AT&T confirmed it plans to roll out HD Voice support on its cell networks before the end of 2013, giving subscribers with compatible phones -- which includes the iPhone 5 -- substantially better audio quality on calls. The news follows T-Mobile's announcement that it will officially start carrying the iPhone on April 12, and that it will include HD Voice support on launch day.
HD Voice, or wideband audio, promises better audio quality on voice calls but requires carriers to support the feature. So far, wideband audio hasn't had much support in the U.S., but has been rolled out by several carriers in Europe. U.S. carriers haven't seemed overly anxious to ramp up support for the feature, although with T-Mobile jumping on board and Sprint at least talking about the feature it looks like the other big carriers are finally ready to get on board.
The promise of better call quality comes with a big limitation: Both people on the call must be using phones that support HD Voice and they must both be subscribers to carriers that support the feature in the caller's current location. If any part is missing for either participant, neither get to take advantage of HD Voice.
AT&T Senior Vice President Kris Rinne told AllThingsD the company plans to launch its HD Voice support later in 2013, adding "HD Voice is part of our voice over LTE strategy."
The carrier also plans to make it easier for potentially competing services to take advantage of its network, which would allow for companies like Facebook to launch their own messaging services that compete directly with AT&T's own SMS offering. Ms. Rinne said that, in a sense, AT&T could serve as a data pipe for other services.
What Ms. Rinne didn't say is if AT&T plans to have HD Voice available to all of its customers by the end of the year, or if the feature will be available only in certain areas while it ramps up across the country. Since HD Voice won't be coming until later this year, iPhone 5 users will finally get a chance to hear their calls with higher audio quality -- but probably not before the next iPhone model ships.