Cellphones. I have a love/hate relationship with them.
I love the functionality they offer. I love the way I can reach into my pocket and have the entire internet at my finger tips wherever I happen to be. I love the freedom of being able to share the details of my life with those who matter to me be it on Facebook, Twitter or a simple text message.
But I gotta tell you, I’ve never been happy with the nature of voice calling on these things. There’s just something about the majority of cellphone calls – especially when you’re *not* the one on the cellphone. The compression of sounds, the occasional latency, that sensation that the other person is a the end of a very long and narrow tube through which you both must shout to be heard. It doesn’t matter which handset you own or whose network you’re on. It’s so commonplace these days that I think many of us have just learned to put up with it.
So when I heard that Bell is about roll out an upgrade to their voice network that will dramatically improve the quality of these voice calls, I was all ears.
The new feature is called HD Voice, and Bell is going to be the first national network operator in Canada to offer it. The system has already been introduced in Europe from Orange.
Effectively, HD Voice doubles the amount of network bandwidth allocated to voice calls. More bandwidth means less compression and thus better quality. It’s a little bit like the difference between an audio CD that has been converted into an MP3 file at 64kbps vs. one that has been encoded at 128kbps. As any MP3 aficionado will tell you, the 128kbps version sounds a lot closer to the original CD. HD Voice also improves the amount of noise cancellation on calls, so if you’re calling from an especially busy place like a mall or a street corner, those background sounds should be greatly reduced.
Curious to know just how much better HD Voice will sound? So was I. Bell doesn’t have any sample audio clips to share with us at the moment and I haven’t been able to test the system myself, but I was able to find the following video from the U.K. thanks to the gang at MobileSyrup, and if Bell’s version of HD Voice is anywhere as good as this, I’ll be a much happier camper.
Alright, now that we’re all sold on the whole HD Voice promise, let’s talk about how you actually get this feature.
First the good news: Bell will be making HD Voice an automatic and free upgrade for all of their mobility subscribers.
Now the caveats: HD Voice only works on specific handsets for now. Specifically: HTC Sensation, HTC Incredible S, Nokia C6-00 and Nokia C6-01. According to Bell, these handsets are currently the only ones they carry that have the necessary software to enable HD Voice. It’s expected that many more handsets currently on the market will be given a software upgrade to make them HD Voice capable, but no details have emerged just yet.
And, more importantly, you’ll only benefit from HD Voice if you and the person you’re speaking with are both using compatible handsets and you’re both on the Bell (or Virgin) HSPA+ network. Unfortunately, this means that landline parties or those on a different mobile network will still hear the lower quality call, even if you’re using an HD Voice handset.
Bell notes on their site that there are still a few areas of the country that won’t be able to support the service, and none of the coverage areas that are outside of the HSPA+ 4G footprint will be able to handle it
(Image credit: Photodisc/Winston Davidian/Getty Images)
Disclosure: Sync.ca and Sync-blog.com are owned and operated by Bell Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCE, the parent company of Bell Canada.
While I’ve never experienced any hassles when switching providers for any of my services, I know that this has not been the case for many Canadians. And clearly that’s the message the CRTC has been receiving, because today they have announced a new process whereby consumers can place a single call to their new provider and from there the new provider will make all the arrangements for the switch, including service cancellation, with the old provider.
In a press release sent out today, Konrad von Finckenstein, Q.C., Chairman of the CRTC said, “In a competitive marketplace, consumers are always encouraged to explore different options for their broadcasting and telecommunications services. The new rules will make the transfer process a seamless and convenient experience, while enabling Canadians to benefit from receiving retention offers from their current providers.”
Along with the new, simpler switch procedure comes new requirements for how long any switches should take: “The CRTC requires that customer transfers be completed within two business days, except for wireless service where transfers must be completed within 2.5 hours.”
2.5 hours? That’s seems like a tall order… we’ll see if that ends up being the reality or not.
The new rules don’t prevent you from doing a regular cancellation, if that’s what you want. In fact, it may arguably be a better way to go about switching, especially if you’re planning to move for pricing reasons. By calling your existing provider to cancel in-person, you’ll likely be offered any number of incentives to stay, which will not happen if you use the “one-call” technique.
The CRTC is warning Canadians that these new procedures do *not* help get you out of any early-cancellation fees that your current provider might charge you depending on the nature of your contract, so don’t be surprised if you get a bill in the mail following the switch-over process.
Finally, near the end of the release, the CRTC mentions that it “has established safeguards to prevent service providers from sharing confidential customer information with their internal sales and marketing groups during the transfer process,” presumably as a way to prevent the old provider from placing calls to the customer in an attempt to lure them back before they leave. Interestingly, the Commission isn’t completely convinced that this decision is in the best interest of consumers and is seeking comments on the issue.
Do you think these changes are good for consumers, or will you still use the cancel-and-switch-yourself technique the next time you decide to move?
Remember we also mentioned it would be a Bell Mobility exclusive when it finally came to Canada?
Well we finally have a confirmed launch date: March 17.
If you’re curious how folks in the U.S. have reacted to the ATRIX, here are some good reviews we’ve rounded up:
Engadget: They give it a 9/10… that’s quite a statement. “this device more than holds its own against the the best of the best on the market right now”
CNET: 4 out of 5 stars “earns its place at the top of AT&T’s Android lineup”
BoyGeniusReport (BGR): “The device is so powerful that it can power a laptop with full Firefox browser, and spit out 1080p video like it’s nothing”
We’ll be getting our own review model shortly and should be able to pass along our impressions in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here’s what we can tell you about the Canadian debut:
- $169.95 on a 3-year contract with a minimum $50 voice/data plan or
- $599.95 no-contract price
The ATRIX of course is compatible with two unique accessories: the Lapdock, which effectively turns the ATRIX into a full-fledged netbook equivalent, and the HD Multimedia Dock which lets you turn the ATRIX into a media hub for your living room. Unfortunately Bell remains mum on the pricing for these accessories at launch, but it’s a fair bet they’ll be priced in-line with the U.S. market which currently has the Lapdock at $500 and the HD dock at $99 USD, but as is the case in the U.S., there might be bundle deals here too.
Onboard the ATRIX, you’ll find:
- A dual-core processor
- qHD display – 540×960 resolution in a 4” screen
- 1GB of RAM
- Android 2.2
- Front- and rear-facing cameras for video chat and the ability to record and output in HD
- Biometric fingerprint reader for unlocking your phone and extra security
- 1930 mAh battery
- the ability to locate, wipe and restore data if the device is lost or stolen
- Up to 48GB of storage (16GB internal and optional 32GB MicroSD card)
- Download speeds of up to 14.4Mbps and Mobile Hotspot service for connecting up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices
- preloaded apps: Bell Remote PVR, GPS Navigator and Kobo eReader
Another interesting fact for those of you who have been following the U.S. mobile scene and wondered what all the fuss around “4G” was: Turns out, the ITU which is the governing body for mobile telecommunication standards, decided late last year that networks which had been calling themselves “3G or 3.5G” – such as the Bell/TELUS HSPA+ network – could now refer to themselves as “4G”. This despite the fact that the ITU had always said that you needed 100mbps service in order to be considered 4G.
Anyway, bottom line is that the ATRIX, which is marketed as the “ATRIX 4G” in the U.S., is officially running on a 4G network here too. It’s the same network that was running yesterday, but with a brand new name. I know. Don’t be surprised if you start hearing that term used a LOT more in advertisements in the near future.
Let me leave you with one more tidbit… if you’re dying to get your hands on the ATRIX but don’t want to pony up the cash, Bell will be giving away 5 ATRIX prize packs including the phone, Lapdock and HD dock… you can sign up for the giveaway here.
Update Mar 18: The ATRIX is now for sale and we have confirmation on final pricing from Bell. Lapdock accessory: $329, HD Multimedia Dock: $129, Standard Dock: $49.95, Vehicle Dock: $59.95. Also, be sure to check out Marc’s video overview of the ATRIX and accessories.
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada.