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AT&T to roll out support for HD Voice later this year

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When Apple introduced the iPhone 5, Apple's Senior VP of Marketing Phil Schiller explained that Apple updated the iPhone 5's entire audio system. In addition to the inclusion of three microphones and an improved speaker design, Schiller also boasted that the iPhone 5 featured a technology dubbed wideband audio, otherwise known as HD Voice technology.

Phil Schiller said the technology was capable of delivering amazing sound performance and described it thusly:

In a typical cellphone call, this is what it looks like. The frequency of the data in your voice is compressed around the midrange to help make that call sound more intelligible, but it doesn't sound entirely natural all the time. So with wideband audio we can fill up more of the frequency spectrum and make your voice sound even more natural.

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Note that the chart above was taken from Schiller's keynote presentation.

In order to take advantage of the much improved call quality, however, the technology must be supported by the carrier and both devices on a particular call.

When Apple first introduced the iPhone 5, Schiller said that 20 cellphone carriers worldwide would be ready to support the iPhone 5's wideband audio technology at launch. Notably, no US carriers were part of that original grouping of 20.

But that's all poised to change.

AllThingsD relayed statements made by AT&T senior VP Kris Rinne today at the VentureBeat Mobile Summit indicating that Ma Bell is planning to roll out support for wideband audio later this year.

"HD Voice is part of our voice over LTE strategy," Rinne explained.

Of course, this is welcome news for AT&T subscribers who have long complained of subpar call quality measured against other US carriers like Sprint and Verizon.

Rinne also added that AT&T is taking other measures to improve call quality on its network.

Rinne, who oversees network technologies for the carrier, said that the carrier will also begin work on so-called advanced LTE which does things to reduce interference and bond together traffic from various frequencies.

Sprint is reportedly interested in supporting HD Voice as well, though a timetable for such support wasn't specified.

So is HD Voice all it's being cracked up to be?

Well, when T-Mobile announced its plan to start carrying the iPhone 5 beginning on April 12, it also mentioned that it will support Phone 5's HD Voice feature.

Gizmodo was able to give the feature a test run and came away impressed.

Calling from one T-Mobile iPhone to another, my caller's voice came through loud and clear. You know how sometimes cell-to-cell voice calls can sound a little fragmented? Like little bits of sounds are being dropped? This didn't have that. It was a much more natural-sounded call. It was a bit richer, and definitely fuller. I wouldn't say it was like night and day, but it's definitely a noticeable improvement.

I then used the same iPhone to call an HTC One on AT&T and it sounded, y'know, like a typical cell call. It was very slightly broken up, and definitely didn't have as much dynamic range.

So iPhone 5 users experiencing particularly shoddy call quality on AT&T have reason to rejoice. Verizon users, on the other hand, will have to wait until 2014 for HD Voice support.

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