Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why cellular phone voice quality sucks, and what to do about it

I've always wondered why people are ditching their land lines and going to cellular phones. In my article "Telephones: Not Ready to Give Up my Land Line Yet", I gave four good reasons for keeping a landline. The fourth reason was sound quality.

Cellular service providers made a lot of compromises to sound quality in order to fit more channels, and hence more calls, into their networks. Those compromises degraded the quality of the sound to the point that it's become very frustrating to try to hold a decent conversation over a cell phone. Compounding the problem is the fact that the handset manufacturers have forgotten that a "smartphone" is supposed to be a telephone that does other stuff. Nowadays a "smartphone" is a palm-sized computer that also makes phone calls.

And the manufacturers have also built compromises into their hardware. The built-in speaker distorts the voice of the person on the other end. And the microphone, if it picks up your voice at all, also picks up a lot of background noise.

It doesn't have to be this way. You know those interviews on NPR, when the correspondent, sitting in the studio in Washington D.C. or Los Angeles, is having an interview with two people, one in Kabul and one in London, and it sounds like they're sitting right next to them? Yeah. Those are telephone connections, people.

Why are you settling for the tinny, fuzzy, static-filled, crap that comes out of your cellphone? A recent article in IEEE Spectrum tells why cellphone sound quality is so bad, and what can (and should) be done about it. The solutions are practical, and they are available today.

So why aren't we using them? I think it all boils down to money: the same reason that airlines are mashing seats closer together and making them more uncomfortable. It doesn't have to be this way. I'm not sure what to do about it, but I'll keep my landline until the day the phone companies get this mess figured out — and do something about it.

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