(BPT) – All electronics used to require wires to conduct sound until 1989, when Swedish conglomerate Ericsson Mobile created the short-link radio technology we now know as Bluetooth(R). Applications for this groundbreaking invention quickly expanded and Bluetooth became the standard wire replacement protocol due to its comparatively low power consumption and broadly effective communication system. Today, it’s used to untether hearing aid wearers from audio sources by effectively transforming these medical devices into wireless headsets. Here are some of the challenges wireless hearing aids can help wearers overcome.
Challenge #1: Telephone conversations
Some wearers find their hearing aids whistle when they hold a phone receiver to their ear. Others find it hard to follow conversations. Hearing aids that use Bluetooth streaming enable wearers to route telephone conversations directly into their hearing aids. This is often accomplished through an intermediary accessory that pairs hearing aids to smartphones. The wearer can then hear a caller’s voice through both hearing aids for greater speech understanding, even if they’re outside or in noisy surroundings.
As for landlines, more advanced hearing aids have programs that are activated by a magnetic signal as soon as you hold a receiver against your ear. The hearing aid worn in the ear next to the receiver picks up the speaker’s voice and transmits it wirelessly into the hearing aid in the other ear. Again, the wearer can hear the speaker’s voice in both ears, which makes it clearer and easier to understand.
Challenge #2: Single-sided deafness
Some people have no hearing in one ear but hear normally or partially out of the other. Wireless solutions known as CROS and BiCROS can help amplify hearing. Here’s how they work: a hearing aid transmitter is worn on the unaidable ear, which then detects sound and wirelessly transmits it to the hearing aid on the ear with better hearing, allowing wearers to hear sounds from both sides (a CROS solution). If some hearing loss is also present in the aidable or ‘better’ ear, the hearing aid will receive sound from the unaidable side, mix it with its own input, and amplify the combined signal (a BiCROS solution). With either solution, the signal is processed to promote speech clarity, sound quality and spatial perception.
Challenge #3: Hearing announcements and alerts
Even with perfect hearing, deciphering announcements made via public address (PA) systems is challenging. Those who are hard of hearing often find it impossible, which can lead to missing trains, going to the wrong gate at airports, or worse – missing emergency alerts. The US is sadly behind on using induction loops in transportation hubs. These sound systems use a loop of wire wrapped around a building to produce an electromagnetic signal to transmit sounds. An induction loop enables hearing aid wearers to use their hearing aid’s telecoil (T-coil) setting to pick up PA announcements wirelessly through their hearing aids.
Induction loops can also be found in auditoriums, concert halls, movie theaters, places of worship and similar venues. Hearing aid wearers and others using handheld or wearable devices (usually offered at looped locations) can tap into the transmission and hear lectures, music, soundtracks and other audio clearly despite crowd noise or being situated a distance from an audio source.
Challenge #4: Utilizing apps
Most manufacturers now offer smartphone apps that can be used as remotes for controlling volume, switching audio sources and changing other hearing aid settings. Apps provide an extra level of discretion, as to others it appears the user is simply checking their texts.
Even more exciting are telehealth apps that allow wearers to connect to their hearing care professional, who can make minor remote hearing aid adjustments or answer questions via chat, thus reducing the need for in-office appointments. Telehealth apps also help wearers adapt more quickly to their hearing aids with the use of gamification, usage tracking, subjective ratings of listening experiences, and much more.
Challenge #5: Direct connection without intermediary devices
Not all hearing aids require accessories for wireless connectivity. Some now use Bluetooth to connect wearers directly to their iPhone(R) and other electronic devices. Advantages include enabling hearing aids to react to the wearer’s changing environment through the use of iPhone sensors that register the wearer is in motion. The hearing aids automatically adjust to better hear a conversation partner at the wearer’s side or from the back while maintaining awareness of sirens and other environmental sounds, which improves listening comfort and safety. Calls and music can also be streamed directly into hearing aids for greater convenience and clarity.
Wireless technology allows hearing aid wearers to stay connected to their favorite electronic devices, listening environments and people. If you’re in the market for a pair of wireless hearing aids, talk to your hearing care professional about all the advanced features available.
* Mobile operators are constantly being graded on network and operational performance, with a seemingly never-ending parade of new reports showing how domestic carriers rank across various metrics.
One aspect that is only just recently garnering attention is in terms of network latency, which is the time it takes for a consumer request to be completed via a mobile data connection. The lower the latency, the quicker the response for consumers.
This measurement is expected to become increasingly important as mobile operators move towards “5G” network technologies and greater support for the “internet of things,” which are likely to require significantly lower latency in order to support planned services. Many analysts have noted the current threshold of around 100 milliseconds seen from top performing “4G” LTE networks will likely need to improve to under 10 milliseconds to fully support IoT.
On this week’s Carrier Wrap, we spoke with Andrew Levy, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Apteligent, about the firm’s recent survey that found T-Mobile US and Verizon Wireless posting significantly better network latency results compared with AT&T Mobility and Sprint, and what that means for consumers and the application community.
Apteligent said its data showed T-Mobile US’ network posting average latency of 299 milliseconds, edging out Verizon Wireless for top spot among domestic carriers. T-Mobile US was also applauded for having the “most predictable network performance,” with Apteligent noting only 16% of requests on T-Mobile US’ network required more than 500 milliseconds to complete.
At the other end of the scale, regional carrier U.S. Cellular was dinged for having the “slowest” network, with tests showing average latency of 337 milliseconds and 22% of requests taking more than 500 milliseconds to complete. U.S. Cellular is still in the midst of rolling out LTE services, and has a much shallower spectrum position than its larger rivals, though it also supports considerably fewer customers.
Beyond the network conditions, Apteligent cited several reasons for lagging application request performance, including network architecture.
“There are several strategies to deal with slow network performance,” Apteligent wrote. “If you have a content heavy app, consider deploying a content delivery network in regions with high latency. An app can also be designed to ‘hide’ slow downloads by bundling content with the app download and intelligently downloading content ahead of when the app needs it. Another common mistake is to misuse or abuse cloud service APIs. A good practice to reduce data transfer is to add parameters to your API calls that restrict the results based on time or location.”
Make sure to check us out again next week when we are scheduled to speak with Berge Ayvazian from Wireless 20/20 to get an update on the ongoing FCC 600 MHz incentive auction proceedings.
T-Mobile and Verizon tops in low latency and why it matters – Carrier Wrap Episode 41
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