Raise Every Voice

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25 Responses to “Raise Every Voice”

  1. bumblebeeeeeee says:

    All the fake tv phone numbers in one book!! http://greyisgood.eu/fictitious/

  2. Kaleberg says:

    There are other communications systems that also do bandwidth cutoff, for example, the low frequency talking drums of Africa and the high frequency whistling languages of Anatolia. I actually like the way phone calls make someone sound distant, and I like the street noise I often get which provides a context for the person I’m talking with. It’s what radio directors used to call “perspective”, and they used all sorts of tricks to provide context on analog radio shows.

  3. Boundegar says:

    The Bell System was able to offer high fidelity phone service a long LONG time ago, but demand is tiny.  When I worked for them as an engineer I supported this service, which was mainly used by meteorologists to phone in the weather report from their home studio.  The service, back in analog times, was expensive and rickety.  The limiting factor was the quality of the copper cables.

    I have to say, very very few of the calls I make would be improved by adding bandwidth.  Maybe if I had more phone sex it would matter to me.

    •  Why is demand tiny?  Could it be that Bellheads do not get marginal cost or how to introduce new services in a wide-scale manner like competitive service and data processing folks do?  The problem lies in the vertically integrated, monopoly, stack.  There is enormous demand for HD products.

    • mjgraves says:

      Yes, it was based round ISDN, a technology from the 1980s. It used G.722 to convey audio samples at 16 KHz. It was widely adopted by all kind of broadcasters as an effective way to get decent quality audio between distant fixed sites.

      ISDN didn’t have the distance-from-the-CO limitation that plaques DSL. You could get it just about everywhere there was a POTS line, given a willingness to update/upgrade the nearby CO. 

      I tried to order ISDN from Bell Canada in 1992 and was given a complete run-around. They truly didn’t know how to handle the order.

      The telco’s really didn’t know what to do with ISDN. They could not work out how to sell it and so rarely had to install it. It was too costly and, at 64-128 kbps, ultimately too slow. By the mid-90′s modems were delivering speeds around 56 kbps over POTS, so the motivation for ISDN faded.

      ISDN did prove that HDVoice is possible over the PSTN using TDM infrastructre. The common wisdom today is that it requires IP infrastructure, which is not strictly true.

  4. atomic_tarheel says:

    I supported VOIP networks in the early half of the last decade, and, while this is a nice introduction to why the PSTN/VOIP sound the way they do, it ultimately has the tone of someone complaining about why there isn’t world peace.  There are overwhelming economic and logistical reasons why things are the way they are.  The PSTN didn’t go digital at its core until the 70s, 100 years after the phone was invented.  This stuff takes time and commitment.  Skype, which the author holds up as an example of the sort of progress he wants in the PSTN, can switch out their codecs whenever they want to because they don’t have to interoperate with anybody else. That’s not the PSTN, where innumerable third-party devices, networks, countries, etc. all over the world need to play nice or nothing works. And because VOIP networks need to play nice with the PSTN, VOIP gets handicapped, too. That’s just how it is. It’s the same story with every other bit of technology man has ever created: layers and layers of cruft build up over time, eventually obscuring the true reasons behind one or another design decision. And we’ve just got to deal in the meantime.

    • AT, I partially agree with your assessment, but I think you can evolve your thinking with a different perspective on history.

      There are 523 days to go til the 100 year anniversary of one of the greatest deceits foisted on the American public: the Kingsbury Commitment.  Had that not happened who knows how and when information networks (of which 3 monopolies resulted in the first half of the century: telephone, audio content, video content) would have digitized.  Probably far sooner than the 80s (WAN) and 90s (data and wireless).  Skype is part of an “internet” evolution in which the telecoms world is going “horizontal”.  IP was a 4 layer stack and that’s why internet 1.0 blew up in 2000.  The market has been developing the 3 additional layers over the past 15 years, but is not there yet.  Every layer has its own layers as the technology responds to and/or anticipates market demand.  Mostly the former though, as demand has been retarded by 50+ years.

      5 years ago, Steve Jobs reintroduced equal access and the application ecosystems are a competitive virus working its way down the telecom stack.  Slowly “IP” folks are understanding that bilateral settlements or “terminating access charges” (a curse word in the IP world 10 years ago) might actually make sense in terms of controls and effective service creation.  Bilateral settlements will also drive “free” and universal access in that metcalfe’s law (the network effect) goes infinite and central subsidization and procurement outweigh edge subscription models.   When that happens skype will interconnect with other OTT systems and scale more rapidly.

      Spread the word; we can do a lot in 523 days!

  5. JustAdComics says:

    I’d love to see better fidelity come into play, if only for the sake of my father who is very hard of hearing. He struggles to understand phone conversations, despite using various speakerphones, volume controls, etc.

  6. $16228947 says:

    I wonder if a suitable analogy of the differences between VOIP and PSTN might bet that between GOPHER and the WEB, where the GOPHER protocol transcends systems with a uniform file hierarchy, and the HTTP protocol of the WEB is very open and forgiving, allowing for graphics and various interactive elements. Index and documents can be made to look quite pretty on the WEB, while the GOPHER is wickedly fast, efficient, and demands far less in terms of system resources on both the client and the server.

    •  There are examples of protocol differences (basically centralization vs distribution of intelligence) at all 7 layers of the stack that illustrate differences between Gopher vs Web.  It’s always a risk and cost tradeoff.

  7. Andrea says:

    I wonder if I would like phones better if the sound fidelity was improved. I hate talking to people over the phone because it’s so much harder to understand what they’re saying: not just the words, but the expression. AFAIK, I don’t suffer from any appreciable hearing loss.

    What would it take to make these changes? Would people go for it voluntarily, if they could experience the difference?

  8. bregalad says:

    Years ago I tried one of those companies that uses VOIP to provide you with home phone service. It was an unmitigated disaster. Call quality was poor at best and any time we tried to leave a message on someone’s voice mail they’d get little more than noise with the occasional syllable of speech mixed in. We raced back to the traditional phone company after that.
    Today our home phone service comes through the cable company and is therefore VOIP. Quality is as good as can be with analog phones.
    At work we are exclusively on VOIP, but most people I speak with are on an analog phone, cell phone or digital speakerphone.
    I use Skype for calls to colleagues on the other side of the world. I don’t think the quality is that great. It’s pretty similar to a traditional local phone call and nothing at all like face to face conversation.

  9. Thorzdad says:

    “Even the earliest successful VoIP calls I can remember making between two computers sounded better to me than any traditional voice call.”

    You must have had one phenomenally crappy traditional phone line, then. I have yet to use anything that sounds better, on a regular basis, than our land line. Cellular still suffers from a lack of duplexing, so you can’t really have a natural conversation with anyone on a cell call. VOIP is ok, but still quite often suffers from compression and artifacting, rendering voices into that tin-can squawk sound.

    • There’s a large difference between pure VOIP-to-VOIP and VOIP-to-PSTN. VoIP-to-PSTN can be awful. VoIP-to-VoIP should be good to fantastic. I made VoIP calls in the 90s, and my home line is just fine. Cellular is terrible, but if I use Skype over a cell data connection, it’s great. Whatever VoIP you’re using, I wonder if you’re always gatewayed to the PSTN?

  10. Andrew Pam says:

    Here’s an example of a recent open-source codec designed specifically for low-latency, low-bitrate applications like VoIP:  http://www.opus-codec.org/
    At 64Kbps, even stereo music sounds decent.

  11. Kimmo says:

    Shouldn’t it be feasible to introduce a higher-quality simultaneous stream in and for mobile phones? Either by using the data connection, or preferably somehow re-jigging the protocols running on the cells to accept a similar deal to ADSL?

  12. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    I think you’re misusing the term dynamic range.  It has nothing to do with the bandwidth of a signal or frequency.  It is either the difference in decibels (named for A. G. Bell) between the noise floor and the loudest signal that can be accomodated, or the difference in decibels between the softest and loudest sounds in a particular audio sample.

  13. Jeffrey Rodman says:

    As the writer of the Polycom article referenced by Glenn, I’d summarize it this way: conventional phones limit sound frequency (fidelity) to 300 – 3300Hz, which is about 1/5 the range of human hearing and the human voice.  It really does make a difference, and wideband audio (also called HD Voice when describing speech) is now widely available in open standards, and implemented in a variety of systems including VoIP, Skype, Apple’s Facetime, Microsoft’s Lync, Android, LTE, virtually all videoconferencing systems since 1990, and others worldwide.  HDVoice has been rolled out on wireless systems in Europe (Orange, Ericsson, others), but is lagging in the US.  
    “Raise Every Voice” has it right: full fidelity makes a huge difference and the technology has been cheap and available for years.  The more of us that tell our own phone companies we want it, the faster we’ll get it.  

    • There needs to be a settlement system in the control layers for service providers to invest in technology on either side of the session to support consistent (or translatable) HD audio, content and video services/solutions.  We are getting there in herky jerky fashion; held up only by monopoly access and bandwidth providers and the mentality of IP/data folks who have this false impression that everything is free. 

  14. Bjorn Roche says:

    “The frequencies captured also define the dynamic range: not just which frequencies, but the difference in expressiveness by tone.” Frequency response and dynamic range are different things, and one does not “define” the other. Dynamic range, roughly speaking, is the range from quiet to loud, and frequency response is the range of frequencies accurately captured and reproduced. Frequency is related to pitch of a musical instrument, which is independent of its loudness. You are correct in your analogy to a camera with intensities of gray being dynamic range. Frequency response would most closely be analogous to number of pixels, or overall sharpness of the image.Also, it’s not always necessarily a good thing to maximize dynamic range and frequency response in a telephone call. For example, dynamics compression (reduction of dynamic range, NOT bitrate reduction) is useful because it makes the call more intelligible, especially when we are listening in a noisy environment. FM radio, and skype do this as well. (FM radio uses broadcast limiters, among other things, and last I looked into it, Skype used AGC, or automatic gain control circuitry, whereby the microphone gain is automatically altered depending on the speech volume.) Even with perfect transmission technology, radio would be unlistenable in a car, with its noisy engine, for example, without some compression. We often hold our cell phones up right up to our ears — do we really want a huge dynamic range right there? No: It would be painful.

  15. codeman38 says:

    I have a diagnosed auditory processing disorder, and the telephone is a huge bugbear for me– because the way the phone transmits things is not how I actually hear things in person at all.

    Interestingly, though, despite what you mention about the harmonics, the big problem for me isn’t really in the vowel sounds (though for certain timbres of voices, that can also be an issue). Rather, it’s in the consonants. A lot of consonant sounds are primarily found within the range above 4 KHz; I can hear those sounds loud and clear in person, but over the phone, they’re almost nonexistent and I have to use way too much effort to guess at them. (In particular, “s” and “f” are barely distinguishable at all for me over the phone, as are their close cousins “v” and “z”.)

    And amplification doesn’t really help. Increasing the treble and decreasing the bass helps somewhat, in that it at least brings the consonant sounds out more– but it still can only go so far due to the inherent frequency cutoff.

    (Edited to add: Rodman’s white paper does discuss the consonant intelligibility issue at length, for what it’s worth.)

  16. mjgraves says:

    There are a lot of examples of HDVoice available online. Here’s one from a French firm that I found recently. 

    http://youtu.be/5q7YLGCus7I

    I  created a variety of narrowband, wideband and super-wideband examples for a presentation on HDVoice. 

    http://www.mgraves.org/2009/10/asterisk-hdvoice-hearing-the-sirens-song-part-1/ 

    This material was used at Astricon 2009 to highlight the implementation of Polycom’s Siren codecs in Asterisk, the leading open source PBX software. It includes a variety of male and female voices in various languages.

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