AT&T and the HD Voice Speed Bump

December 23rd, 2016

So most of you know that the quality of cell phone calls ranges from almost acceptable to dreadful. More often than not, it’s the latter, as a voice at the other end of the call is often immersed in a digital haze that makes it a little hard to understand. To think that all of the advancements made in technology still fail to match the voice quality of the analog telephone system in the late 19th century.

Some of it is no doubt the result of the move to digital cellular systems over the years and the efforts to pack as many connections as possible in a single tower to handle as many paid customers as possible. So voice quality is less important. These days it’s all about data anyway. People talk via messaging or email, so having a high quality voice connection may not be so important.

In saying that, my experiences with cell phone systems over the years led me to AT&T, then known as Cingular. I signed up with the service primarily to be ready for the iPhone just as soon as my contract with Verizon Wireless had ended. At the time, in 2007, I was very disappointed with voice quality on the Verizon system, and I came to prefer AT&T, since the best connections seemed more analog, more akin to a traditional landline phone connection. But network reliability wasn’t as good. I encountered more dropped calls.

In passing, the dropped calls are largely history, at least in the areas to which I travel.

That takes us to HD Voice, which is a technology designed to provide higher quality audio on a cellular connection. Referred to VoLTE, which is Voice over LTE), it’s similar to a VoIP connection on a traditional Internet network. When two parties with HD-voice mobile phones are connected in a network that supports the feature, call quality is noticeably better, which is mostly my perception from personal experience.

The wireless carriers have had different rollouts of HD Voice. To AT&T, it’s clearly been a work in progress.

So that takes us to a problem I occasionally confronted when calling someone on my iPhone. The ringing sound seemed much slower, deeper. When someone answered, they’d be speaking real slow too, akin to playing a 78 RPM record at 33-and-a-third RPM. But that assumes you’re familiar with vinyl, or just imagine playing any recording at a slower speed and you’ll see what I mean.

With AT&T, I only encountered that problem when placing a call, not receiving a call. Usually, when I hung up and called back, the problem was gone.

I’ve mentioned my encounters with AT&T support before, but it has taken four calls, the latter with a higher level of technical support, to get the extent of the problem and it’s expected solution.

So during the first two calls, the technician claimed to be making changes to the provisioning of my iPhone. Since the phone numbers were ported from Verizon, that condition supposedly created potential integration issues. Or perhaps the technician was shooting from the hip, since the cause appears to have nothing to do with the source of my phone number.

Each time, I concluded the call after being told to power down my iPhone, and power up again. This would allegedly activate network changes that would address the problem. But I have come to feel that they were just mollifying me or hoping that the act of power cycling would clear up the connection glitch.

It didn’t.

But on the second call, the technician promised to send the problem up to engineering, and I should call back if it recurred, which it did a few days later. You see, I don’t make phone calls all that often.

On the third call, the technician claimed that engineering wasn’t able to duplicate the problem, and suggested I call the number I received in a text message a few days prior.

That’s when I finally had what seemed to be a more logical response.

The higher-tier technician seemed totally aware of the problem, which, he said, involved glitches using HD Voice, a sort of digital mismatch he tried to explain. He claimed it was a known issue and that it should be resolved by the end of the year, that I should call back if it wasn’t corrected. In the meantime, I was advised to turn off HD Voice on my iPhone to remove the symptoms.

That’s done by going to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Enable LTE > and switching from the Voice & Data option to Data Only. It seems more complicated than it is, but making that one change takes only a few seconds. Obviously such changes on an Android phone will involve far different settings that may depend on the device and OS you’re using.

What I did notice was that voice quality seemed to degrade slightly without HD Voice, but the problem didn’t repeat itself. At least not so far. If the technician’s answer is accurate, that makes sense. The new service is still being refined on the AT&T network. If you’re a customer, it may not even be active in your city, in which case the HD Voice option will not be available.

Now the technician claimed that support people had ready access to technical information about known problems and solutions. It surprises me — but not a lot — that the first tier AT&T techs were totally ignorant of that information, which means they weren’t paying attention, or made no move to consult such data. Perhaps they were more interested in getting me off the phone and moving on to the next customer.

I’ve said previously that AT&T’s customer service has nosedived since the acquisition of DirecTV. It may not take a further hit if the bid to merge with Time Warner is approved. That’s only because Time Warner doesn’t provide direct services to customers that require tech support. Or maybe AT&T will see the need to cut costs even further.

I’ll let you know if the HD Voice problem — if that’s what it is — has been resolved.

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3 Responses to “AT&T and the HD Voice Speed Bump”

  1. Jeffree Lassitter says:

    By “HD audio” Is the writer referring to Apple’s Facetime Audio feature that works between iOS devices, or to something else? Facetime Audio when both talkers are on Verizon is superb. It’s also quite good when talking with iOS devices connected to non-Verizon networks.

    • As explained in the article, HD Voice is a feature that provides enhanced audio for cell phone users with LTE connections. Both the device and the carrier need to support the feature, and it only offers an advantage when the person at the other side of the connection is also using HD Voice.


  2. Jimmy says:

    I’ve had similar problems and was told to do the same, LTE data only and that there was a problem w/ one of the towers in my area that’d be fixed by the 16th… My main problem is calls were not ringing but going straight to voicemail. The ATT woman who helped me at least knew what the h*** she was talking about, which was a plus!
    *When is *does work, HD voice (from an att iPhone -to- att iPhone) sounds as good as ye olde land lines.
    People’s voice don’t sound as good w/ LTE voice off, but my bars (dots) were full!

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