T-Mobile Launches HDVoice Nationwide; Kinda, Sorta, Maybe, A Little Bit

T-Mobile-on-HDVoice.pngLast month at CES the nations #3 mobile carrier launched HDVoice nationally on its HSPA+ network. Here’s the entire press release. Actually, here’s the snippet that you need to track:

T-Mobile today announced that HD Voice is now available on its network nationwide, dramatically improving in-call voice quality for customers with capable smartphones. Customers will hear a more true-to-life voice quality that’s fuller and more natural-sounding with significantly reduced background noise from street traffic, wind and crowd noise. To experience HD Voice, both parties on the call must use capable T-Mobile 4G smartphones such as the HTC One™ S, Nokia Astound and Samsung Galaxy S® III on T-Mobile’s HD Voice-enabled nationwide network. T-Mobile is the first U.S. wireless provider to launch HD Voice nationwide.

It’s very exciting, yes? Well, it is for me as I am both a big fan of HDVoice and a long-time T-Mobile customer.

The underlying reality is that they are allowing the use of the AMR-WB codec on suitably current handsets. I’m told that this codec is in fact included in all recent Android handsets and the iPhone.

Encouraged by this announcement, and finding that several pundits have actually tried the service, I thought I’d borrow my wife’s new Nexus 4 and see if calls to my Galaxy Nexus would be in HDVoice.

I won’t go into the details of my little experiment. It was quick & dirty, and just enough to prove that there was no HDVoice service between our handsets.

Galaxy Nexus & Nexus 4

The reality is that the carrier may need to send a signal to the handset to enable the AMR-WB codec. Further, this may happen more readily for handsets purchased from the carrier. In our case, both of our handsets are there on a B.Y.O.D. basis. The carrier has not provisioned them in any way beyond providing the SIM card.

I put call into T-mobile customer service to see if I could get them to provision HDVoice for my Galaxy Nexus. Unfortunately the operator who took my call knew absolutely nothing about HDVoice. She did eventually pass me to a smart phone specialist.

This second tier person was more generally aware of HDVoice, but not able to do anything for me. Even at that level they have no information about the new capability, at least not yet.

<time passes>

In the weeks since I first drafted this post I’ve actually upgraded my phone from the Galaxy Nexus to a Nexus 4. This was really just an impulsive move, reacting to the renewed availability of the device from Google and seeing my wife really enjoying hers. My Nexus 4 ordered on Feb 1 actually arrived the afternoon of Feb 2!

To move to that new handset I had to pay another visit to a T-Mobile store to get a micro-sim. The manager on duty at their River Oaks Houston location was a bit of a twit. He told me that I could not get the micro-sim carrier out without the tool, which I proceeded to do with just a staple.

He went on to tell me that the Nexus 4 was simply not supported for HDVoice. He babbled something about “FCC approval” but that was simply nonsense. He also said that he’s had plenty of inventory of Nexus 4 since November, when it has been widely reported that T-Mobile didn’t have many of the phones to offer until relatively recently.

I tried to research HDVoice on their web site. I tried to go into the support forums but found that my login was disabled. I could log into the my.tmobile.com site for the purposes for administering my account, but I could not login to the support area. Without such a login all that I could do is leave anonymous comments and questions.

I’ve spend some time on the phone with T-Mobile support in order to get my login restored. They could not do it immediately, but tell me that it should happen in the next few days.

In the mean time I reached out to the T-Mobile presence on Twitter to see if they could state more clearly that nature of their support for HDVoice. It’s not just a question of the supported handsets. They have yet to say anything about supporting BYOD hardware. That is significant since they are promoting a lot of BYOD trying to get customers away from AT&T.

My questions via twitter met with speedy response pointing me to a web page dated Feb 1. That page lists only the Galaxy S3, HTC One S and Nokia Astound as being supported. I’m told that the page will be updated and support for HDVoice is extended to other handsets.

GSA HD Phones List SnippetIn a related and slightly troubling development GSA this past week released a list of 160 handsets that are AMR-WB enabled. To my surprise LGs Nexus 4 is not on that list. The older Samsung Galaxy Nexus is on the list. My rather limited understanding is that from Android 3.0 onward AMR-WB was incorporated into the Android OS itself. It’s unclear how the latest in the reference Nexus line doesn’t support HDVoice.

While some T-Mobile customers may be enjoying HDVoice on in-network calls, we’re not there quite yet. I wonder just what portion of their customer base is actually realizing calls in HDVoice?

  • PacoBell

    Your Nexus 4 not supporting HD Voice may have something to do with it not having more than one microphone onboard. I didn’t see a second one, judging by the iFixit’s and others’ teardowns. If it does actually have multiple mics, I don’t know what to say.

    • mjgraves

      The use of multiple microphones is a technique used to aid background noise suppression and echo cancellation. The lack of a second microphone doesn’t preclude handling of wideband audio.