Smart’s HD Voice Feature is Almost Nil for Now


I can justify the title of this article by two things: First, Smart Communications has very limited cell sites having AMR-WB (Adaptive Multi-Rate Wide Band) codecs installed; and Second, very few 3G handsets are capable of the codecs for now.

Mobile manufacturers and operators are said playing “chicken-and-egg” on who should do it first–the manufacturer to equip its mobile phones with AMR-WB or the telcos to make their cell sites ready for the technology?

Smart is the first telecommunications in the Philippines and one of the only more than 20 telcos around the world that adopted the AMR-WB technology or the HD (High Definition) Voice. The AMR-WB is a speech coding standard first developed by Nokia based on the widely used AMR encoding found in our mobile phones. AMR (.amr) files are compressed files suitable for mobile phones but generally poor in quality.

The telephone voice is normally sounds tinny and it’s the lowest audio quality when it comes to bandwidth and sampling rate as shown in the table below.

VOICE QUALITY FORMATS BANDWIDTH SOUND RESOLUTION
DVD (Digital Video Disc) 96khz 24 bits
DAT (Digital Audio Tape) 48khz 16 bits
CD (Compact Disc) 44khz 16 bits
FM (Frequency Modulation) 32khz 16 bits
AM (Amplitude Modulation) 22khz 8 bits
TELEPHONE 11/8khz 8 bits

In the pursuit of improving the technology, AMR-WB was developed but just more than a dozen telecommunications companies are implementing it while in New Zealand, the government is reportedly mandating its carriers to carry the technology as a requirement for a 4G spectrum license in the coming year.

The AMR-WB has effectively improved the voice quality of the mobile calls by applying higher sound resolution starting at 6.60kbps up to 23.85kbps (kilobit per second). Translating this to benefits, this would mean a better speech recognition like the commonly misheard sounds such as “s” from “f”, “m” from “n”, and “p” from “t”.

Hear these audio samples from VoiceAge comparing the narrowband audio samples and AMR-WB samples.

Smart Communications said the HD voice is initially available in select areas in Makati City and Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. The company also mentioned few 3G mobile brands and models that have AMR-WB feature like Smart Netphone 701, the Nokia E7, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini, and the Samsung Galaxy Ace.

I’ve found additional brands with AMR-WB like Nokia Lumia 610, ZTE Era, Huawei Ascend D Quad, Sony Xperia P, and HTC One X.

It’s not easy to find out if our mobile phones are capable or not of the AMR-WB technology unless you’ll have the patience reading the manual or search for it somewhere. Most of the specs published in the manufacturers’ sites don’t mentioned AMR-WB on their phones. However, soon it will become a standard for all smartphones as the telcos are improving their service and adopt the technology sooner.

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