High Definition Voice: Bringing Skype’s High Bandwidth Audio to Conference Calls

Skype partner HiDefConferencing enhances their conferencing infrastructure to provide high definition voice for all Skype participants on a call.

Skype-to-Skype calls have long been known for their high quality audio; certainly when I am talking to another Skype user using my stereo headset, it sounds like the other party is “inside my head”. To give a brief explanation:

The human voice and ear have an audio bandwidth range to produce voice and hear sounds up to 22 KHz. But the introduction of electronics, such as microphones, speakers, switches, amplifiers and repeaters, into the landline telephone system reduces that bandwidth transmitted by the legacy telephone system to under 4 KHz — sufficient to clearly get across the essence of the voice conversation but certainly not for recording the deep audio of that high pitched soprano or tenor solo you just may be hearing and definitely not providing the full richness of a face-to-face conversation. Mobile phones have an audio bandwidth that is about 50% of landlines bringing us the sometimes scratchy quality of mobile calls. But the Skype engine is capable of handling audio up to somewhere around 12KHz, providing a much richer and more realistic sound approaching the reality of face-to-face human conversation. At VON Boston next week, the general concept of high bandwidth voice in real time conversations is taking on the term High Definition Voice (HD Voice) at a session in the Innovators track called The Secret Life of HD VoIP. (As an aside, audio bandwidth should not be confused with the network bandwidth required to make a Skype call; different issues related to transmission of voice packets.)

One problem created by this reality is that Skype calls to SkypeOut numbers lose that high bandwidth quality. In the worst case, due to all the compression/decompression going on involving both voice and wireless compression standards, it sometimes becomes difficult to complete a call to a mobile phone. And in conference calls involving both Skype and SkypeOut participants, the call quality is reduced to the lowest common bandwidth.

For three years, VAPPS, Inc. of Hoboken, NJ has been offering its HighSpeedConferencing service extending conference calls involving both Skype and PSTN participants to as many as 500 participants. A key differentiator of this service is that VAPPS uses their own proprietary conferencing bridge which mixes the Skype and PSTN audio streams for listening by all the conference call participants. Today VAPPS is launching a beta high definition voice version of their High Speed Conferencing service that incorporates an enhanced version of this bridge. The result is that all Skype participants on the call will hear each other at the full audio bandwidth inherently available with Skype. Participants on landlines and mobile will still get the quality level associated with the underlying landline and mobile services.

Ben Lilienthal, CEO and Founder of Vapps, Inc., has made several demonstration calls with me over the past few months where he goes from a Skype connection to a landline connection; the voice quality difference is very noticeable with a richer deeper sound from the Skype connection and a “squeakier” sound on the landline connection.

But from a target market perspective, Vapps has combined the new high definition voice capability with the established robustness. reliability and scalability of their conferencing server into services that target the entire enterprise conferencing market currently served by the legacy telcos, such as AT&T, Verizon, Bell Canada and Telus. With its continued 500 participant capacity, weekly sales meetings, virtual webinars and even (eBay) analyst presentations can now be handled through the HighSpeedConferencing service with much higher voice quality and significantly lower costs.

So where does Skype fit in? HighSpeedConferencing offers, in addition to a “Pay-As-You-Go” plan, several monthly subscription, unlimited use plans based on the maximum number of participants. The “additional costs” are in making the connection between the participant and the conference bridge. Under these plans:

  • Skype-based participants have no additional costs
  • Calls from landlines and mobile devices have any associated long distance charges to the conference’s landline number
  • The host can also make available an 800 number (in eight countries) and pay for the participants calling in from a landline.
  • The plan includes a base number of toll-free minutes per month for landline/mobile participants.

Reservations and scheduling of calls are optional but no reservations are needed. Additional features with the subscriptions are:

  • Call recording with 30-day storage
  • Hand raising along with host control of individual participants’ mute/unmute
  • Web Controls for host management of the calls

For instance, a 100 user plan costs $125 per month for the host; this includes unlimited minutes for Skype users, 2500 toll-free minutes for landline/mobile participants as well as the call recording, hand raising and web controls features.

Also of note:

  • Skype participants on a Pay-As-You-Go call will pay $0.04/minute per participant; landline/mobile participants (US/Canada) are $0.07 per minute per participant
  • A 30-day free trial of the “HighSpeed 25” subscription is available to allow enterprises to work out how HighSpeedConferencing can be incorporated into their communications activities.
  • High Speed Conferencing is a Featured Skype Extra for this quarter and can be accessed from the Tools | Do More | Get Extras menu in Skype.
  • High Speed Conferencing also works with the Skype-enhanced collaboration services Skype Extras: Convenos and Yugma Skype Edition.

From the press release:

We are thrilled to offer this service to the small businesses and entrepreneurs that are always searching for the most effective tools for success,” said Ben Lilienthal, CEO of Vapps. “Highspeedconferencing.com presents the perfect convergence of high quality, low-cost and flexibility in the audio conferencing industry.”

The ability for small businesses to host these calls via the telephone or the Internet, not only enables them to present their clients with big business offerings, such as flexibility, but it also enables them to do so using the low cost of Internet communications.

Skype for one has recognized the importance of applications built by partners like Vapps for three years now and the value they bring to the Skype platform. Since 1st October, 2007, Skype has been promoting the Vapps HighSpeed Conferencing solution to its 220 million registered users as a premium extra.

Update: Andy Abramson comments at VoIP Watch:

A call yesterday showed how bright and full it sounds. The platform works with mobile, VoIP, PSTN and Skype inbound calls, and can handle up to 500 simultaneous participants per call.

Footnote: we are starting to see mass confusion about what is meant by HD when it comes to audio-based services:

Tags: Skype, VAPPS, HighSpeedConferencing, Convenos, Unyte, Yumga Skype, HD Voice

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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