Hey, are you there? Can you hear me now? Mobile data networks seem to improve by leaps and bounds every year, but cell phone voice quality seems to have stood still for decades. If you think your calls sound lousy, you’re probably not wrong. The frustrating reason comes from our good old free market: Our mobile phone carriers just aren’t talking to each other well.
The word “phone” has become pretty misleading when it applies to our little pocket computers. Sure, in 2016—the last year we could find data for—Americans made 2.751 trillion minutes (PDF) of wireless phone calls. But that pattern of calling has remained basically flat for a decade, while the use of data services on phones has been skyrocketing.
Add to that the fact that, a while ago, our carriers decided to use unlimited call-and-text packages as their base price, and make money from data packages, and you don’t end up seeing a lot of marketing or excitement around voice quality.
But it turns out there’s a big difference in voice quality between carriers, phones, and even calls on the same phone. And you don’t have to settle for lousy call quality.
Check the Codec
This next bit is going to be an alphabet soup. High-quality voice calls need a good codec running over a good network. A codec is a method of encoding sound as digital data. MP3 is a codec, for instance.
The CDMA and GSM cell phone worlds developed different sets of codecs. GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, went with the AMR (adaptive multi-rate) family. CDMA carriers, such as Sprint and Verizon, initially chose EVRC (enhanced variable rate codec).
There are narrowband…