I just had a call from Alex Harrowell (of Telco 2.0). Alex was on the floor of the Mobile World Congress so there was a lot of background noise and he was calling from a mobile device, specifically a Nokia N900. What's more, he was using Wi-Fi, something that's been highly marginal at previous MWCs. But this call sounded much better than the typical mobile phone call ! It was excellent.
The difference: Alex was using the Skype client for the N900, so our call was Skype-to-Skype, Barcelona to Boston, and thus it used wideband audio, a.k.a. HD Voice. Yes, there was background noise from the conference floor, but Alex's voice was completely clear and stood out from the background noise. Also, the background was distinct enough that I felt like I was on the floor with Alex.
Mobile HD voice is significantly better than most traditional phone calls and much better than any other mobile call.
Mobile HD: Operator-provided or via Skype?
As I've commented in the past, mobile operators in the EU (starting with Orange in the UK, Belgium and France) are promising to roll out mobile HD voice on their networks in 2010. But so far, only Orange Moldova has actually launched (in September 2009).
With the announcement that Apple is no longer blocking VoIP applications on the iPhone over 3G, it's likely we'll see Skype and others show up an ever increasing range of mobile devices.
Mobile operator provided HD Voice might eventually reach a wider range of mobile devices than Skype over Wi-Fi or 3G, but mobile operators better get cracking. Otherwise, they might just be left in the dust.