Q: How Will Cat-iq Help HDVoice??

CAT-iq Logo-250 Earlier this week someone posed me a question by way of twitter. They asked, “How Will Cat-iq Help HDVoice??” I responded briefly, also via Twitter, but upon reflection I think a longer answer may be in order.

Some time ago VoIP luminary Jeff Pulver started to beat the drum for HDVoice. As an initial part of that effort he organized a couple of HDVoice Summits where interested parties could meet and discuss the issues surrounding widespread adoption of HDVoice.

The first of these events was in May 2009 in New York City. I was fortunate to be able to attend. It was there that I started to track who was promoting the use of HDVoice, how, and sometimes why*.

In truth, most of the people attending these summits were already in some regard proponents of HDVoice. Many represented companies at work in the space. Many of those companies are names that are well known, like Audio Codes, Gigaset, Polycom or snom. Others were lesser known companies like Dialogic, Global IP Solutions, VoiceAge, Wyde Voice or ZipDX.

One of the lesser known companies represented was DSP Group. They make some of the core chipsets that enable digital cordless phones, although they’re not the only company in that space. Companies like Gigaset use DSP Group chipsets in the creation of their home & office cordless phones.

In the past these chipsets were based upon the long-established DECT standard. More recently they support it’s evolution into what is now known as CAT-iq.

Whereas prior DECT standards revolved around PSTN connectivity, and specified G.723 as the voice codec, one of the goals of CAT-iq v1.0 was the adoption of a standard way to convey wideband audio.

CAT-iq v1.0 defines a way of using G.722 encoded audio between handsets registered to the same base, even if that base only has an analog connection to the PSTN. Vancouver-based VTech offer such phones, even calling it “HD Audio”, although they provide only a POTS interface to the PSTN.

Further, if the DECT/CAT-iq base is IP-connected that opens the door to passing G.722 encoded media to an ITSP via SIP. That could give you an affordable, HDVoice-capable end-user device that has the simplicity and convenience of a cordless phone.

Cable companies are not just about TV anymore. Comcast, by way of their Digital Voice offering, was heralded as the third largest Telco in the US.

Historically, installing any VoIP service meant connecting an analog terminal adapter (ATA) to a router and cable or DSL modem. Within the industry there has been a push to create a more cost-effective approach by integrating these functions into a consolidated device for use as “customer premises equipment” aka CPE.

A move to “Integrated CPE” has been seen before in the rollout of broadband internet access. Once it was commonplace to have a DSL modem or cable modem, a separate router, then quite possibly a separate Wifi access point and an ATA for voice services. Now a combination modem/router/AP/ATA is the more common, affordable consumer solution.

comcast xfinity CPE image

For HDVoice to be successful a large number of users need to be made IP accessible using HDVoice capable hardware. Some have thought that the CableCo’s might be able to leverage their Digital Voice customers, transitioning them to HDVoice through the rollout of new generation of CPE that included a DECT/CAT-iq base station. Comcast’s new xfinity CPE, an SMCD3US, exemplifies this idea.

If such equipment was in the field then adding HD Digital Voice service would be as simple as getting a CAT-iq compatible cordless handset from the CableCo and having the service enabled for your account. If you were calling other CableCo subscribers then you would have a pure IP pathway for the call, and the two G.722 capable CPE could pass the media streams in HDVoice.

In contrast, if you were making a call to someone who was not another customer of said CableCo, the end-points would negotiate a dreadfully boring narrowband call.

By including the CAT-iq base functionality in their standard CPE the CableCo would be growing the universe of homes that were accessible via IP, and so growing the pool of people able to make & receive calls in HDVoice.

Of course, all of the companies that make CAT-iq chipsets and handsets think this is a great idea. It points to large numbers of products possibly being put in the hands of people who might not otherwise be banging the drum for improved call quality. The cost of adding CAT-iq to the new CPE was known, and not thought to be insurmountable.

Of course, none of this is limited to the CableCo’s. Other ISPs, like AT&T with U-Verse, could leverage the same strategy to offer HDVoice-capable phone service. Verizon Wireless gave this a try with their ill-fated HUB offering. However, the big cable companies are the leading contenders since they are ready have a large installed base of IP-connected voice customers.

*as a kid I was taught that in the alphabet the vowels were A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.