Can you hear me now? We’ve all been there – whether it’s in an office that suddenly seems to get much louder just as you pick up the phone, struggling to sound professional from home as the neighbor’s leaf blower fires up, or attempting to locate a clear cell signal in an unfamiliar location. While issues with call quality and the reliability of your network can damage your organization’s reputation for professionalism, the good news is that there are simple solutions for many challenges your employees face.
First, let’s consider the landscape. Most organizations have moved to Voice over Internet Protocol – or VoIP – as their standard means of phone communication. Reasons for this include unmatched flexibility, affordability, and adaptability. With VoIP, you can add or delete users, ramp up features as needed, and access your office phone from anywhere. Unfortunately, with these benefits have come some drawbacks. While VoIP is the standard for business telecommunications, some carriers are still plagued by quality issues. Fortunately, many common issues can be addressed internally by upgrading your communications infrastructure. Here are some of the most common factors that can impact call quality and how your IT support team can address them.
Don’t Lag Behind
If you’ve ever had a conversation where people are seemingly talking over each other at every pause or in which there is a noticeable delay between the time you say something and the time the other party responds, you’ve experienced lag time, or what telecommunications professionals call latency. Latency is the amount of time it takes the words you are speaking to reach their intended recipient. Some telecommunications professionals refer to latency as a mouth-to-ear delay. For live communications such as a telephone conversation, your IT team will want a latency of no more than 200 milliseconds, and preferably much less. Latency rates above 200ms are easily noticeable because of the lag issues we noted above.
Although no one can communicate at more than the speed of light (300,000 meters per second), there are many factors that can reduce the speed at which your VoIP data is sent. Your IT support team should look at your internet service provider (ISP) to determine how well and how fast your network is working. One quick way for your team to cut call latency is by prioritizing VoIP traffic. Any reliable online communications system should allow you to prioritize different types of traffic through the router’s firmware, making this a simple fix for your IT team.
Get on the Band(width) Wagon
While latency refers to the delay between the participants in the call, there’s another issue that can impact the way your calls deal with data – bandwidth. This is the actual volume of data involved in a particular transmission. According to phone.com, a single VoIP call requires a minimum bandwidth of 100 Kbps both upstream and downstream – which means on both the calling and the receiving ends. When your bandwidth is less than this, your system’s need to compress the data will cause a noticeable decrease in audio quality. Calls may sound choppy, or the volume may fade in and out.
Complicating matters is the fact that business telecommunications usually don’t occur in a bubble. If you are working out of your office, the facility regularly will have to handle multiple calls simultaneously. When this happens, bandwidth requirements increase exponentially. For example, 10 concurrent calls require at least 1 Mbps of upstream and downstream bandwidth. The good news is that today’s fiber-optic broadband capabilities have dramatically increased the amount of available bandwidth for both business and personal use. However, your bandwidth isn’t unlimited; it can be greatly reduced by other common online office activities, such as downloading large files or streaming high-resolution videos. These issues can be exacerbated when an individual works from home, since home internet generally isn’t as robust as the office infrastructure. The best way for your IT support team to work through this is by working with your ISP to ensure that you have the bandwidth your team requires.
In VoIP, the sound is sent from one caller to the other through a series of data packets. These data packets should move from one call participant to the other in an ordered, well-timed fashion. When they don’t, you hear what’s called jitter – missing or jumbled audio signals.
Many things can cause jitter. These include bandwidth issues due to network congestion, packet lags due to latency, or system configuration issues. Aside from upgrading your network, your IT support team can also install a de-jitter buffer, which can be routers or an Edge device.
When it rains – you can still talk!
We’ve all been there with cell phone reception; you’re on a call during a storm and your wireless network starts having quality issues. Fortunately, VoIP allows your team’s communications system to have a fixed connection, which is far less prone to weather-related interference than a cellular signal transmitted through the air. Even with a fixed line, static electricity can build up during thunderstorms and cause disruption, and it can linger for a while after the storm has passed since static electricity takes time to disperse.
While you can’t control the weather, you can take comfort in knowing that online communications systems generally do a much better job of negating weather impacts. Why? Because VoIP systems typically use digital audio signals. These translate a caller’s voice into a series of zeros and ones, rather than the old-school analog format.
Oftentimes, reducing static interference is as simple as the go-to tech fix – unplug the phone and/or router and reconnect it after a few seconds of powering down. This seemingly simplistic process discharges any lingering static electricity.
Plain old background interference
While you might not have control over the weather, there are many other factors in an employee’s office or work-from-home environment that they can control with VoIP, one of which is interference. In our exceptionally connected world, many electronic devices can cause conflicts, and some VoIP devices can interfere with each other. Interference is typically characterized by background noise that occurs when wireless receivers pick up signals from other nearby devices.
To avoid these issues, your IT services team will want to make sure that your hardware is properly placed. They should place analog telephone adapters far away from broadband routers and any other networking devices. Additionally, any accessories or other devices that they are installing on the phone lines should be wired through microfilters. These filters will help to reduce interference and latency issues. A final step is to opt for wired devices, which are less susceptible to radio interference than their wireless counterparts.
The good news is that thanks to VoIP, many call-quality issues can be solved relatively easily by upgrading your telecommunications infrastructure to take full advantage of the latest technology.
If you’re searching for an effective, clear, and flexible cloud-based unified communications (UC) system, call Dyrand Systems today to discover how we can help.