VoIP Quality can be Hard to Pin Down

Posted on: 2017-08-29 | Categories:VoIP Services

VoIP technology has advanced quite a bit from its early days. So it comes as quite a surprise to people when they discover that quality can still be an issue. We have known about the problems with audio quality for years now. Poor quality audio was the biggest obstacle to enterprise adoption since the technology upgrade should not come with a quality impairment.

What Causes Bad Audio Quality?

Phone calls are real-time communications as opposed to email. With an email, it doesn’t really matter if there is a delay of a few seconds. No one expects the recipient to read the email the moment it is sent from you or received in their inbox. A phone conversation has different rules. Even a few microseconds of delay is noticeable. People expect to hear the words the moment they are spoken, not after a few seconds.

Delay is not the only problem either. VoIP converts analog voice signals into data packets for transmission over the network. Can you imagine what would happen if a few packets don’t arrive at their destination? The results are missing words and broken conversations. On the other hand what happens if the packets arrive in a different order than they were sent in? You can easily imagine the consequences if ‘abc’ is received as ‘bca.’ The conversation won’t make any sense to either party.

Jitter, latency, packet loss and buffer are familiar terms to anyone within the VoIP industry. Even managers and executives are learning these words! As far as the technology goes, VoIP quality is quite good. There is no technical reason holding back VoIP call quality. It’s comparable to calls made over the PSTN provided certain conditions are met. It is meeting these conditions that causes issues for providers and organizations.

Pinning down the Cause of Bad Quality

Even if you know what are the problems that can cause audio quality, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause within your own network. It doesn’t help matters that call quality issues can change with time. You may face a problem with jitter today and packet loss tomorrow. Any change in hardware, the technology or protocol can cause the audio quality to drop perceptibly.

The other issue with pinpointing the cause is monitoring. Businesses can use active and passive monitoring methods to ensure top-notch quality. Needless to say active monitoring methods are more time intensive and complex to implement. However passive monitoring means that you often find out the cause of the problem long after it has happened. If a client is having issues today, what’s the point if you find out about it tomorrow?

Audio Quality – Changes in the Network

Audio quality can change whenever you do something in the network. Maybe you move to a different vendor, ISP or change the underlying architecture. Quality can be affected depending on whether the call travels over the corporate network, the public Internet or the PSTN. Voice quality also varies depending on the network load, available bandwidth and Internet speeds.

Almost everyone realizes that QoS settings are the key for good quality audio calls. But just because you have set it up once doesn’t mean you can forget about it later. Every time you replace a piece of hardware on the network – a router, a cable or a switch – you have to make sure that it conforms to the quality settings. It is easy to forget about QoS when you add new equipment or upgrade old equipment. Slowly you find that half the hardware on the system is not optimized for VoIP!

Sometimes changes within your own organization can affect the perception of audio quality. Quite often small businesses and startups sacrifice quality for other aspects. You may not want to pay extra for HD voice or higher quality audio codecs. But as your business grows and call volume increases, your customers will demand quality.

What Can You Do About Quality?

If you are using hosted VoIP services from a vendor, you might feel you don’t have much control over quality. But there are steps you can take to make sure there’s nothing wrong with your own network. Periodic and continuous monitoring is a must. You can combine both active and passive monitoring methods to find problems before they disrupt communication.

You should also optimize and check hardware to make sure that QoS is implemented. Keep an eye on bandwidth hungry applications and network capacity. What is sufficient for you today may no longer be so in a few months. Make sure to use or upgrade to good quality hardware since that can affect the audio as well. Sometimes the solution is as simple as upgrading to a better plan or switching vendors. Being proactive is the key to maintain audio quality!