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Why Is Phone Fidelity So Poor?

I am not the first to say this and surely I will not be the last, but: isn’t it strange that with all the technological improvements in our lives in the past few decades, the audio fidelity of so many of our phone calls is so abysmal?
I don’t use the phone all that much — in part because in many cases it’s less convenient than e-mail, but also because, I’ve realized lately, poor audio quality is a strong disincentive.
Nearly every call I make or receive has at least one person on a cell phone or cordless phone, and probably 60 percent are between two cell phones. The quality of most cell-phone calls beats the tin-can-and-string setup that kids used to play with, but only marginally. My home phone, a cordless Uniden on a digital phone network provided by Time Warner, offers better baseline quality than my cell phone but a steady diet of distortion, dropouts, and even dropped calls.
The other day, I happened to have a conversation on a real land line with another person on another real land line and I was shocked: I could actually hear. It was the first really good phone conversation I’ve had in about three years.
The convenience of cell phones and even cordless home phones is gigantic. But the audio fidelity is so poor as to make me wonder if: