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Test event finds mobile phones have poor hands-free performance

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The results of an ITU test event have highlighted the need for phone manufacturers to improve their products' compatibility with car hands free systems. The event found that an overwhelming majority of the phones tested would cause shortfalls in the audio quality of hands free supported conversations, a concern that automobile manufacturers say could be resolved through greater cooperation from phone manufacturers.

In a plea to solve a persistent problem, major car manufacturers, including Mercedes and Toyota, with hands-free terminal (HFT) supplier Bosch, have issued a strong call to mobile phone manufacturers to perform standardized tests on the behaviour of their products within hands-free systems and to participate in the ITU-T Study Group 12 standardization work that develops interoperability tests.

The test event, held at ITU Headquarters in May, analysed the behaviour of a representative sample of mobile phones available today and capable of connecting to hands-free systems. Of the phones tested, roughly 30 per cent passed the tests, with the remaining 70 per cent found to produce performance degradation that would be noticeable to drivers and conversational partners.

Serious faults were observed in the worst-performing phones; some causing as much as a three-fold decline in voice quality, others completely failing to acknowledge that they had been connected to a vehicle's hands-free system. Quality degradation of this extent has led to customer complaints to the car manufacturers, and experts say could give rise to safety risks as it could encourage drivers to use their phone by hand while driving.

Fridjof Goebel, Daimler: "The results of these tests are illuminating and should encourage us to work together to make more interoperable products to serve our customers better. This is a real opportunity for industry and we fully support a collaborative approach that will create a seamless customer experience for all."

Automakers assert that there is little complexity to their requirements, asking only that mobile phones disable certain signal-processing functionality as they enter a vehicle's hands-free system. The great variance in the behaviour of phones when operating within hands-free systems has resulted in auto makers dedicating a significant volume of time and money to the testing of mobile phones, producing test results that remain valid only until the new software for mobile phones or the next generation of mobile devices come to market.

The tests were performed by HEAD acoustics, applying the 'Chapter 12 tests' of Recommendations ITU-T P.1100 and P.1110, standards for narrow-band and wideband communications involving motor vehicles. The tests' requirements were adapted and applied to real-world scenarios. The methodology and results of the tests event will feed into an ongoing process to refine the standards.

In a bid to motivate change, the test event's participants appealed to ITU to publish a "white list" of the phones found to have passed the tests. ITU's publication of the list, although planned, remains conditional upon ITU-T Study Group 12's approval of the revised Chapter 12 tests employed by the test event.

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