A concept and architecture of a personal communication system (PCS) is introduced that integrates audio communication and hearing support for the elderly and hearing-impaired through a personal hearing system (PHS). The concept envisions a central processor connected to audio headsets via a wireless body area network (WBAN). To demonstrate the concept, a prototype PCS is presented that is implemented on a netbook computer with a dedicated audio interface in combination with a mobile phone. The prototype can be used for field-testing possible applications and to reveal possibilities and limitations of the concept of integrating hearing support in consumer audio communication devices. It is shown that the prototype PCS can integrate hearing aid functionality, telephony, public announcement systems, and home entertainment. An exemplary binaural speech enhancement scheme that represents a large class of possible PHS processing schemes is shown to be compatible with the general concept. However, an analysis of hardware and software architectures shows that the implementation of a PCS on future advanced cell phone-like devices is challenging. Because of limitations in processing power, recoding of prototype implementations into fixed point arithmetic will be required and WBAN performance is still a limiting factor in terms of data rate and delay.
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