Will 4G Fix Wireless Voice Quality?

Will WiMax and LTE address dropped calls, latency and line noise that many users have come to associate with wireless calls?

"Can you hear me now?" As much marketing hype as 3G wireless networks have received, the fact remains that customers of all the major wireless providers are frequently frustrated with their service's poor voice quality and dropped calls. With 4G looming on the horizon, can we look forward to better voice quality?

What Goes Wrong With 3G

To answer that question, it helps to first understand the flaws or inadequacies of 3G that cause the dropped calls, latency, and line-noise issues.

"The larger the footprint from a given site (achieved by increasing the transmit power or the height of the antennas), the more interference this site will cause to an adjacent site," says Paul Carter, president of wireless research company Global Wireless Solutions. Cell signals can also be impeded by topography such as buildings, trees, and hills within the cell zone servicing either party on a call.

4G networks like WiMax or LTE use superior MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) antenna technologies that help alleviate some of these issues. MIMO won't improve the sound quality of voice calls by itself, but using multiple antennas improves signal quality and ensures a more consistent and reliable connection.

More important, 4G technology can connect far more calls and data connections than 3G can, using the same amount of wireless spectrum. So the available bandwidth pipeline in 4G networks is significantly larger for individual users and devices.

One Service per Network

4G networks should improve voice quality to some degree even if the carrier puts most of its network resources behind data service. For example, if the high bandwidth demands of broadband data are allocated to the emerging 4G network, the 3G network is freed up to support voice. The increased capacity will lead to clearer, more stable voice calls that don't have to compete with data service for bandwidth.

"We expect that, initially, our 4G LTE network will be used primarily for data, with the majority of voice traffic going over our 3G network," says AT&T spokesperson Jenny Bridges. This will be a welcome development for AT&T, which scored worst among all major carriers in a recent study of cellular voice quality.

AT&T says it will begin testing 4G later this year, and it expects initial deployments to begin in 2011. "Our initial plans for LTE deployment call for the service to be used over new spectrum that we've set aside for the technology," Bridges adds.

Verizon currently uses a similar approach with its 2G and 3G networks. A Verizon spokesperson explains that Verizon manages voice on a 2G network and data service on a 3G network, so that it can optimize each service independently. Verizon won't say whether it intends to follow that same approach when its 4G LTE network begins lighting up later this year.

Is HD Voice Finally Coming?

The higher bandwidth and network capacity of 4G networks may also increase adoption of HD voice. HD voice calls sound as if the two parties on the call were sitting in a room next to each other having a conversation, rather than battling to talk over each other and missing half of the conversation due to overlap and latency. The increase in clarity and the decrease in line noise and call drops has led Skype users to talk almost 50 percent longer than callers using traditional voice networks, according to Skype CTO Jonathan Rosenberg.

Still, 4G networks may have to be ubiquitous before HD voice becomes widely used. As the Verizon spokesperson notes, "4G brings a bigger pipe, but it is the networks we will hand off to -- there is no value in HD voice if the called customer is on 2G cellular or landline." Also, the Verizon rep says, mobile handsets will need to build in improved speakers and microphones to enable the HD voice capability.

With streaming audio and video, and even videoconferencing coming to mobile devices, the demand for data bandwidth will likely continue to grow exponentially. This demand for data capacity is forcing providers to expand their network infrastructure, and voice quality may improve as an unintended fringe benefit.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags WiMax4gverizonat&t4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?