by Rich Moncure
It has always baffled me how a fairly seasoned industry like the cellular phone industry could offer such poor on hold audio quality over nearly 4 decades. The frustrating aspect has been that the technology is readily available to heal the wounds. And while I remain amazed at the reality that we can communicate around the world with these wonderful devices, I can’t help but wonder why it is taking so long to mature in the area of basic tone quality. The good news is that the major carriers are moving to improve it right now, and in a very significant way. How? Bigger pipes!
On Hold Audio Technology Is Improving!
We have all witnessed huge strides with respect to picture quality on our flat screen TV’s, yet we seem to not have been as demanding from our cell phone providers for a higher quality experience on our cell phones. First of all, why is the quality so bad? That’s easy. The networks were originally designed to carry the human voice, and pretty much ONLY the human voice across their networks. Think of your cell phone ‘line’ as a pipe, designed to carry your human voice. As you speak, your voice fills that pipe to the brim, and there is little to no room for anything else. So, what the heck else could possibly want to jump in that pipe?
The answer is that there are a myriad of elements that compete for space on that little pipe you currently use. For starters, background noise can cause issues. Background noise can be road noise, other conversations, music, multiple other people talking, or pretty much any noise that is not a human voice. The pipe has no room for it, but instead of ignoring it, the pipe somewhat freaks out on itself and rebels by offering static, jitter, and just plain bad audio. Using the car traffic analogy of “too many cars, not enough concrete” comes to mind.
That Warbling Sound Of Music-On-Hold Could Soon Be A Thing Of The Past
To further illustrate, have you ever noticed that when you call a business on your cell phone and they put you on hold, your experience could be pretty bad at times. In all likelihood, it’s because your pipe can’t handle the varying sound spectrums that the business’s on hold music generates. The bass notes are below the spectrum of a human voice, and the high notes are beyond the spectrum of a human voice. In fact, if you listen closely, and if the company is coupling On Hold Messaging in the form of spoken on hold commercials or spoken advertisements with their music you may notice that the spoken messages are pretty clear, but when those spoken messages fade out and the music returns, the audio experience degrades.
Here’s the good news! The cell phone carriers are working harder on this by upgrading their networks to support HD Voice. The attached link is a well written article lays it all out for you in plain English.
As stated in the article, this is not a new technology. In fact, the article was written in 2013. But HD Voice is being deployed slowly. As it rolls out, perhaps you have even noticed that on occasion, your cell to cell calls, particularly between ‘like’ devices, can be alarmingly high quality. A telephone call on an a recent iPhone to a another iPhone user can be crystal clear, easily surpassing the quality of legacy land line services.
One thing we can all do as consumers is to demand more from our carriers. The next time you shop carriers and services, include the topic of HD Voice rollout as you engage those carriers. Though they all are in different phases of HD Voice rollout, consumer demand could accelerate it and we can longer have to hear…”can you hear me now”.
Issues of poor on hold audio quality on a phone call can also go beyond the cell phone carrier network. Consider the business telephone system. As businesses continue to migrate away from the good ole legacy analog telephone technology, and move it to the Internet (and in particular ‘the cloud’), they often make the unconscious and uneducated decision to degrade audio quality on a phone call. How did that happen? Well, it’s because once again, the pipes offered can often be smaller pipes designed for the human voice. A technical term for this compressed pipe is G729, which is a codec (coder / decoder) for transmitting of data. G729 was designed to carry the human voice, but not much else. However, it comes at a lower cost. G711 is a larger codec, and is more akin to what we enjoyed in the legacy telephone network. There are many other codecs being deployed, and hopefully, in the not too distant future, your smartphone, business phone, home phone will be much more of a higher on hold audio quality experience!
by Rich Moncure
Rich is the President of On Hold Marketing, a marketing focused audio studio helping businesses and practices take advantage of their telephone system’s On Hold capabilities. Prior to On Hold Marketing, Rich spent 20 years in telecommunications working for such giants as Williams Communications, NextiraOne, Bell Atlantic and Nortel Networks.