HD voice: Can you hear me now?
How much does the audio quality of your mobile phone calls matter to you?
Not much if you are to believe the mobile industry. After all over the last 20 years the operators and the manufacturers have spent billions of pounds upgrading their networks and perfecting their handsets.
But while everything else about the mobile experience has been transformed, there has been no real improvement in the quality of our audio calls.
But now Orange is betting that call quality does matter to a significant number of consumers. It has become the first operator to launch HD voice, which promises the biggest improvement in voice calls in 20 years - indeed just about the only real advance since we moved from analogue to digital.
Why has it taken so long? It sounds to me that the problem was inertia - why spend the money unless you were clear about customer demand? But Orange says the answer is a long wrangle over standards.
Until the whole industry could agree on a new codec - the software which encodes data to send it over the network - everybody stuck with the existing way of channelling voice data around the world.
Now that has been agreed and, combined with new hardware in the form of HD ready handsets, it can deliver what Orange describes as "crystal clear calls".
We decided to put that to the test, making calls between two HD handsets over the Orange handset, then calling from the same place using a standard phone over a non-HD network. You can hear the two calls below:
The difference is noticeable, although I'm not sure you could quite describe the HD call as "crystal clear". Orange says it is not just about a software change in the network - the new handsets developed by the likes of Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung can all deliver better audio as it leaves the caller.
So will HD Voice take off in the same way as HD TV has? Unless all the networks decide this is something they need to offer to their customers as a matter of course, I think this could be a slow burner.
You can watch HD TV whether or not your neighbours has it, but if you decide to get one of Orange's HD phones you will only be able to make an HD call to someone on the same network who also has one of the new handsets.
So a network effect could be slow to arrive - although improvements in the audio quality of VoIP calls, made over the internet rather than a phone network, may spur the industry into action.
Orange has already launched HD voice in Moldova and says it has improved customer perception of its network. But unless customers start telling other networks they need to go on HD, we are likely to continue to find that our phones are great for playing online games, checking the football scores, or monitoring your heartbeat - but still lousy at making phone calls.