The Rise of the Conversational PHONE Call: How Digital Revolutionised the Telephone

As smartphones have evolved into AI-assistants that can do everything from ordering pizzas to diagnosing diseases, their most basic function – that of a simple communication device that allows us to hear and speak with the person at the end of the line – has remained largely the same since the invention of the telephone. But that sounds like it’s about to change. This has a lot to do with the approach taken by Nokia, which is seeking to break new ground as it pioneers a new immersive sound experience for phone calls. The technology being developed for phone calls could kick off a shift in experience that will become key to future extended reality applications. Let’s take a closer look.

The Genesis of Immersive Calls

Now, Nokia can claim to have made another world first for telephony, by transacting the ‘world’s first immersive voice and audio call’, using a new IVAS (Immersive Voice and Audio Services) codec that will form part of next year’s ‘5G Advanced’ standard. The IVAS codec renders phone conversations as having a kind of three-dimensional quality, when the call takes place over a headset that uses modern spatial audio techniques. The companies said that these calls are ‘enormously more lifelike’ than flat voice calls.

Imagine how utterly transformative that could feel with loved ones on the other end in an immersive call that feels as real as being with them in person. This is not some improved version of today’s audio phone calls, it is a reimagining of the audio call completely.

The Technology Behind the Magic

Underpinning this experience is an impressive new technology called the IVAS codec (as in integrated virtual audio system). Calls over IVAS don’t just sound high-fidelity – they have a sense of three-dimensionality, complete with an enveloping soundscape rather than the tinny monophonic cubicles of modern voice calls.

The upside? All you need to measure the technology is a smartphone with at least two microphones – a feature already present in most phones.

The Road Ahead: When Can We Expect Widespread Adoption?

The technology to support these immersive calls is already here, it is the integration within our daily lives that comes down to the rollout of 5G Advanced cellular networks, and the adoption of the IVAS codec by mobile operators. Such a process unfortunately means that these life-changing calls might still be a few years away.

The technology might have been demonstrated successfully, however, and licensing agreements and development are already underway. Nokia thinks it’s not just in the market for telecommunications devices: it’s in the telecommunications business.

Beyond Voice Calls: The Future is Spatial

Nokia’s IVAS codec is not just about making phone calls clearer, and its use cases extend far beyond the phone. With their 3GPP partners, Nokia believe that the IVAS codec will bring more attention to the metaverse in teleconferencing, XR conversational services and countless augmented and mixed reality applications. It will put the phone firmly in the cross-purposes tool category for both the familiar and the futuristic.

The Era of Enhanced Communication Awaits

On the cusp of this new networked age of the telephone, the future of the voice is about to become immeasurably more immersive. The phone is about to get personal.

And as companies like Nokia show the way, a comprehensive rethink of how we communicate using devices is on the horizon. Better sound quality for voice calls on phones may be the low-hanging fruit, but is just the beginning of what immersive audio might allow.

Understanding the Powerhouse: The Phone

After all, as a conversational device, the fundamental purpose of the phone is to connect, and immersive voice and audio calls are merely extensions of this goal. With high-quality codecs like IVAS, phones will come closer than ever to recreating the emotional, immersive and nuanced experience of speaking with someone face-to-face. The eras of 2G, voice-only conversations and 3G are over. The phone isn’t dead, and it hasn’t been replaced. To the contrary, it has not finished its work. If anything, it has finally arrived.

We gaze into the future, and the simple telephone call is hinting at its desire to transform into something very different than a discrete ceremony of words. It is poised to be redefined as an avenue into expansions of intimacy, into explorations of tangible presence – all in the service of a ceaseless imagination displayed by the telecommunications sector.

Jun 11, 2024
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