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Orange improves mobile phone voice quality

New technology launching in UK next year

Orange will launch what it claims to be the world's first mobile telephone service offering improved sound quality using the AMR-WB (Adaptive Multi Rate-Wideband) speech coding technology.

The technology makes what Orange calls HD voice possible, and will offer sound quality comparable to FM radio, according to Tom Wright, a spokesman at Orange. The data side of mobile networks has gone through big improvements in recent years, but the voice quality has remained the same until now, he said.

AMR-WB has been a slow starter. Back in October 2006 Ericsson and T-Mobile announced they had conducted the first trial of the technology in a commercial network. The trial showed that subscribers, for example, made longer calls, said Jan Derksen, manager for Portfolio Marketing at Ericsson Networks.

Orange Moldova will be the first to offer its subscribers the improved sound through AMR-WB. The technology will then be rolled out in the UK and Belgium by the end of 2010.

For AMR-WB to work, both phones and the network have to support the technology. Orange is starting in Moldova because that country's network there was recently rolled out. At first, the Nokia 6720c will be the only phone that can take advantage of the improved sound quality, though other phones will work on the network. But more phones are on the way, Wright said, without going into any details. Orange believes that the speech codec will be on a majority of 3G handsets sold within five years, it said.

Voice has taken the back seat to data for operators, as they have focused on building mobile broadband networks. But voice still comprises the lion's share of revenue and will remain so for the next four or five years, according to Richard Webb, directing analyst at market research company Infonetics. Improving voice quality would get rid of the last differentiator for fixed telephony, he said.

Now that one operator has launched the service, Ericsson is hoping more operators will follow Orange's lead, Derksen said.

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