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Nokia just made the first phone call using 3D spatial audio

It’s all thanks to an upcoming upgrade to 5G.


Nokia just announced that it has made the first-ever audio and video call using 3D spatial audio. This is actually a big deal, as all phone calls currently made over a cellular network are monophonic, so there’s no possibility for spatial audio.

This call, however, was placed over a cellular network using the 3GPP Immersive Video and Audio Services (IVAS) codec, which lets people hear “sound spatially in real-time.” For the uninitiated, spatial audio splits into multiple channels to make it sound like it's coming from different directions. This technology has become pretty popular when streaming music, but video calls are certainly a unique use-case scenario.

However, you won’t be able to call up a family member to argue about politics in glorious 3D audio just yet. The IVAS codec is part of a forthcoming update to 5G networks, called 5G Advanced. This upgrade will purportedly offer faster speeds, improved energy efficiency and more accurate cellular positioning. 5G Advanced will technically make spatial calls possible, but Reuters says it’ll be a few years before cellular networks start offering the service.

The only possible hurdle is that the IVAS codec will only enable spatial audio in smartphones with at least two microphones, though that’s most of them nowadays. Nokia says the “vast majority” of phones should offer support for spatial audio calls once the cellular carriers get on board.

Also worth noting, this technology wasn’t developed by the Nokia that sells cheap handsets. The cellphone brand was licensed to HMD some years back. This is the research and technical arm of the company, so there’s no need for jokes about flip phones.

Nokia isn’t the only company trying to expand uses for spatial audio. Audible now offers spatial audio on select original titles and podcasts and Netflix recently brought the technology to hundreds of TV shows and movies.