Is QoS the Same in Every VoIP Provider?

Digital Convergence, and the creation of a Unified Communications (“UC”) platform have been embraced by many organisations.   A UC is the movement of all digital communications traffic, data, VoIP for business and video,  over a single physical network through a variety of software platforms.

Obviously, maintaining optimum response times for all classes of traffic is necessary, especially for VoIP for business and video.  It is a vital balancing act that IT performs, usually through the creation and management of Quality of Service protocols.

Quality of Service – What is It?

QoS

Quality of Service, usually abbreviated as QoS can be defined as the measurement of the overall performance of a network-based service.   It is usually measured from the end-user viewpoint as their perception of the service level they see.

Quality of Service – What is Measured?

What is Measured

The fundamental unit of measure is the opinion of users.  If they have VoIP calls that continually break up, have gaps and generally don’t allow them to complete a satisfactory conversation, then something  is wrong.

Poor VoIP performance can happen for three main reasons, packet loss, latency and jitter.  They increase greatly during periods of network congestion.

Packet Loss

Packet loss is exactly as the name suggests.  In VoIP, normal speech is digitised and put in normal network packets for transmission over the network connection between the speakers. If packets are lost, the receiver won’t get the complete message as intended.

Latency

Latency is the amount of time a packet takes to get from the sender to the receiver.  Obviously, low latency and an equal latency for all packets is essential for a good QoS.  Because the route a packet can take may vary between packets, this can be difficult to do, and many QoS devices such as switches buffer VoIP packets to maintain the order of the packets

Jitter

VoIP packets need to be sent in a steady continuous stream between sender and receiver to have an acceptable voice quality.  If the network is heavily congested at any point, the steady stream can be interrupted or the gap between packets can vary. Both affect the quality of a conversation.  That is Jitter.

These are the three basic measurements when assessing poor QoS performance.

What Causes Poor QoS?

Poor QoS

Quite simply, network congestion at any point in the route between sender and receiver will cause packet loss, poor latency and jitter.   It can happen in an internal network or at the network interface with the outside world.

Normally, in a VoIP business implementation passing over an internal network and the Internet, a service supplier provides the infrastructure to process and carry the VoIP traffic, and there is sometimes network congestion at the service supplier.  Finally, Internet congestion can be a cause.

Bottom line, once internal problems have been resolved, and a poor QoS is still there, it is with your service supplier that QoS issues need to be addressed.

The big question is then, how do service providers deal with VoIP QoS and do they differ in their approaches?

VoIP Service Suppliers and QoS

VoIP Service Suppliers and QoS

The first thing to understand is that VoIP service suppliers are not equal. They offer different levels of services at different costs and have different approaches to dealing with customer QoS issues. The short answer to the question “Is QoS the Same in Every VoIP Provider”, is no.

The best way to assess a QoS supplier is the same way as you would with any other service supplier.

Step 1 – Document your requirements, usually in a matrix setting out the mandatory, desirable and nice-to-have elements.

Step 2 – Ask around.  Check with other users, carry out Internet searches on websites like HelloPeter for recommendations or otherwise, and gather as much background information as you can, particularly on their attitude to resolving performance and QoS issues.

Step 3 – issue the matrix to selected suppliers for quotations.

Step 4 – Review the responses and identify a preferred supplier and a backup supplier.

Step 5 – Create a Service Level Agreement with the preferred supplier setting out the rules of engagement. A major part will be the identification of the key QoS measurement metrics and how any issues are to be resolved.

A good practice that should be written into the agreement with the service supplier is regular management meetings to review recent performance, identify any current or potential issues and set out steps for resolution.   There will be software and hardware updates to the VoIP infrastructure from time to time and these need to be scheduled.

One last point is that not all devices are VoIP capable, and still need a connection to the prior Telco network. If not properly configured, they may cause VoIP problems.

VoIP for Business is the entry point to your organisation and is a key part of your corporate business strategy.  It needs to give customers the sense of dealing with a quality organisation.  Poor performance is not acceptable in that environment.

How to Choose a VoIP Phone for System for Small to Medium Businesses

Cloud VoIP has become an essential part of most business communications strategies. It gives real operational cost benefits, and improves business operations and public image.

Part of the process is selecting the correct VoIP phone type for each user for a range of mobile and desktop units.

One of the first steps in any Cloud VoIP implementation is to determine where VoIP handsets will be needed, the type of handset, and if the supporting infrastructure is available at the installation point.  The two main types of handset are software applications on smart devices, and physical handsets connected to a cabled or WiFi network.

Infrastructure Requirements

Networking and Power

Networking and Power

VoIP handsets need to be connected to the business network and from it to the Internet to allow internal and external VoIP calls. Obviously, there must be a digital network in place.

The network connection can be using a standard Ethernet cabled connection, at a cabling level of Cat5e or above. Recently WiFi adapters and handsets with a WiFi capability have become available for use in a WiFi environment.

For a cabled network the usual connection is from the network point to the handset, and from the handset to the desktop computer. It depends on the implementation, but a WiFi enabled handset may not need to be connected to the computer.

The server infrastructure supporting VoIP can be inhouse, or as a Cloud VoIP implementation, outsourced to a managed service supplier.  For a very small business VoIP can be a network connected PC running PBX simulation software.

Be aware that some devices cannot be attached to a digital network, including older alarm systems, fax machines and modems. They need an analogue connection which can be programmed in the VoIP system or one that bypasses  the VoIP network to connect to an existing analogue PSTN connection.

Physical handsets also need power. It can be provided using Power over Ethernet (“PoE”), where the power is delivered over the network cabling, or by a power brick plugged into a po[]=wer point at the wall. For a WiFi implementation where there is no physical connection, a power brick will be needed.

PoE needs PoE capable switches, so some older switches might not have that capability. They can be replaced, or a more economical way might be to use power injectors that add PoE to a network.

Clearly, a power brick needs a power point, so some electrical installation work might be needed, but this is unlikely if there is already a cabled network connection and a desktop computer at the installation point.

The preinstallation planning needs to look at all the places where a physical handset is needed and make sure that it has power and network connectivity. PoE capability also needs to be checked.

Handset Selection

VoIP Handset Selection

Handsets come in a variety of different types and styles. They can be physical handsets sitting on a desk or attached to the wall. Using SIP technology allows smart devices running an app to simulate a physical device.

Physical handsets range from a very simple device with only a keyboard, to highly sophisticated programmable handsets with built-in video-conferencing screens and hands-free audio.

There are also ruggedised handsets specifically designed for adverse environments, for example handsets on a factory floor with very large buttons on the keypad for use by gloved fingers.

The type chosen will depend on the user and their business requirements and is defined during pre-installation planning.

Mobile Users

Mobile User

Some people, for example, managers or executives need to be always in contact. In a large environment, for example an educational  campus or large factory, this could be problematic. However, if the VoIP implementation includes support for the SIP protocol on the VoIP server, this can be achieved.

Most smart devices support an app that simulates the desktop handset environment, communicating with the VoIP system using the SIP protocols. In effect the smart device acts like the desktop handset. Whenever the user is connected to the business network, usually over WiFi, they have access to the VoIP phone system.

Physical Handsets

Physical Handsets

The type of physical handset installed will depend on the business needs of the user. All will need to be able to make and receive calls within their permission levels, and to access personal and corporate phone books.

For simplicity, most organisations have three classes of user, mobile, executive and basic. Mobile users obviously use smart devices.

Executive users need access to advanced features on the handset. These usually include programmable buttons that carry out common tasks such as call divert to voicemail, call transfer and call-pickup. One often used by executive secretaries is call screening, where they automatically pick up calls to the principal.

Basic users need only to make and receive calls.

Choosing the best handset means implies a knowledge of where a handset is to be sited, who is likely to us it, and their business requirements.

How can VoIP Help Organisations in this Era of Work from Home

The last two years have seen a major shift in IT towards Working from Home and remote access to systems. Because of lockdowns, and the closure of physical outlets, the pandemic has closed some businesses and forced others to move to e-commerce.

Two major disadvantages of Working from Home include the increased communications costs with the staff member, and a feeling of remoteness and isolation when they don’t interact with team members and other members of staff regularly in person.

Many businesses have already installed VoIP to take advantage of the cost and operational benefits of a Unified Communications platform. If the company has a high-speed and stable Internet connection, and most with e-commerce will, it is easy to use the corporate VoIP system to extend communications to staff Working from Home to overcome these problems.Continue reading

5 Signs It’s Time to Upgrade to a Cloud Phone Technology

As a consequence of the pandemic, many businesses have moved to a Work from Home and remote access basis.  The way they do business, the way they interact with customers and customers interact with them has radically changed.

This has meant a sea-change in internal corporate structures.  New Internal and external corporate communications have placed intense pressure on IT as they implement VoIP or Cloud Phone systems on a restricted budget.

Companies that have implemented VoIP Phone Systems have seen the financial and operational benefits of VoIP Phones, but have also seen the downside reducing the cost savings.  High maintenance costs, unstable internet connections, and poor quality connections are common issues.  

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What Small Businesses Want from Their Cloud Communications System

One effect of the pandemic has been a quantum increase in remote working and working from home. IT strategies have morphed from strategic to survival as they change to cope with the new business imperatives.

In remote working the need to communicate increases, and it is even more important in helping to maintain team morale and manage projects with a geographically dispersed workforce.   

Collaborative applications like SharePoint, Zoom, NetMeeting, and Skype have become the norm in business. Cloud storage as a means of document sharing and project communications is now essential. A Cloud Phone, a phone that uses Voice over IP (“VoIP”) over the Internet is becoming indispensable for productivity, privacy and general communications.

More than ever, business communications are vital to a business’s success. Customers and suppliers need to get in touch. The company needs to maintain an Internet presence to market its goods and services and support an e-commerce facility. Geographically dispersed businesses need business communications to link home office, manufacturing sites and depots at home and abroad

New company business, communications and IT strategies need to reflect the new realities.   Many companies are looking to implement an Integrated Communications Strategy that defines a common look-and-feel throughout the business.

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5 Best Practices for Call Monitoring

Love them or loath them, call centres are a fact of life nowadays.   Looking at them from a business standpoint, they are an essential component of a cost-effective and efficient customer service environment.  VoIP for Business makes implementation a practical proposition, even for the smallest business.

However, the quality of service delivered to the customer can make or break a relationship. A high-level customer experience is the goal.  When, for example,  they hear “You are number 47 in the queue”, they will hang up and not call back.   The tone and style of the interaction with the agent are vital.

That is where planning the interaction and why inbound and outbound call monitoring is essential.   It usually takes the form of a call centre quality monitoring programme.  Knowing service levels and their quality is not just metrics.

Effective CRM using VoIP for Business is the balancing of agent efficiency and service quality. 

First of all, what is call monitoring? It’s the listening in on agent and customer interactions and the recording of them for later analysis.  “Your call may be recorded for quality purposes”.

The upsides of call monitoring are both qualitative and quantitative.  Measurement of response rates and customer attitudes tells you if waiting times are acceptable.  This assists with resource planning.  Customer attitudes also tell you if assistance is effective and if an agents performance is acceptable.

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Is VoIP good for Small Business?

VoIP for Business has become commonplace in the business and personal marketplace.  Most businesses use it, bringing them many benefits.  The increases in Increased remote working and working from home following the restrictions imposed by the pandemic has meant many more small businesses using VoIP for Business.

Originally VoIP meant a level of expense that put out of the reach of the smaller business, but shelf-units and PC-based virtual PBX software have brought VoIP for Business well with the reach of even the smallest business and SoHo users.   The increasing availability of Internet access, especially the roll-out of fibre to the home, is also providing benefits to digital telephony. That has, in turn, driving a need for VoIP in smaller businesses.

Before VoIP, whenever an employee left the building they were by and large uncontactable, with the possible exception of catching them at a client, at home in the evening or in their overnight accommodation. This meant communications between staff, the office, and each other were difficult at best.  All that has changed with the advent of affordable Business VoIP. Simply put, with Business VoIP and its inbuilt video-conferencing capability, individuals and teams need never be uncontactable, inside or outside the office. It is now possible to be truly mobile.

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How Does Voip Work for Business?

In recent times, multimedia, voice and video conferencing have come together to create an entirely new form of communications.  A key element of this new wave is Voice over IP, (“VoIP”), a protocol for digital transmission of voice and video. 

Home and business VoIP telephony has grown to be a major segment in the VoIP market. It provides advantages in cost, mobility and increased functionality with a range of compatible devices.

Why should a business user consider moving to a VOIP for Business telephone system?   There are justifiable concerns, mostly over call quality, but also that that they will lose their phone service if they lose power, and that it is a difficult and costly technology to implement.

However, improvements in technology and the use of standby power go a long way to alleviating these concerns. Simply put, the advantages to businesses from adopting a VoIP for Business solution far outweigh any potential drawbacks.

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10 Tips for a Smoother Online Conference Call Meeting

The ability of VoIP for Business to host Conference calling and remote meetings is now an essential part of an organisation’s business tools. Unfortunately, there have been many reports of failures and poor performance using ZOOM and other collaboration tools.

While some poor conference calls may have been because of VoIP for Business technology failings, most are because participants are not familiar with the etiquette of conference calling and how to make them effective. Basically, using the same approach as for face-to-face meetings will provide quality meetings. Here are ten suggestions:

Just because it’s an online meeting, doesn’t mean that it can be less organized than a face-to-face one.

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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of VoIP?

Most businesses have installed a VoIp for Business system. The digital revolution has enabled most to replace their existing PSTN based systems with VoIP because of the benefits in cost management and customer service.

They might have justifiable concerns over call quality, and that they will need disaster planning measures so they don’t lose their phone service if they lose power. Recent advances in technology and the use of standby power can dispel these concerns. Bottom line, the advantages of VoIP for Business to the business far outweigh any potential drawbacks.

Integrating VoIP for Business in an integrated communications environment including video conferencing, instant messaging and Social Media integration brings the business firmly into the 21st century and at the leading edge of communications.

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