Perhaps the easiest way to get a sense of wideband quality is to try Skype. The software’s setup is extremely easy and it supports all the common computer platforms. Calls between Skype accounts are wideband when the available network bandwidth supports its use. That would be almost always for most people.
You need to ensure that you’re getting the a bone fide wideband experience. That probably means buying a good headset with a mic. I like the Plantronics .Audio 615m or 630m which are USB attached devices. By providing a good headset with a boom-style mic you ensure that you’re going to hear and send the very best possible audio.
There are many times when you might not get a wideband call via Skype. For example, when using Skype call normal phones via SkypeOut. When Skype terminates a call to a normal phone (PSTN) they do so using the G.729 codec.
Not only is the Skype Out call not wideband, but its compressed to a mere 8 kbps for the most cost effective network transit. If everything else involved in the call is ideal the best you can expect is the equivalent of a MOS score of 3.9. While this is acceptable for a PSTN call, it’s narrowband, and not even as good as G.711 (MOS 4.4)
If you know a lot of other Skype users you might have a great experience using Skype, and decide that you want to use it more and more. Some people simply are not comfortable with the Skype client and a headset for routinely making calls. As a result there has arisen a large number of Skype certified add-ons, including USB handsets that look just like a phone or phone handset. You need to be very careful a bout these devices. Most are not able to deliver truly high-quality audio.
A short while ago I posted a review of a number of USB attached speakerphone devices. Several of these are wideband capable, making them a good choice for use with Skype.
Also, many people find that they want to use Skype without needing their computer turned on. You can buy a Skype certified phone to access your Skype account without needing your computer. However, beware the fact that essentially none of these hardware devices are wideband capable. The codecs they implement in hardware are the same as those used for the PSTN…narrowband.
Finally, there’s been a lot of talk recently about “Skype-For-Asterisk” and “Skype-For-SIP.” Both of these are efforts on the part of the company to interface to the broader world of VoIP. But, as is the case with their PSTN call termination, all calls using these services are limited to the narrowband codecs of the PSTN. No wideband there. Even Michael Robertson’s Open Sky gateway between SIP and Skype does not support wideband calling.
So to recap, only when making calls to other Skype users will you experience genuine wideband calling. Even then usually only when using the Skype soft phone client. While that might seem like a lot of possible gotcha’s, Skype is actually a very simple and easy and effective way to experience wideband voice communication.