I remember the quality of calls on the old touchtone phone in my parents’ home. Yes, it was mono but the volume was loud and voice was crisp. You could sometimes hear static, but if the person was on a similar phone, it was like listening to vinyl. Then came VOIP. My first experience in VOIP home phone was in the early 2000s was with Vonage. The experience was very poor — constantly down and consistently bad.
By 2006, the quality of VOIP gateways was getting on par with landlines. However, it seems that landlines had taken a step backwards as they became digital. The wiring in the home with RJ11 was still there but everything else was gone.
As cells became ubiquitous, the quality of calls degraded further but around the 2010s, many voice calls were horrible. Many people on teleconferences were taking them from cars, airports, or what seemed like bowling alleys as there was always someone on the line who wouldn’t mute their line. Compounding the problem were earbud-type earphones that could give OK sound output but were universally bad for microphone.
However, the age of bad voice call quality will soon pass. A few drivers for this are:
- Improved coverage. Coverage was one of the drivers of bad quality. This is still the case in pockets but system wide, coverage is great — even for LTE.
- Improved hardware. Since the iPhone 5 came out, call quality on multiple phones improved. The phone had three microphones for doing beam forming, improving sound quality. Now AirPods and other headsets take into account better acoustic design for voice call handling.
- Improved technology. The coming of LTE+/5G has seen new services be pushed, such as HD Voice (Wideband Audio) / VoLTE. Now, supported devices can give much crisper (and more frequency range) sound.
Combining these with emerging technologies around far field pick up and noise cancellation, we’ll be back to the intimacy of the heavy handset conversation again in the next two years.