When your cell phone started to sound better

Seems like a billion years ago. Really, it was just over 5 years ago in December 2015 that AT&T turned on its HD-Voice system. I made fun of it pretty savagely at the time. But in the meantime it’s become the standard and you probably didn’t even realize it.

What you talkin’ about?

I’m talking about Voice over LTE, which is a revolution in the way cell phone calls take place. It’s the fourth revolution in cell phone service since it was rolled out in the 1980s. The first mobile phones were simple analog radios and required very high power levels to work well. Later, the AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System) phones, like the brick phones you remember, used less power and had better service. They were still analog. If you ever walked around trying to get a good signal from your Motorola or Nokia phone, you probably had an AMPS phone.

Digital cellular, referred to as PCS, GSM, CDMA, or TDMA depending on your carrier, began to take hold in the US around the turn of the century. It remained the standard for 15 years and is still in use today with less expensive phones. Digital cell service allowed for clearer calls with lower powered phones. This meant better battery life — in the days before smartphones you could get a week on a charge. More importantly, it made it possible for more calls to work on the same cell network. This meant that cell carriers could keep costs down and drive adoption to the near-universal levels it’s at today.

The latest innovation, as of 2015, was Voice over LTE. This new system completely abandoned the distinction between voice and data traffic. All traffic was sent the same way, using the then-state-of-the-art LTE networks on AT&T and other carriers. Not only did this let cell carriers manage traffic better, but it gave them the ability to improve call quality.

Improved call quality?

Yes, believe it or not if you made a phone call in 2010 it sounded about the same as it did in 1910. Before Voice over LTE, there was never really any move to improve the quality of calls. Most folks, myself included, never really cared that the call was kind of tinny sounding. It was enough to just understand the person on the other end of the call. Voice over LTE has been a revolution in voice quality, giving you voice calls that sound more like studio recordings.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time you talked to someone on a land line? Or perhaps talked to someone on an older or cheaper phone? You might have noticed a staticky, thin quality to the call that you weren’t expecting. That’s the way we used to hear everyone on the phone. You just don’t remember it that way.

Pretty soon the old way will be gone forever.

According to this article, you’ll stop hearing those old cell phone calls pretty soon. Verizon will stop supporting its 20th-century network sometime in the coming weeks. AT&T and T-Mobile, who use a more modern technology, will be phasing out their older GSM-based calls in ’22 and ’23. If you have one of these old 3G phones you’ll have gotten at least one message saying it’s time to trade up. Sad news perhaps for the last person who still uses their iPhone 4, but good news for the rest of us. The frequencies used for old phone calls will be given over to 5G, which is a much more important tech as we move forward.

And, if you want a new phone, of course you know the best place to get it is Signal Connect. We’re an AT&T Preferred Dealer and can set you up with the latest and greatest from the safety of your home. Just call 888-233-7563 or fill out the form below!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.