Sounds like corporates are going to invest in better audio - can DSPs play?

  • Jacking up voice quality seems to mostly be the domain of the collaboration service provider and the end-user equipment provider
  • As with most applications now, the connectivity provider will play a crucial, but proportionate, role
  • And will therefore have to be content with a reasonable share of the spoils

One of the less remarked upon business impacts from the global pandemic has been the  increase in appreciation for good voice quality, and the bemoaning of the bad  - almost as if the ability to actually see who’s talking across Zoom or Teams suddenly threw into stark relief the fact that, all too often, you could barely understand what they were saying. Body language can only go so far.

There’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence that both corporates and the general public (we’re all Zoom users now) were yearning for an improvement in audio generally, but not a lot about how the problem was perceived and what companies might be prepared to pay to enjoy quantifiable improvements. Nodding vigorously doesn’t count,

However, a  recent opinion survey commissioned by audio equipment specialist, EPOS, and conducted by SAPIO Research in September 2020, suggests that at the very least many business leaders recognise that high quality audio is one of the key technical elements for a corporate collaboration strategy in the wake of the shock that was 2020. It suggests that there is a willingness to invest in sound equipment or services that really make a difference. 

The research found that the quality requirement for the audio component in a big corporate set-up designed to enable hybrid working (home and office) was already being given high priority and the company claims that “audio quality is outpacing other equipment considerations.” It found that 49% say audio quality is the most important factor in decision making, with durability of hardware the second most important consideration. 

So this can be big business

The EPOS research found that  “34% of businesses with more than 10,000 employees are investing in new equipment for individuals every year, showing that even where significant budgets are needed to provide large numbers of employees with the right equipment for the right sound quality, businesses consider this a priority investment.

“Larger companies are also more likely to favor sound quality over price - 90% of organizations with more than 10,000 employees tend towards accepting higher cost to achieve quality - and are looking at bigger increases in their annual budgets compared to smaller businesses,” says the report.

The big question is: can DSPs approaching the opportunity from the services side of the equation capture value by providing better voice quality.  

Sure, big telcos have already done partnership deals. BT, for instance, announced in October 2020 that it has a new carrier agreement with Zoom under which BT can offer a managed service with integrated networking and Zooming “to ensure an optimal user experience.” 

But that, while it’s a useful step forward, doesn’t seem to address the crucial voice quality problem which goes deeper than ensuring the right broadband speed and keeping an eye on the underlying connection.

“Perhaps the big problems with audio relate more to end-user equipment and the office and home office environment so it’s difficult to see how solutions can be instantiated in an elegant way by a DSP,” says consultant Chris Lewis of Lewis Insight. Things like better quality headphones, and noise cancelling microphones are end user equipment and usually not the province of the network service providers. 

“You arrive at the conclusion that voice quality is driven by the app, not the network, and the whole area is an ecosystem," he says, of which the network provider is only one part, and perhaps not the most important part. 

There is always the possibility of forging partnerships with quality providers of the end user equipment, perhaps in tandem with the video collaboration services provider. This falls short of the sort of aggressive value capture many would like to see DSPs perform, but it could be the only option.

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