Monday, 23 May 2016 15:58

Sound is moving to the edge

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The workplace of tomorrow is going to place far different demands on us. Human to human interaction will have the highest value of all. No matter how you talk to someone, you want to be heard clearly and free from interference and background noise – and vice versa. Hence my initial reference to ‘moving to the edge’.

Almost any device that connects to the internet (via IP) is now broadly referred to as Internet of Things (IoT). Jabra’s Holger Reisinger, global vice-president, was in Sydney recently and spoke to iTWire about some of the issues being created by IoT "digital to digital connections".

Jabra is essentially a "sound company", that is its Scandinavian roots are in Danavox (now Resound) that is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hearing aids – we know ears! And parent company GN Store Nord has more than 140 years’ experience in designing state-of-the-art communications solutions.

Last year I interviewed David Piggot, ANZ managing director for Jabra about the trends to smaller workspaces – action offices and the charnges in noise levels, its impact on productivity and general well-being. The article is worth a read, if only for background.

It was clear that this interview with Reisinger would be at a higher level than just unified communications and talking about headsets. The remainder of the interview is paraphrased to avoid overuse of "he said".

I am going to jump to the punchline because it underpins most of what we spoke of. In the good old days unified communication — call centres, in particular — was all about low fidelity PSTN (public switched telephone network) over a POTS (plain old telephone service). Fidelity was very limited – headsets concentrated on amplifying voice and everything else!

Fast forward to when VoIP (voice over IP) overtook PSTN. In essence a mix of digital and analogue handsets used the communications network to convert analogue to digital – and while headsets needed to go digital (using digital analogue conversion – DAC) they were still focused on volume and to a degree far lesser degree on voice quality as SIP (Session interface protocol) trunks still only produced relatively low fidelity.

Now the introduction of the internet and omnichannel has enabled digital to digital connections – mobile (and HD sound), web chat, video, Skype and more have introduced a whole new set of challenges that are beyond what headsets are traditionally designed to do. That to a very large extent is where the headset "game" still is, although things like automatic noise cancelling and active noise control are creeping into headset makers' vocabularies.

Reisinger was clear (a sound pun) that the next generation of headsets needed to concentrate on getting the best possible quality from digital to digital, point to point, channels and at the same time protect the call centre agent’s hearing from issues that this can cause.

We are moving to being knowledge workers rather than foundry workers – we need a different work environment and we need tools to make this seamless. Start a conversation on a handset, hand off to a mobile and headset, over to notebook for web chat and Skype – all without having to use multiple devices and think about how to do this.

Jabra has extensively applied analytics to identify knowledge worker needs and to enhance human to machine interfaces. Its aim for 2017 is to have a headset that does most of the processing at the edge — in the IoT device — instead of relying on VoIP, SIP, mobile, DACs and more.

Jabra is working with its partners like Cisco and many unified communications companies to make knowledge workers' life easier. He says it no longer about a headset but the right device for the right environment and Jabra "smarts" will allow that to happen far more easily that trying to redesign the UC environment.

He believes that software development will lead over hardware development. There is a lot more that can be done with DACs and smarts – it’s the next big thing to enable seamless mobility. Unfortunately, none of today’s headsets will be able to retrofit these changes.

In summary:

  • Smaller spaces – action offices – mean more background noise
  • The rise of knowledge workers is imminent and they need virtual space
  • Background noise and interruptions are productivity killers
  • Digital to digital, point to point, and working anywhere, anytime, anyhow, introduces the need for far greater ‘edge’ smarts – not just quality of service!
  • Intelligent devices are making their way from the home to the office 

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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