Data services) will not wish to subscribe to a monthly Voice plan with 500 voice minutes/month. For example, some Customers may wish to purchase only an unlimited Text message service (no Voice and no Internet data service). Other customers may wish to subscribe to a monthly plan for a large bucket of data, and choose to “Pay as you Go” for any text messages or voice calls that they use.

Evolution of Prepaid to “Pay as you Go”

Many new customers will wish to avoid monthly contracts altogether, and purchase these services on a Prepaid basis, paying incrementally per use. These “Pay as you Go” service options represent an evolution of the Prepaid service plans of today, updated to allow flexible purchase of any mixture of Voice/Text/Data/Content from their account balance.

PaymentChoose one:
( ) Postpaid (monthly plan)
( ) Prepaid

Voice Choose one:
( ) No bucket voice minutes, “Pay as you Go”
( ) Small bucket of minutes
( ) Large bucket of minutes

Text Choose one:
( ) No bucket of text messages, “Pay as you Go”
( ) Small bucket of text messages
( ) Large bucket of text messages

Data Choose one:
( ) No bucket of data use, “Pay as you Go”
( ) Small bucket of data use
( ) Large bucket of data use

Customers wish to purchase what they need. As Customers’ appetite and need for services changes from Voice to Text and Data (see “Voice being replaced by Text and Data“), the available service plans must change, too.

What needs to Change?

Operators offer many of these choices, but Prepaid users can not buy data plans. Why?!? Subscribers can purchase Voice & SMS and even Content from a pre-funded account, why not data, too? Since 80% of the world’s mobile subscribers are Prepaid, Operators will want and need to allow subscribers to purchase data services (on a “pay for incremental use” basis) on a Prepaid basis.

Pay per use Data is not yet available. Operators want to encourage subscribers to start to use data services, and this will be an important technique. Operators fear that since Subscribers do not have a good feel about how much data they are using, they may experience sticker shock. “If I browse the Internet for an hour, how much will it cost?” NTT DoCoMo has very successfully charged for incremental data use on a per-MB basis, but there are better ways to do this (such as flat fee per hour or per day). Pricing for data use needs to get simpler before subscribers are willing to jump in a use data on a “pay per use” basis.

Operators have successfully delivered “Pay as you go” plans for Voice and Text, so there is a good experience to build upon. Soon, Customers will be able to purchase as much or as little of each category: Voice, Text, Data, and Content.

Update: Mobile Operators offer Internet to PrePaid users

As I forecast (above), mobile operators are bringing Mobile Internet service to PrePaid users, filling a big gap in the available pricing plans. T-Mobile USA announced that they are adding PrePaid data plans that can be PrePaid [as reported by Maisie Ramsay in Wireless Week, 14 October 2010]. The carrier said it will begin offering two data options for customers starting at 200 MB per month for $10 on postpaid plans and $15 per month on those going without a contract. The plans follow recent tiered packages launched by AT&T Mobility and plans by Verizon Wireless to announce a similar offering in the coming weeks.RCR Wireless reported. Previously, in the U.S., AT&T Mobility offered a lower-cost PostPaid plan, but this was an incremental change and still required that the user commit to a contract. In contrast, T-Mobile’s plan serves the currently unserved PrePaid market segment. As a trend, PrePaid data plans represent a huge expansion of the potential number of Mobile Internet users, since 75% of mobile subscribers (globally) are PrePaid subscribers.

AT&T Mobility’s move to create a lower-cost plan for mobile data was smart (as reported by my friend, Sue Rudd). Nice move, considering that they are expanding their iPhone base in the U.S. before they lost their iPhone exclusive. However, the T-Mobile move is far more important and represents a fundamental change to deliver the same services to both PostPaid and PrePaid (contract) subscribers.

The future for Mobile Operators is in data services, and now Operators are moving to serve the dominant way that subscribers prefer to pay: PrePaid.

Update: More PrePaid data offerings

Sue Rudd of Strategy Analytics pointed out that there are some additional PrePaid data offerings around the world, especially in Europe (where PrePaid subscribers are treated very differently than in the U.S.). She pointed to some offerings from Wind (3G Italy) , Virgin (MVNO, USA), and several WiMAX offerings such as Clearwire (WiMAX, USA). Clearwire represents one of a growing set of “Semi-Prepaid” plans offering Daily and Weekly contracts for Mobile Broadband that have been available since mod-2010.

Voice being replaced by Text and Data

August 28, 2010 at 4:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Consider the death of the voice call [capably considered by Clive Thomson, recently] and its replacement by Text (SMS) and other communication services (that run over data services). Teen behavior increasingly shows their preference for SMS over voice. It’s hard to believe that teen SMS use has increased almost 600% in the past 2 years [“How Teens Use Media,” Nielsen 2009], while their Voice minutes have declined by at least 25%. And data use is growing almost as fast – data has increased at least 300% (its use is doubling each year by the general populace). Among smartphone users, data services are the primary activity, not voice. So the scorecard for teen use over the past 2 years reads:

Text replaces Voice for Teens

Voice: -25%
Text: +566%
Data: +300%

The type of communication is fundamentally changing. Younger consumers increasingly replace a real-time interaction (e.g., conversation) with an asynchronous interaction (text/IM/e-mail). SInce these interactions can be performed whenever they want, they feel that this type of communication is less intrusive (reflect their preference to have shorter interactions at a time of their choosing). This style of communication also fits our growing tendency to multi-task and avoid extended focus on a single topic.

Future of Cell phone plans

August 23, 2010 at 3:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The end of “You must select a Voice plan”

The future of cell phone plans will de-emphasize voice and focus on data, offering a “cafeteria plan” of choice that does not revolve around a core, voice plan. This might seem obvious to many smartphone users (who spend most of their time using applications over a data connection) and Operators (that see that as much as 90% of the network traffic being used by data, not voice). But this change will turn current service plans on their head.

As iPhone users are all too aware, their purchase starts with a voice plan that most will not fully use. AT&T forces iPhone subscribers to purchase a costly voice plan that most subscribers do not want or need. (In the U.S., the minimum AT&T plan is 450 minutes of voice at $45, although a large percentage of users may use only a small fraction of this purchase, and many do not need this plan at all). Forcing users to purchase a large “bucket” of minutes is old school – useful for a generation of business users that transact by phone calls, but increasing irrelevant to young subscribers that prefer SMS and Skype. You can’t force subscribers to pay for something that they do not need.

Subscribers want a menu, and will purchase what they need

AT&T (and other operators) may find it profitable to force their subscribers to pay for something that they do not need, but over time they will be forced to let subscribers purchase what they need. This will require the Operators to offer a more flexible service plan, resembling purchases from a cafeteria. Subscribers want to be able to select the amount of voice/SMS/data that they will consume. Additionally, they want to be able to pay for this either on a (a) pre-paid or (b) post-paid (monthly) basis. Neither of these options are available today, but they will be, over time.

End Game: Wireline Eliminated (Best of both worlds!)

May 28, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Continuing the use of mobile phones to its logical conclusion, mobile phone Operators and phone manufacturers are delivering solutions and pricing plans that allow the wireless phone to completely eliminate the wired phone. The End User can get the best of both worlds: lower cost and more functionality. I’ve run the numbers for individuals and enterprises, and it works. (I use it in my Home Office every day.) Benefits: One number, always reachable, one voice mailbox, etc. Users can choose to merge their wireline and wireless systems, but the end game is to completely eliminate the wireline (“cut the cord”).

Wireless + Wireline (Interim Step)

If the administration prefers to keep the desk phone (for regulatory or policy reasons, to track corporate communications), then the wireless device can work as a wireless extension of the desktop phone (see the example of BlackBerry Mobile Voice System). This is a lot more complicated to maintain: more gear added to allow the mobile phone to act as an extension of the office PBX, and more maintenance of that gear. This solution is only desirable for those that must keep the wireline phone.

Wireless-only

Maximum savings of $1,000/year occur when the wireline or IP phone is eliminated. This solution is simple and easy to implement, as it does not add gear, it eliminates it. Eventually, the entire wireline solution will be eliminated, leaving the office with a wireless-only solution. This solution can be implemented using either (a) existing Wi-Fi or (b) a dedicated, in-building femtocell. Read on for a comparison of these two options and existing examples of these solutions, which concludes that UMA over Wi-Fi is best today, but Femtocells will eventually be the best solution.

Voice over Wi-Fi growing, Eliminating wireline phones

May 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Voice over Wi-Fi is growing, as predicted, since (a) Operators are happy to offload voice and especially data and, with Operator permission, the (b)Mobile phone manufacturers are building it into their (smart)phone platforms. This is part of the wider solution that Operators are employing to manage the deluge of data swamping their networks (see other articles for more details on how Operators are offloading mobile data to manage the exponential growth that they are experiencing, to prevent their Mobile Internet business from being broken).

UMA is the buzzword: enables Voice connections (transparent to the User) using available Wi-Fi connections. UMA is a piece of software that is built into the phone. It is a lot easier to use than a separate Voice over IP apps that must be installed and configured by the user, and that requires the user to have a IP data plan.

BlackBerry already has UMA  across their model line, and Android may offer it (there are rumors that this is being tested; see petition requesting it). Apple iPhone has Wi-Fi but does not yet include UMA, but it could easily (perhaps we’ll see it in a future release).

UMA can deliver significant savings of $500/year or more, by eliminating a landline phone and allowing the user to solely use their mobile phone. It’s the equivalent of replacing your landline phone by solely using your cellphone (than can also save you up to $1,000/year, surprisingly), but the Operator typically encourages this and includes it at little/no cost! You get free voice in the Home/Office! One can save a lot on International Roaming and Long Distance charges, too, since UMA calls are routed over Wi-Fi back to the Home network, and appear (and are billed) as local calls–as if you were calling from your home/office. In actual use, we found that “Road warriors” could save up to $1,000/month by using a UMA device (such as a BlackBerry) to make calls over Wi-Fi while traveling.

Read on to see how UMA is one of many solutions towards eliminating wireline, in End Game: Wireline Eliminated.

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