Thursday, June 13, 2019

“7 Ways to Improve VoIP Call Quality - PCMag UK” plus 1 more

“7 Ways to Improve VoIP Call Quality - PCMag UK” plus 1 more

7 Ways to Improve VoIP Call Quality - PCMag UK

Posted: 06 Jun 2019 10:00 AM PDT

If you've purchased a business Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone service, then you're undoubtedly savoring the bliss of lower calling rates as well as integrating your phone data with your other business applications, especially your customer relationship management (CRM) software and your help desk operation.

But the core metric by which you'll continue to measure VoIP success is, well, voice. Is the call quality still as good as it was before you digitized your phone? If conversations are garbled or drop sporadically, all the other benefits of VoIP really don't mean much. Fortunately, solutions such as Editors' Choice tools Intermedia Unite and RingCentral generally offer incredible voice quality. Even mid-tier solutions tend to show a marked improvement over local telco systems and smartphones. But a lot of that quality depends on more than how the VoIP vendor engineered their solution. Much of it rests on the underlying network, and that's a combination of your IT staff and your Internet provider. Thankfully, we've put together this list of potential problems and solutions to keep your business calls clear and garble-free.

However, before you continue investing time and effort making adjustments to your hardware and network, it might be prudent for you to contact your VoIP service provider. Their customer service engineers might be able to pinpoint your specific problem and offer you a fix much faster than a general IT staffer who doesn't deal with VoIP issues every day. You should also contact your internet service provider (ISP) to ensure they're not suffering a major broadband meltdown. If both of those calls prove fruitless, or if you've already spent too many hours listening to the sweet sounds of hold music, try the following six recommendations.

1. Jitter Ju Jitsu

Cisco has a wonderful explanation of what jitter is and how it can impact your VoIP call quality. Essentially, voice data is sent through your network in packets organized in chronological order. According to Cisco, "network congestion, improper queuing, or configuration errors" can cause delays in how these packets are organized and received.

In order to fix the issue, upgrade your Ethernet cord to a Category 6 (CAT6) cable. Your VoIP provider may have given you a previous-generation Category 5 (CAT5) cable, which only supports about 125 MHz, while CAT6 cables can transmit data at around 250 MHz. This is the easiest fix. For minor VoIP issues, this trick should solve your problem.

If the new cable doesn't unjitter your jitters, then try implementing a jitter buffer. Your VoIP vendor will happily help you configure a buffer, which will temporarily store your data packets in the sequence in which they are received, and then transmit those packets into your network in evenly spaced intervals. This will help to deliver voice data in a manner that is more accurate to how it was spoken.

6 Ways to Improve VoIP Call Quality

2. Buy a New Headset

VoIP headsets range in price from really cheap $1 earpieces to $400 luxury headsets. You wouldn't expect your favorite recording artist to mix an album using a cheap set of headphones, though, so why would you manage your business with a cruddy VoIP headset? When choosing a headset, there are a bunch of factors to consider. For one, if call quality is your main concern, choose noise-cancelling headphones that deliver sound in both ears. Corded and USB headsets typically deliver more stable sound quality than wireless or Bluetooth headsets


3. Buy a VoIP-Optimized Router

Don't let your standard home or small business router transmit your business VoIP calls. You should buy a router that expressly prioritizes VoIP traffic over other types of internet data. These routers can be as inexpensive as $200 for small businesses or as expensive as $3,000 for more heavy-duty use. It's also important that your router supports the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which helps to deliver data reliably between the client and the server. You'll also want virtual LAN (VLAN) support, which helps to group and disperse data based on where latency is lowest.

4. Monitor Your Network Traffic

As previously mentioned, the amount of bandwidth being used on your network will have an impact on your call audio. If jitter buffers don't solve your problem, try protecting your VoIP traffic stream. IT professionals can use most any network monitoring tool to identify which packet streams on their networks are carrying VoIP data. That allows them to tag that traffic and protect it in a number of ways. In small business settings, one of the most popular methods is to employ Quality of Service (QoS) protection on tagged VoIP data. Essentially, this lets an IT pro dedicate a portion of your overall bandwidth (let's say 10 percent) to carrying VoIP. That 10 percent will always be there for your voice traffic no matter what anyone else is doing on the network.

5. Interference Clearance

Phones with higher GHz frequencies tend to produce interference. Your typical VoIP phone runs at 2.4 GHz. However, there are also 5.8-GHz phones on the market as well as a variety of 5-GHz devices, including VoIP equipment. In general, the 2.4-GHz band gives you a longer range but its data throughput is slower. The 5-GHz band provides less coverage, but where it does cover, data will flow faster.

If you're experiencing interference, then check to see on which frequency your phone runs. If you've got a 5.8-GHz phone, then switch to a 2.4-GHz phone (some phones even let you choose). Also, most home and small business routers, as well as most Wi-Fi range extenders, offer the ability to either choose whether to run in the 2.4-GHz versus 5-GHz spectrums or run both simultaneously, allowing you to choose which traffic will run in which spectrum. Check with your VoIP provider's service technicians and ask about optimal performance for their particular platform.

Small Smartphones

6. Standardize Your Mobile VoIP

Communicating on the go is something most businesses, even smaller ones, need to address. Some folks need to make sure their smartphone rings when someone dials their desk extension if they're at home or on the road; others simply need to make sure they can wander around the office or campus with a fully functioning headset in their ear. To keep call quality good, you'll want to look at all of the ways your employees are conducting their mobile conversations, and then look to standardize.

For those looking to wander the office, consider a Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phone. Because these phones essentially utilize their own spectrum, using one to access your VoIP system means less chance of interference from other wireless sources. And depending on which VoIP vendor you've chosen, you may be able to opt for a DECT phone that's available through that vendor, which means fewer installation hassles. For some in-system configurations, it's just a matter of plugging the phone into an open USB port on the host system.

If you're one of those who needs their smartphone to ring when their desk phone is dialed, contact your VoIP provider and see what they've got in the way of a softphone or call forwarding options. The softphone is usually the more attractive option as these are software apps that turn whatever they're running on into something that can take and make VoIP phone calls. This way, you can conduct conversations, shared meetings, and other collaborative tasks using your desktop, your notebook, or a wide variety of mobile devices, especially smartphones. Using the softphone built by your VoIP provider guarantees full compatibility with your phone service and also means their customer service technicians will have an easier time identifying and solving problems. These days, some vendors, such as Dialpad, have eliminated hardware phones entirely, opting to offer their entire service portfolio via software.

7. If All Else Fails, Hire an Expert

Sure, DIY is part of modern VoIP's attraction. Even business-grade VoIP providers often tout how easy it is to "get up and running fast." And as we saw when we tested these products, that's mostly true. But when you've hit a performance snag where calls are garbled or even dropping sometimes, and you've exhausted both your in-house expertise and your customer service rep's calling script, it's time to think about hiring outside help.

Fortunately, today's VoIP consultants can do a lot more than simply install and maintain a VoIP system. These companies typically also work on optimizing your Wi-Fi network coverage as that's often part and parcel of a top performing VoIP system. And they can help with getting your communications to the next level by implementing advanced features, such as securing your call data and transmissions, automating shared meetings and scheduling, designing a full-functioning auto-attendant (aka an Interactive Voice Response or IVR system, something most business VoIP systems can do as long as you're willing to put in the time to set it up), developing custom integrations with your other back-end software, and even setting up call analytics and dashboards, not just for billing, but for marketing and sales, too.

Sure, hiring help will cost money, but as long as you take the time to fully investigate what your chosen consultant can do, you'll be getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Why Your Business VoIP System Might Not Belong in the Cloud - PCMag UK

Posted: 31 May 2019 09:00 AM PDT

Managed business phone providers deal mainly in voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology, which means they push cloud deployments almost exclusively since that's most effective for them. And to be fair, it's usually easier and cheaper for their customers as well, especially most small to midized businesses (SMBs). But the cloud still isn't a universal solution for every organization. There are several reasons why your particular operation might not want its communications living in the cloud or at least not all of it.

IT Watch bug art Even with VoIP making things easier, phone systems, it seems, are complicated. They're also highly varied in their capabilities, as evidenced by how different the most popular vendors were in this year's PCMag Business Choice Awards for VoIP providers. While they operate in an IT environment by using digital signaling and data, they still have to live partly in an analog world. The reason for that is because the people who use them are persistently analog.

Adding to the complication, phone systems can't be totally digital because the environment in which they exist may not be totally digital. A great deal depends on the physical environment in which the phone system resides and the communications environment with which the phone system connects.

On the other hand, a completely VoIP-based business phone system is certainly possible. All you need are some VoIP phones, a network, and some sort of private branch exchange (PBX). A PBX is a private phone system that operates within your organization, and is used to provide internal communications and also to connect to the larger telephone network outside.

The PBX itself may be a server in your data center or perhaps in your phone closet, or it may be a cloud-based server. It needs to be running specialized software that's able to direct voice calls from their origin to their destination. It does not matter where the server is located for your employees to make phone calls, which is why a cloud-based PBX can be a rational alternative.

Basic Fees and Added Costs

Cost Considerations

But there are other considerations. One big factor is cost. "In a public cloud [or Unified Communications-as-a-Service] or UCaaS model, the financial expense is the primary driver," said Daryl Reva, Vice President of Cloud Marketing at Mitel Networks, which makes both cloud and on-premises phone solutions, including Mitel MiCloud Business. A great deal also depends on the size of the organization. He said that smaller organizations may find greater cost benefits from a cloud-based VoIP solution.

The simple answer is that the initial cost of a cloud-based phone system is frequently lower than one that's on a server in your office. The reason is that you don't have to buy the PBX. But over the long run, it may be more expensive because you'll have to pay ongoing fees to operate and administer the PBX, just as you would any other cloud service.

On the other hand, a true unified communications system may be better as a cloud solution. UCaaS requires facilities and skill that you may not have in your company, and it may be that getting those services in the cloud may be the only feasible option for you. That's because, while UCaaS has great cost savings potential, it's primarily a software solution, which will likely require custom integration, DevOps-style management, and additional software management support.

But those aren't the only reasons. "If the vertical business is dictating your choices, such as healthcare and finance, then compliance controls your objectives," Reva explained. This means that, before you can run your phone system in the cloud, it must meet compliance regulations, and not all cloud-based phone systems can do that. You'll need to spend more time with your legal team to determine the exact compliance requirements for your infrastructure, and this is something you should do carefully as mistakes here can be expensive.

The Best VoIP Providers and Phone Services

Other Factors to Consider

There are other factors that may govern your decision. For example, if you're located in an existing environment with an existing analog phone system, you may not want to throw away hundreds of analog phones that are still in good working order. This means that, while you're moving to a VoIP system, you still need to use analog phones.

While a VoIP adapter can make any analog phone into a device that can exist on a digital network, it may make more sense to use an interface that lets you connect most of your analog phones to your VoIP network. While those phones may not have all of the features of a VoIP phone, they can still make phone calls, and that may be all you need. Then you can spend the money on VoIP phones where they're actually needed.

Sometimes, of course, a cloud-based phone system is ideal. And sometimes you want some of each. Reva said that there are two different types of hybrid phone systems. One typical case is when the headquarters has an on-premises PBX but the branches are in the cloud. "The headquarters can have redundancy while they can bring the branches up and down as needed," he said.

Cloud-based Files

Cloud-Based vs. On-Premises

Reva also noted that some forms of functional hybrids have the basic PBX on premises while some advanced functions, such as collaboration, are in the cloud. What this means is that, while you're hearing a lot about cloud-based VoIP solutions, that's not the only option. Plus, for your organization, it may not even be the best solution. Instead, it's important to base your VoIP system on what makes the most sense for your company, which may be on an on-premises server.

The primary considerations are the cost, how much control over the phone system you want, and whether or not there are considerations such as compliance. You don't have to buy a PBX to use one in the cloud, but if you don't, then you may pay more per month over time. You may not get a lot of control over a cloud-based system because the provider may choose when features are applied or changes are made, and a cloud-based system may not meet your compliance requirements.

On the other hand, if you only have a few employees and you want to get up and running immediately, then perhaps the cloud is where you begin. Like everything else in IT, everything depends on what you want to do with it.

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