EE has announced plans to trial new technology to enable calls and text messages to be handled over wifi and 4G connections – conceivably enabling both better audio quality and better coverage in rural areas.
The technology sounds pretty clever. At the moment, voice calls sounds terrible because the audio is crunched down to a sample rate of 8khz – the same as it has been since the beginnings of the telephone (by comparison, an audio CD is around 192khz). By handling calls over a 4G data connection or wifi though, more bandwidth is available, so the quality can increase to something comparable to what you can get over Skype.
Helpfully too, the “HD voice” system works natively on phones – so you’d just have to dial people in the same way you always would, rather than have to use a buggy third party app. Brilliantly, most modern phones already support the tech: it has been built into the iPhone since the iPhone 5, and Samsung Galaxy range since the S2 – so as soon as EE flip the switch, it should make everything better quickly.
The real benefit though isn’t just in terms of audio quality: it means that the network will be able to offer better coverage in rural areas, where as long as there is a plumbed-in home broadband connection, phones connected via wifi will be able to receive calls. This could mean that the upper-most parts of Scotland, and (frustratingly inexplicably) by signal-less concrete bunker of a flat in London could actually receive calls for the first time.
Presumably assuming the trials are successful, the wifi calling service looks set to roll out nationally in the autumn.