One concern many companies have about the big switch to VoIP telephones is the VoIP quality of the new phones. Some of us have heard stories about voice echo, time lags, dropped calls and general poor quality voice reproduction.

However these stories are anecdotal. Some have persisted since the very early days of VoIP when there were fewer available routes and bandwidth was more restricted. Others are due to specific setup problems that do not affect the majority of customers and which can soon be corrected.

If you’re experiencing problems with your new VoIP phones, here are some things to consider before despairing of your new technology prematurely.

Faster broadband

VoIP adds to the burden placed upon your broadband connection. If you are too close to your throughput limits it can cause a whole range of sound aberrations on VoIP phones. Before you rush out and buy more bandwidth, however, check that it is the solution that you need. Do you experience the same problems when nothing else is using your connection?

If broadband is the bottleneck, it is relatively inexpensive to get it increased. In a multi-office business, you might consider giving your different offices their own broadband accounts and independent routers. That brings other advantages too: for example if a technical issue affects one of your connections, the other guarantees you’ll be able to keep going until it’s fixed.

Another thing you should check is whether you are actually getting the bandwidth your broadband provider promised you in the first place. Surveys show that the majority of ISPs simply don’t deliver on their promised speeds at peak hours. Complaining is free.

Stagger your load during peak hours

An alternative to increasing your broadband costs is to use it more carefully. If they’re watching Youtube in the office next door you may not have to look further for the cause of your voice quality problems, but a more subtle way of squandering bandwidth is to rely too heavily on Cloud resources.

While Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is an increasingly popular choice for many businesses, relieving them of IT burdens, security threats and high capital expenditure on in-house software, the burden it adds to network connections is often forgotten. Not all of those network connections are under your control. If it is the service provider that is overloaded, or your segment of the Internet, then upgrading your own bandwidth will make little improvement to your VoIP or other congestion problems.

Minimise this risk through planning. Make it company policy to run bandwidth heavy tasks such as backing up or file syncing overnight, keeping the airwaves freer for vital services during the day.

Giving wholesale VoIP termination higher priority

Your routers and other network equipment have a “Quality of Service” setting, abbreviated to QoS. You can use your QoS settings to prioritise certain kinds of traffic over others. Depending on your router, you may be able to specify which users, which applications, or which kind of data streams get preferential treatment, so that their packet loss, jitter, transmission delays, bit loss and other parameters are all optimised.

If you have new routers provided as part of your new VoIP installation they may already be optimised for VoIP, but it’s worth checking. If you have retained older routers, its worth checking to see if you can improve the settings for VoIP. Your provider will be happy to give advice if they are familiar with your router.

Updating or upgrading equipment

Are you still using your old headsets or handsets with VoIP? Although many work, or work with the help of an adapter, they do not always work as well as equipment specifically designed to perform with the new technology. Upgrade one or two at a time to see how much improvement it could make.

Expert solutions

If none of the above steps solve your issue, you will need an expert network assessment to determine how much latency, jitter or other issues are actually affecting your phones.

Latency is the amount of time packets are taking to traverse between callers, and jitter is the result of variability in latency between different packets, which can cause packets to arrive in the wrong order. If details like these are outside tolerable limits there are still some other solutions you can apply in-house, but they require more specialised networking skills. They include bandwidth reservation, policy-based network management, and multi protocol label switching.

There are also some specialised items of VoIP hardware that could be installed to rectify specific problems, such as a jitter buffer.

In just a few cases your VoIP provider will be at fault, perhaps through having purchased poor quality termination routes across the internet. You can avoid that problem by choosing a reputable tried-and-tested provider such as IDT at the outset.