Voice Quality: The Ultimate Differentiator in VoIP Providers

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1 Business Phone Service Quality Voice Quality: The Ultimate Differentiator in VoIP Providers By Robert Conner, CEO of sipvine, Inc.

2 Alternative providers of business phone services are now entrenched in the marketplace, with new entrants emerging almost daily. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is expected to grow to the point where this type of phone service delivery will be more common for businesses than traditional switched or dedicated service by The features and functionality of digital phone service along with the cost savings delivered to business are among the key reasons for businesses switching to VoIP providers. However, to date, many businesses have found that the quality of the voice call has been compromised by this method of delivery. Voice Quality Issues In VoIP installations, common experiences with the quality of the voice call include: Delay due to latency or jitter Voice echo due to no or inferior echo cancellation equipment Intermittent silent pauses due to lack of QoS (quality of service) processes Hosted VoIP service is a common delivery method for phone service to business clients. A hosted implementation greatly minimizes the investment of capital needed for an on-site VoIP enabled phone system. The service is delivered over the customer s internet connection to the host site, where the transfer is made to the public telephone network. Analog Phone Fax VoIP Adpater PC QoS Router Internet Fax Services Voice Services Media Gateway PSTN Client Network Application Services VoIP Phone 1

3 A very common practice of hosted VoIP providers is to ship their pre-configured phones to the customer with the direction to simply plug them into the company s existing data connections. It is true that, at that moment, the customer will be able to make and receive voice calls over the network. However, it is also true that these customers will experience the voice quality issues referenced above. Why? Primary Causes of Voice Quality Issues As a customer of a hosted VoIP provider, you are more than satisfied with the enhanced phone features and cost savings you have secured with your decision to change. However, you are receiving feedback from your customers and others that the quality of the conversation has been compromised. This means your VoIP service provider has not put in place specific processes and safeguards to insure the quality of your phone calls. The typical root causes of the issues you are facing are as follows: Inadequate Network or Internet Bandwidth: Your VoIP service provider needs to assess your current bandwidth to ensure that both your data usage (e.g. Internet surfing, , watching the latest funny YouTube video, etc.) and voice delivery requirements are met. In reality, depending upon the number of phone calls you make, your voice usage does not take much bandwidth at all. However, voice usage does directly compete with data usage, and if your bandwidth is sized too small or just covers your data needs, your voice calls will be compromised. Lack of Quality of Service Software: Where the VoIP providers that simply send you a box of phones to be merely plugged into your network fail is that they don t address the most fundamental component of ensuring voice quality your network router. Your router acts like a traffic cop for the packets of data flying around your company s network. Imagine a busy intersection with no stoplights, there would be traffic snarls and delays galore. Not a pretty sight! It is the same thing on your network without a good traffic prioritization process. Your router provides these important 2

4 processes. Your router, or a bridge device attached to your router, should have voice-specific QoS software which controls the prioritization of packets over your Internet connection. The QoS application prioritizes the movement and flow of your voice packets, while the data packets are moved to the background. To the naked eye, you will not see or experience any slowdown in your data transfer. However without QoS software, the naked ear will certainly experience the interruption of the flow of your voice packets. The QoS software will insure that these interruptions do not happen. This is a challenging concept to explain, so I will try to explain it in a more visual way: o Your voice call with QoS The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog o Your voice call without QoS The fox jumped the dog As you can imagine, this could be quite an issue when talking with your customer about an important order! Manager: Did that order for one million widgets ship out? You: Ummmm don t you mean 1 widget? Whoops!! Latency of the connection to the voice network: When your VoIP phone call travels from your phone to your provider s hosted site it traverses the Internet. Depending on how your provider connects to the Internet, this could be a short or long distance. This travel distance, known as latency, can have an impact on your call quality. If the distance is too far then your phone call will have a feel of calling someone across the world. A good example of this is when on the news a local reporter is interviewing someone in Saudi Arabia. The reporter says something, such as Is it hot there? Then there is an awkward pause before you hear Well of course it is hot here. It is a desert after all! The call is clear, just awkward due to the delays and the interruptions due to those delays. A good VoIP provider should have multiple geographically disperse access points into major Internet providers. This way, your phone call will take the shortest path and therefore cut down any delay. If you have offices in New York and California, you don t want the New York office accessing a provider in California. 3

5 Use of voice compression to function over your current bandwidth: In environments without QoS or adequate bandwidth, a voice compression codec, such as g.729, can be utilized to reduce the amount of network bandwidth a phone call uses. Where it may solve for the bandwidth utilization, it can lead to certain issues with voice quality. Because your voice is being compressed, it can sound somewhat electronic. Also, on-hold music is generally degraded due to the compression. Finally, fax machines, alarm systems, or anything that involves using a modem will not function in a voice compression environment. Selection of Your VoIP Provider Changing your phone service to a VoIP platform will provide you with a number of advanced communication features that will positively impact your business. Additionally, there are typically cost savings gained by moving to this type of environment as well. However, you will have buyer s remorse if you don t take a few steps to ensure your provider will be able to deliver voice calls that are clear and crisp every time: 1. Did the provider evaluate your current bandwidth utilization and your expected call volume? If those issues were not discussed, evaluate another provider. Beware of one size fits all! 2. Does the provider deliver a router or bridge device preprogrammed with QoS software specific to the prioritization of your voice traffic? Without such software, even over-sizing your bandwidth will not completely eliminate voice quality issues. It is a big red flag if your VoIP provider never discusses QoS. Quickly move on to another provider. 3. Does the provider conduct your service installation on-site? Certainly, every provider is looking for ways to economically deliver their service. This may include shipping your phones and equipment to your location with the expectation that you or your network manager installs the equipment. Even with remote support guiding you through the installation, it is better to have an on-site technician engaged on your installation. Some providers may have an installation charge for this level of support, and it is worth 4

6 every penny. They will be able to address any issues not uncovered during the sales or configuration process. If your provider says the installation is simple. You will have no problem doing it yourself, do not be fooled. VoIP is a phone system that encompasses a high-level of technology. However, it can and should be a simple and painless process when installed by an expert. 4. Does your provider configure your phones for how you do business? One of the great advantages to VoIP solutions is the degree of customization that can be applied. Every company has a different philosophy on how their incoming calls should be handled. Your VoIP provider should recognize that and not force you to reduce your service levels due to their shortcomings. In fact, a good VoIP provider should be able to provide you improved call routing due to the high-level of customization that VoIP provides. Don t subject yourself to adapting to a cookie-cutter configuration and find a provider who can adapt to your needs. About Robert Conner: Robert Bob Conner is the Chief Executive Officer for sipvine, Inc. With over 20 years in the Information Technology industry, Bob has managed large groups of engineers and complex information technology systems. Overseeing global IP telephony installations and working/consulting for several Fortune 500 companies, Bob became well aware of the business and economic requirements for telephony systems. While co-founding sipvine, he was determined to provide a better solution for the cost and complexity issues companies face when finding a telecommunications provider. Delivering a solution that places a priority on service quality was a foundational element to establishing sipvine. Bob can be reached at 5

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