VOIP Tips and Tricks to Make It Work its all about the Bandwidth
Broadband connections in the UK are great for surfing the net, for years we were satisfied with 2Mbps download and 512Kbps upload from our broadband connection, if you were on a business connection his would then be contended or “shared” with up to 20 other businesses. Within the last 4 to 5 years we saw the advent of ADSL max connections and more recently ADSL 2+ and Annex M type connections promising speeds of up to 24Mbps downloads and as much as 2.5Mbps upload, again this was shared with other businesses but surely these increased speeds are great for voice aren’t they?
Well you would think so wouldn’t you? But maybe not, firstly you need to consider the length of telephone cable between your business and your nearest telephone exchange. The theoretical speed of broadband connections up to 2Km from an exchange is at full speed, so your paying for 8Mbps you get 8Mbps right? Possibly wrong, routers and ISP’s are clever, the routers during the first few days of a broadband connections life will measure the quality of the copper connection between it and the exchange, noise on the line from ageing copper, from water in the cables (weather in the UK in 2012 has been dreadful) from any number of other factors such as “did the last openreach guy in your little green box in the street slightly dislodge your cables whilst he was working on someone else’s problem?” causing your connection to be less than optimal.
All of these things impact on your broadband connections potential maximum speed. If your beyond 2Km from the exchange and please understand this is the length of cable from the exchange not as the crow flies then the speed drop off is significant, from experience I generally expect to see at best half theoretical speed at 2Km and this drops of gradually over distance out to approx. 5 to 6Km at these distances quality of the copper is a very big influencer.
A quick bit of maths for a sample business.
Sampler Ltd Pay for an ADSL 2+ 16Mbps service, they expect to get this down and up to 1Mbps up, so that’s all good then.
As a business they are going to share with up to 20 other businesses so say all the businesses they share with have their internet on that day.
16Mbps / 20 Businesses = 0.8Mps download
1Mbps / 20 Businesses = 50Kbps upload
This is what you could expect to receive if all the connections were at full utilisation and you were located on top of your telephone exchange so you’re not losing any speed because of distance. Now yes I know that no one is going to use the internet all the time and hog bandwidth, except perhaps when people are glued to the internet at work watching coverage of the Olympics from the BBC’s website! I jest but we helped a client last week with a VOIP problem which miraculously went away when we made them close down all of the IE sessions they had connected to the BBC website.
VOIP or Voice Over IP generally utilise 2 possible compression protocols G.729 & G711 the convention is generally G729 needs approximately 32Kbps and G711 approximately 74Kbps, notice I said approximately!
Now with VOIP, upload speed is just as important as download speed and the nature of VOIP is that the data has to be delivered in a constant stream or you start getting echo on the call, one way audio, and or crackle or Metal Micky voice!
So going back to Sample Ltd, worst case they do not have enough bandwidth to support a single call at G711! This is a key mistake made by many telecoms companies.
From personal experience in an area with “reasonable” internet speed a broadband connection will support general internet use for 4 to 10 users and allow for 1 or 2 simultaneous calls at any one time, but this isn’t always the case. All of the factors listed above influence this. The choice you make on your networking equipment also has a major impact as to what you can do help improve this.
Poor bandwidth that will never properly support VOIP is the most common source of hassle for VOIP services, it makes up roughly 40% of the consultancy and support work it do with clients around VOIP solutions.
Help is at hand and what you can do to improve your chances of VOIP working?
- Use decent equipment – sounds obvious but always always always look at buying a good business class router and preferably a good quality firewall to go with it. Without going into techie details, quality equipment allows your IT support or Network Support Company to give priority to Voice traffic on the network. This is vital and saves so much time and potential hassle at later date, it also allows you to have the potential of dealing with NAT/VOICE problems that can occur, I could do a whole article on NAT and VOICE but perhaps another time. Cheap routers really aimed at the home market or even many “cheap” business class routers do not have the capabilities to do quality of service and probably more importantly your limited in what you can and cannot configure. I would say that 40% of VOIP issues can be traced back to cheap equipment and or poorly configured equipment. Depending upon set up I would recommend paying £150 to £250 for a router and then perhaps have a hardware firewall sat behind the router but it does depend upon circumstance.
- Pick a good VOIP service provider – sounds obvious doesn’t it, but picking the right company to deliver your hosted VOIP solution is important. Many traditional Telecoms companies struggle with the concept of Voice over IP, TCP/IP and the internet is still a foreign language. There are I have to say some good companies out there who have made investments in getting their team of techies trained and have made the leap to VOIP provider successfully. IT companies in increasing amounts are getting into VOIP provision – they understand IP (well most of them do) and are often a good source for the smaller implementations. But make sure the provider that is stood behind the company are solid. We have a 24 year history in the data communications market, have been implementing, testing VOIP solutions since it first appeared, perhaps more importantly we have been involved in fixing the mess created on countless badly designed VOIP solutions for our clients.
- Pick a good broadband provider. If your looking to push voice traffic over your internet connection I would recommend spending money on your broadband connection. From painful personal experience having witnessed this do not ever get a “really cheap” connection from one of the big boys, I am not going to name names in this article as it wouldn’t be fair but I am sure you can guess who I mean £10 per month for a broadband connection is not a business class service.
If your fortunate enough to be able to get FTTC (Affinity) type service from an ISP many of your problems disappear, distance from the exchange is still and issue but with up to 40Mbps download and 10Mbps upload many of the potential problems disappear, but please still spend money on routers, etc. a home hub, etc. isn’t really the solution.Hosted VOIP has many benefits to companies large and small, a well-planned and implemented VOIP solution, can add flexibility, potentially save on cost although I think this is less likely. What VOIP also often delivers is increased functionality. All I would advise is tread with caution, do a bit of research and for what a good consultant would charge for a few hours’ work, pay someone to help or advise on the best solution and what is in reality is achievable prior to committing to a hosted VOIP solution.
Do this work long before you commit to VOIP, it may be that a fixed line traditional system is the only one that will reliably provide for your businesses need. I have seen business brought to their knees for days on end without phone lines because their broadband connection was down (there is no SLA with a broadband connection that your paying anything from £20 to £75 a month for), you must have a backup plan.
Be very careful to ask your potential VOIP provider some questions.
1. If you are going to be transferring existing numbers into their system, get them to put in writing that they will allow you to transfer the numbers back out, should you decide to leave, if they are not prepared to put this in writing then walk away.
2. Ask the potential supplier to provide a network map of there hosted VOIP network, this doesn’t have to contain technical details but an overview, if they cant do this or are not prepared to, walk away.
3. Ask the supplier to detail their support process and potential charges if the system has issues, you must have a clear expectation prior to placing any order.
Not much left to say apart from that hosted VOIP solutions can be great but only when planned properly.
In addition to the above Synergy Telecoms will also happily provide consultancy to companies on how to get the most out of their communications solutions, this can be on a pure consultancy basis if you require.