In the not so distant past, bandwidth was limited and firewalls did not play nice with the voice packets going through it. Technology has advanced recently and bandwidth is no longer an issue. Firewalls, however, still have some tweaking needed to make it work well with the voice packets. Once set though, it really works well…or most of the time. So why do most people think VoIP is unreliable?
VoIP is heavily reliant upon the internet connection. If there is heavy internet traffic, or if there is a problem through the multiple hops to the server, the voice quality suffers. I think all of us who have used VoIP have had days where we get a static, echoes, silence, or even dropped calls. This is just something most of us feel we have to deal with to save a few bucks. It is, after all, a trade-off…cheaper phone service with loads of features, but deal with some issues here and there.
Traditional phone lines are after all a century-old technology that works even when the power goes out. There are very few instances if ever where you pick up a traditional phone and there is no dial tone. It works, plain and simple.
For individuals, this is acceptable…after all, we have our cell phones to fall back on (who has a house phone these days anyway?). For businesses though, it is not acceptable. Nothing sounds as unprofessional as a phone system with quality issues.
So how do we get the VoIP phones to become more reliable?
Well, there are a few things that can be done. Keep in mind this is for businesses more than personal.
- VoIP phones need power. They are like mini-computers that look like phones. Battery packs, or UPSes, can keep the device powered up in the case of an outage. But instead of getting a UPS for each phone, it would be better to power the devices using a PoE (power-over-Ethernet) switch. These switches push power through the Ethernet line to power the phone. A single higher capacity UPS can power the switch which in turn will keep power going to all of the phones. Of course the ISP modem and firewall would also need to be plugged into the UPS to keep the internet available. The length of time the phones will stay up in the case of an outage is dependent on the size of the battery pack and the load applied to it.
- Redundant internet connections can make sure an internet outage will not take the phones down. With the cost of bandwidth becoming more affordable, having a second connection is like having insurance…you may not need it often, but when you do need it, you’ll sure be glad you had it. Of course to make this work, the firewall has to be able to be configured for WAN redundancy. Most business firewalls can do this, personal ones not so much. Also use two different providers with different delivery mediums (i.e. fiber for one and cable for the second)
- With the cost of bandwidth becoming cheaper, ISPs tend to try their best to not spend more than they have to. Therefore, they will try to reuse whatever lines are at the property as often as they can. Sometimes these lines are over many years old and may have degraded a bit. VoIP is not about quantity (bandwidth) as much as quality (cleanliness of the line). After a few service calls, ISPs tend to realize it is cheaper to replace the degraded line than to keep sending a technician out. Therefore, with any sign of issues, the first thing to do is to contact the ISP and have them check things out. Data transmissions are more tolerant of lost packets, but VoIP can be very sensitive to packets not coming in order or being delayed.
- Most hosted VoIP systems are highly flexible when it comes to call routing. Should power or the Internet be out for an extended period, calls can be easily be routed to cell phones. Some providers offer the ability to make this change in a portal. Others require a call or text to the support.
- Yeah, there’s an app for that. Most VoIP providers offer the convenience of having a softphone connect to their service. Some have their own branded ones, but there are plenty of generic ones that will work. The most popular free ones are X-Lite and Zoiper. Ask for configuration parameters from your provider.
So with all of these options, VoIP is definitely more flexible, but is it just as reliable? Again, it is so dependent on the Internet that at this moment it is not. But hey, it’s cheaper, has more features, and is highly configurable. Plus it’s kinda cool.