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Will Telephone Sound Quality Improve?
Old 04-25-2011, 10:10 AM   #1
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Will Telephone Sound Quality Improve?

When we talk to DD (our landline, her cell phone), the sound quality is much worse than the quality I remember from around 1960, 50 years ago. A lot of the speech is somewhat garbled, and the delay means that we're always stepping on one another's words.

In a "the good enough is the enemy of the great" situation, I think that there's no practical way to talk to our daughter in real time with excellent sound quality. Even landline to landline, I imagine there's some compression and multiplexing involved.

Think this will improve, or will the increasing amount of users and traffic overwhelm any technical improvements?
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:28 AM   #2
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My wife complains about the sound when someone leaves a message on the recorder...

I came home one time to listen.... and I could not understand a single word it was so bad...


We also get static... not all the time, but enough that I notice... I have not taken the time to see if it is our wires are theirs... we had lost phone service for awhile and it was a wire in our house... seems the old owners ran the wire under the carpet and it wore through...


But, to answer your question... I do not think it will get any better... the reason I say is our company has hold music... and we had the guy out here to check the system because it sounds so bad to so many people... he said cell phones were horrible and that there was nothing they could do about it... that if you called the main office you would have the same bad sound... as you say, landline to landline is not as bad, but not as good as 50 years ago....
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:47 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Texas Proud View Post
My wife complains about the sound when someone leaves a message on the recorder...

I came home one time to listen.... and I could not understand a single word it was so bad...
Like this: Garbled Phone Message
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Old 04-25-2011, 10:57 AM   #4
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I haven't noticed any difference at all on landline-to-landline calls, but cellphone calls are not as clear.

Edited to add: I have the standard AT&T landline and that is what I am referring to (not connections through my cable company or other services). It seems perfectly clear when calling other landlines, as long as the person I am calling has a decent phone with a cord and not something old and broken. My phone is about 8 years old and a cheapie from k-mart, but it has a cord and is not broken.
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:00 AM   #5
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:05 AM   #6
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:18 AM   #7
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Sound quality on landlines has deteriorated and cell phones have always been bad. I don't think either will improve, as it's just not that important to most folks--the sound quality/pseudo half-duplex operation, etc are acceptable and they are not willing to pay a higher price for better sound.

One possible reason for the deteriorating landline quality is the quality of the phones. Those heavy, mechanical telephones we used to rent from the phone company had some good quality speakers and mics. Many phones now have inferior components and the cordless phones introduce their own distortion.
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:31 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
When we talk to DD (our landline, her cell phone), the sound quality is much worse than the quality I remember from around 1960, 50 years ago. A lot of the speech is somewhat garbled, and the delay means that we're always stepping on one another's words.
Think this will improve, or will the increasing amount of users and traffic overwhelm any technical improvements?
Here's what the statistics are telling the telcom industry: Why would anyone bother to make a call on their cell phone when they can send a text?

SMS was originally designed as a tiny slice of the bandwidth for tech troubleshooting. Now it's gone completely in the other direction, with cell-phone systems starving the voice bandwidth to support more texting and data.

So, no, voice will only get worse. But you can watch jerky Skype video to go with that.
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:38 AM   #9
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I think it will improve.

Eventually, there won't be any such thing as analog voice calls; everything will be digital.

Just as the digital conversion of analog music gave us CDs with better quality than the old analog vinyl records, the same thing will happen with phones.


(And please don't get on my case about that opinion. I really do think CDs sound better than vinyl. If you're an audiophile who is hard over about your vinyl records, diamond needles, monster cables and vacuum tube amplifiers, then more power to you (literally), but I'm not buying it!).
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:40 AM   #10
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Most of my calls are made on a landline, and I find that landline to landline quality has not changed much over the past 20 or 30 years. But mobile phones -- most have poor quality -- or at least lower quality than landline to landline. There are a lot of factors -- the codec used, network traffic (they call it congestion) loss rate . . .

Music on hold, or any other "constant" sound is really challenging for digital phone systems that were designed primarily for human voices.

I think over time, mobile phones will get better, perhaps due to technology that has not even been invented yet. Landlines are probably going to stay where they are. Not to say that landlines will not get new technology -- they will, but that, but that technology will likely be applied to lower the cost (for the carrier) while maintaining current levels of quality.
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:47 AM   #11
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Agree with samclem - those older phones that utilized heavier speakers with a decent-sized magnet sounded pretty good. Landline to landline with good quality phones sounds good. Cell phones do not, but portability and convenience are more important to most users.
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Old 04-25-2011, 11:54 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
Eventually, there won't be any such thing as analog voice calls; everything will be digital.

Just as the digital conversion of analog music gave us CDs with better quality than the old analog vinyl records, the same thing will happen with phones.
Eventually, yes. But it will take much, much longer to get rid of analog phone systems than the conversion to digital music took . . . unless there of some kind of government mandate, as their was with TV. But in this case, there is no reason for a government mandate, as their was with TV. . . . and those pesky public utility commissions -- most at the state level. Would they all agree on something?

Edit to add: About the only thing that is still truly analog is the local loop -- the copper pair from your central office to the house.

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Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
(And please don't get on my case about that opinion. I really do think CDs sound better than vinyl. If you're an audiophile who is hard over about your vinyl records, diamond needles, monster cables and vacuum tube amplifiers, then more power to you (literally), but I'm not buying it!).
Well, I know for a fact that analog computers are more responsive and more accurate that the best digital computers will ever will be. But when you apply the "does it matter?" test, digital might be as good as analog.
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Old 04-26-2011, 01:16 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
When we talk to DD (our landline, her cell phone), the sound quality is much worse than the quality I remember from around 1960, 50 years ago. A lot of the speech is somewhat garbled, and the delay means that we're always stepping on one another's words.
If you have a real land line, in most cases these problems can be attributed to the cell phone and long distance provider. The cellular telephony technology adds inherent delay to the voice transmission. While small, when added to the delay caused by the distance between you and Jenny it's starting to become noticeable. If you are unlucky, you will get into the delay range range past telco echo cancelers capabilities. If you are double unlucky, additionally your long distance provider will have highly compressed trunks adding distortions and delays. Who is her cell provider and who is your landline & long distance provider?

Quote:
In a "the good enough is the enemy of the great" situation, I think that there's no practical way to talk to our daughter in real time with excellent sound quality. Even landline to landline, I imagine there's some compression and multiplexing involved.
multiplexing - yes, even if you are on the same local exchange, the analog signal from you land line will be converted to digital inside the switch. Compression - not necessary, unless you have a cheap provider.


Quote:
Think this will improve, or will the increasing amount of users and traffic overwhelm any technical improvements?
There are technologies available today (and in limited use), which allow much better sound quality (roughly equivalent to FM radio quality), but they use twice the bandwidth of a regular phone call.
Have a look here for some explanations: Wideband audio - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Hard to tell if they will be embraced by the market - as we all know consumers vote with their wallets.
Personally I do use it every day and like it a lot, as our company phones default to wide band, falling back to narrow-band if bandwidth is not available.
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Old 04-27-2011, 08:59 AM   #14
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Quote:
If you have a real land line, in most cases these problems can be attributed to the cell phone and long distance provider. The cellular telephony technology adds inherent delay to the voice transmission. While small, when added to the delay caused by the distance between you and Jenny it's starting to become noticeable. If you are unlucky, you will get into the delay range range past telco echo cancelers capabilities. If you are double unlucky, additionally your long distance provider will have highly compressed trunks adding distortions and delays. Who is her cell provider and who is your landline & long distance provider?
I think the delays are far longer than people realize. To measure the delay, have the person count slowly together with you: 1,2,3... With this technique I've found the delay to be usually around 1 second.

I don't know her cell phone provider. We have AT&T, but no long distance provider. When we call her, we use google voice (I know, "what did I expect?").

Quote:
There are technologies available today (and in limited use), which allow much better sound quality ...Personally I do use it every day and like it a lot, as our company phones default to wide band, falling back to narrow-band if bandwidth is not available.
Is there any way that I could say "Well, today I'd like to talk to my daughter using high-quality audio," and do it, even if it cost more?
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Old 04-27-2011, 09:29 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Nords View Post
Here's what the statistics are telling the telcom industry: Why would anyone bother to make a call on their cell phone when they can send a text?

SMS was originally designed as a tiny slice of the bandwidth for tech troubleshooting. Now it's gone completely in the other direction, with cell-phone systems starving the voice bandwidth to support more texting and data.
I would split that in two, between SMS - which I think is pretty much dead, bar the shouting - and other data.

SMS has been the big thing up to now, but always had the disadvantage that it only ran on your phone. Now that Facebook - with its chat feature - and Twitter (and even that old dinosaur, e-mail) are available more or less seamlessly on mobile phones with unlimited data plans costing only a few bucks per month, I can't imagine that anyone will be paying to send individual text messages in a couple of years' time.
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Old 04-27-2011, 10:21 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
Think this will improve, or will the increasing amount of users and traffic overwhelm any technical improvements? ...

I think the delays are far longer than people realize. To measure the delay, have the person count slowly together with you: 1,2,3... With this technique I've found the delay to be usually around 1 second.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
Quote:
There are technologies available today (and in limited use), which allow much better sound quality ...Personally I do use it every day and like it a lot, as our company phones default to wide band, falling back to narrow-band if bandwidth is not available.
Is there any way that I could say "Well, today I'd like to talk to my daughter using high-quality audio," and do it, even if it cost more?
There should be, and I'd also like to hear about it. There are many things that could be done using the internet (I think we are pretty locked in on cell/landline calls - but I seem to remember seeing a bandwidth setting on a phone once in the early days of digital - those are probably locked out these days). Most internet connections are fast enough to handle a higher bandwidth and less compressed signal. That should not be a problem for most internet connections. As an example, we can do video & audio on SKYPE (or others), let me use ALL of that for the audio when I want.

A word paragraph or two on those delays - as I understand it, they are due to two (related) components.

1) Cell and VOIP phones take a sample of your voice over a burst of time (let's just say 1/10 of a second for this explanation). Your phone has to store that 0.1 sec sample and then analyze it and create a compressed version of it. So it already has a minimum 0.1 sec delay, as it had to wait for the whole thing in order to run its compression algorithm. Then it takes some amount of time to compress it. Then, it has to send that 0.1 sec 'packet', and it takes some time to get to its destination. Then... the receiving end has to decode that 'packet' into a .1 sec burst of sound, and finally.... play that sound back on the receiver. And while this is happening, each side needs to be working on encoding the following .1 sec burst of audio in parallel,

So, you always have a delay of at least the "sample packet" time length, plus encoding, transfer and decoding. Quite a bit to ask from these little devices.

2) Jitter - this is the nasty part for internet phone calls. It turns out (again, as I understand this), that .1 second sound sample gets split into a bunch of data packets over the internet. And each packet can take a different route (and they often do). And some packets will take longer to get there, or even get lost and be asked to re-transmit. Now, you don't notice this on a web page so much, if it takes two seconds to load, you don't often care that one section loaded before another - you mainly care about the final finished page you read. But with voice, it doesn't work that way - you can't 'read' a voice if the bits are out of order. So, the decoder has to wait for ALL the bits to get there, at some point, it gives up and does the best it can with what it gt. This is where you get drop offs and other artifacts.

Whew.... Bottom line - with a reasonably high speed, low jitter connection, yes, you should be able to specify a high quality sound. It is technically feasible, whether it is available or not I do not know. Thinking about what I just wrote, it may help to trade off delay for audio quality. That may or may not be a good trade off, but you can adapt to the delay, poor sound and drop outs are harder to adapt to.


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But, to answer your question... I do not think it will get any better... the reason I say is our company has hold music... and we had the guy out here to check the system because it sounds so bad to so many people...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rustward View Post
Music on hold, or any other "constant" sound is really challenging for digital phone systems that were designed primarily for human voices.
I'm amazed that companies have not caught on to this - music really does sound absolutely awful over these compressions schemes. They should drop the music, or maybe find some types (simple tones maybe?) that sound OK compressed. It really adds to the annoyance of being on hold.


Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Sound quality on landlines has deteriorated and cell phones have always been bad. I don't think either will improve, as it's just not that important to most folks--the sound quality/pseudo half-duplex operation, etc are acceptable and they are not willing to pay a higher price for better sound.
Quote:
Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
I think it will improve.

Eventually, there won't be any such thing as analog voice calls; everything will be digital.

Just as the digital conversion of analog music gave us CDs with better quality than the old analog vinyl records, the same thing will happen with phones.
braumeister, I have to go with samclem on this. while CDs were a big improvement in many ways (I will also refrain from the vinyl-vs-CD debate), look what has happened - despite all the technology improvements we have had since the 80's, people buy music in compressed formats. Convenience/cost over quality. So no, I don't think it'll get better. Too may people are 'perfectly happy' with junk, and often-times the majority rules and the marketplace is filled with junk.


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Well, I know for a fact that analog computers are more responsive and more accurate that the best digital computers will ever will be. But when you apply the "does it matter?" test, digital might be as good as analog.
It's not so much the technology, it is the implementation[ of the technology. There is good & bad analog, and there is good & bad digital.

And I agree with many that we ought to have the option of better sound when we want it, charge me for it if you must, but give me the option.

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Old 04-27-2011, 11:15 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by TromboneAl View Post
I think the delays are far longer than people realize. To measure the delay, have the person count slowly together with you: 1,2,3... With this technique I've found the delay to be usually around 1 second.
I don't know her cell phone provider. We have AT&T, but no long distance provider. When we call her, we use google voice (I know, "what did I expect?").
Well- Google Voice can add a significant delay. In most of my test cases the whole path delay was anywhere between 150 to to 500 milliseconds, I guess your 1 second represents unlucky case. Keep in mind that google is known to change their backbone settings without notice. For a quick description how GV works, have a look at popular answer here: Voice Quality - Google Voice Help

Quote:
Is there any way that I could say "Well, today I'd like to talk to my daughter using high-quality audio," and do it, even if it cost more?
Not that I know of using your land line to her cell phone. Or GV to her cell.
But if she is lugging a laptop with her or Skype capable phone (Android, iPhone, Nokia N60), give Skype a try with a voice call (skip the video first, to get the best audio).
Also something worth mentioning is that good headsets frequently can improve the perceived quality of marginal audio. When I get such call, I much prefer the headset versus handset.
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