I recently got a call from my wife Alicia regarding our upcoming travel plans. She was meeting with a bunch of her girlfriends at a popular but noisy Atlanta restaurant. She suddenly realized that she needed me to adjust our travel plans to an upcoming wedding in London. She called me and told me she needed to leave a day later so that she could attend her friend’s birthday party first. Over all the background noise of the restaurant, I asked her to repeat what she had just asked me to do.
“I can’t hear you very well,” I complained. “It’s very noisy there. Did you want to change our plans to go to London?”
“Yes. I said we need to leave a day later.”
“You want to come back a day later? It’s really very noisy. Can you go outside?”
(After a 10-second delay): “Is this any better?”
“Yes, I can finally hear you loud and clear. I think you want me to change our travel plans to London.”
Ok, you get the idea. The background noise can be just terrible at times. If you try to make a cell phone call while driving with the windows down or in a subway, bar or other loud public facility, the person you’re calling hears a mixture of what you’re saying along with what the sum of others around you are saying. And there’s typically not any filtering capability in the receiving phone-which makes the problem two-way. Think about two people in two different crowded bars trying to talk on their cell phones to each other: it can be a downright horrible experience.
Noisy environments wreak havoc with voice quality on cell phones. And, while several products on the market can handle low levels of stationary noise, they are not robust enough to suppress noise while in motion (that is, while walking or running outdoors, driving a car or on moving public transportation).
Cell phone carriers appreciate the need to provide calls free of background noise, and they are putting requirements in place that require noise suppression in a number of handsets. A few companies are addressing this horrendous problem with a new chip and/or software that greatly reduces background noise in a mobile environment.
Multipoint Pairing Technology
Multipoint pairing technology
The primary method of achieving noise suppression is called “multipoint pairing,” which utilizes two microphones-one to capture what you’re saying and another to capture the background noise (which is then filtered out). This is similar to what’s done with noise-cancellation headsets that have become popular. The noise suppression technology in wireless handsets does a number of additional things to filter out background noise and shape the voice signal.
Noise suppression is also included in a number of new Bluetooth wireless headsets. These headsets also use multipoint pairing to assist in noise suppression. Once you’ve heard what a call is like when an embedded or Bluetooth-based noise suppression filter is included (compared to a noisy environment), it’s really very shocking. For those who use Bluetooth headsets, they should only consider one that includes noise suppression.
“Why in the world doesn’t every single cell phone in the world have one of these noise suppression chips?” was my reaction to hearing the difference.
You likely can guess the answer: cost. It simply costs additional money for the handset/device maker to add such a sophisticated new technology to the bill of materials (BOM) of the cell phone. They are not typically willing to increase the device cost by $15 to $20 extra to gain such capabilities.
The answer may come from wireless operators. They need to make noise suppression a requirement for device manufacturers and then amortize the cost over a multiple-year service agreement. Thus, a chip costing $15 might only add $0.625 per month to a user’s cell phone bill under a two-year service agreement. In a recent survey, it was found that users indicated strong interest in noise suppression and were willing to pay $10 to $15 upfront to get it. Noise suppression Bluetooth handsets run $75 to $130.
I expect you’ll start to see voice-enhanced services such as noise suppression in a number of higher-end handsets come to market later this year. Hopefully, it will become common in many handsets within five years. Someday, we will have all our calls rid of terrible background noise. That “someday” can’t come soon enough in my book.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is the VP and Chief Analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld.
He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people’s mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at [email protected]
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I’ll disclose it at that time.