PSTN’s Audio Handicap.

September 20, 2004

in Skype Journal

A supportive duo for the new order of telecoms. Rob Paterson on regaining human contact and new refinements in audio quality. And Om Malik on the VoIP Insurrection. Both are long and enjoyable posts. Om’s finishes with a warning that telecoms won’t go easy. They won’t. In fact the only way to attack as an upstart is to create a business that is something else entirely and do nothing that looks like a traditional telecom. I’ve taken an audio quality angle on the quotes below.

The quality is so good that I can hear a large part of the emotional state of the other in their voice and their voice pattern. The spirit is in our breath. Our breath is I find an indication of our spirit. When we ask a friend “How are you?’ The tone of their response rather than the word themselves tells us all. A problem for the modern world is that most of us listen only to the words. One of my favourite authors, Malcolm Gladwell has a new book coming out on this topic. called Blink – Thinking Without Words. So with Skype, the human value of the contact is very high. When you combine this with the low cost – essentially free – and the social context of community, the core aspect of prior blogging, you really “meet” the other person………………… Skype allows conference calls on voice. It is inevitable that in 3 years, we will be as fully present over time and distance as we could be in person. We would miss only the pheromone channel. Robert Paterson

One attempt by AT&T to improve voice quality in the early 90’s illustrates the PSTN’s handicap. Marketing studies indicated customers might prefer a low end (i.e. bass) audio boost. Sony implemented this with a “MegaBass” switch on their Walkman product line. AT&T wanted to do the same thing in hopes of competing with MCI and Sprint on voice quality rather than price. The consumer Vice-President at AT&T, Joseph Nacchio, pushed through an $800 million project to get the job done. AT&T could not simply install a switch on telephones analogous to the Sony’s solution. AT&T had to alter the signal processing incorporated in echo cancellers throughout the network. These network wide modifications produced irate customers not more customers. The higher sound levels caused operators distress and amplified existing network quality problems. Om Malik

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