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Why all VoIP calls arent free

VoIP is much cheaper than traditional phone service.  But if VoIP calls are packets moving through the Internet, shouldn’t it be free?  After all, if browsing is free, why can’t phone service be free?

The phone network, or PSTN (publicly switched telephone network) as it is called in the telecom industry, is what the carriers use to connect calls between parties.  It is what handles phone traffic.  The PSTN is not a part of the Internet.  It was designed for analog phone service connecting calls using phone numbers.  As it travels from one end to another it goes through various carriers’ networks and terminates at its destination.  It was a rather sophisticated technology for its time, but a little outdated now.

VoIP calls travel through the Internet.  For calls never needing to traverse into the PSTN, calls are typically free.  That is why Skype-to-Skype calls, Facetime calls, and many other apps offer free calling.  However, because the PSTN handles phone numbers for routing, most calls destined for a number still need to traverse into the PSTN.  The hop from the Internet to PSTN and vice versa is where the cost lies.  Carriers that control the PSTN still need to cover their costs and when a provider creates the link between the two mediums, there is a cost associated with it.

So how come VoIP is so much cheaper?  Well, when you move through the Internet it’s free, the crossover to the PSTN happens much closer to the destination.  In the old days, carriers charged for calls based on distance (remember LATA 1, LATA2, Long Distance, etc.?).  With VoIP, all calls would travel via internet then cross over at the nearest point of destination thus making all calls a local call.  Thus, a call to your next door neighbor will cost the same as a call across the country.

So why can’t international calls cost the same as a local call?  Well, each country has their own network of carriers.  Thus, they have their own rates to cross over into their PSTN.  In order to get to the desired phone number, the carriers will charge a fee, which is then passed on to the caller.

 

 

Can VoIP be as reliable as traditional phone lines?

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 that 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Steve Choy

Yoji Inc.

VoIP and Bandwidth

VoIP has been around since the mid-1990’s, but hosted VoIP has not been a viable option until probably less than 10 years ago.  The reason was due to lack of ample, reliable, cost-effective bandwidth.

Not too long ago, the only low cost Internet connection was DSL or Digital Subscriber Line.  Telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon were able to provide DSL internet at a low cost because they used existing telephone lines and put digital converters on each end.  The speed was determined by the distance between these converters:  the farther the distance the slower it got.  Sometimes, the distance was too far for it to even work.  Since most telephone lines have not been replaced in a long time, the quality of the lines were in pretty bad shape thus causing high amounts of dropped packets.  For data, lost packets were fairly transparent to the user.  The computer would just re-request until it got a response.  To the user it just seemed like the internet was slower but eventually the page would populate.  For VoIP, however, dropped packets would cause echo, cut outs, static or dropped calls.  DSL was not a good medium for VoIP.

T-1 connections were actually suitable for VoIP.  A T-1 line provided a symmetrical 1.5Mbps connection.  However, the cost of T-1 connections made it so that there was no advantage to move to VoIP.  It was easier and just as cost effective to use traditional telephone lines since it is a reliable technology that has been around for over a century.

Within the last 10 years, there have been major advances in bandwidth offerings.  Cable companies have increased the amount of bandwidth they can push through their coaxial network and provided it less expensively than any other medium.  Telecom companies have invented a new medium called EoC or Ethernet-over-Copper, to enable higher bandwidth through a more modern telephone cable.  Even fiber optics has become more affordable as Verizon, and now AT&T, are trying to make it the primary medium to each home and office.

When using the SIP protocol, which most VoIP services use, each phone call requires roughly 100Kbps.  At ten concurrent calls, the bandwidth requirement goes up to 1Mbps.  Without ample bandwidth, internet connections would get saturated between voice and data usage and thus cause reliability issues.

Here at Yoji, we evaluate the bandwidth prior to installing endpoints at our client sites.  We first determine if the medium is ample and reliable.  If a client has DSL, we would recommend that they move to cable and assist them in the upgrade.   Cable is the lowest grade that we would allow for our system.  If we see packet loss, we will assist the client in contacting the ISP to clean up the line.  Our goal is to provide a reliable phone service that will save our clients money, time and aggravation.

Give us a call and experience the Yoji difference.

Steve Choy, President, Yoji

Unlimited Packages. Are you really saving money?

These days, it seems all VoIP companies are leaning towards unlimited calling packages.  They are following the model set by cellular companies.  In the not so distant past, cellular comanies offered set minute packages, allowing the customer to choose only what they needed at an affordable price (relatively speaking).  However, the overage charges became the unknown, and if customers would go over their allotted minutes, the bill could become astronomical.  As cellular companies offered unlimited packages, it became the popular choice.  It took away the unknown.

VoIP companies followed suit.  For small companies, it was easy on their pocketbook to know exactly what they will be paying without having to worry about how many minutes they use.  Whether they used 100 minutes or 100,000 minutes, the price was the same.  Again, it is an easy way to get rid of the unknown and have a set expense.

These days, the need for office phones are less than what it was 10, or even 5, years ago.  Everyone carries a cell phone and use it for most of their day-to-day calling.  It is convenient by not tethering a person to their desk.  Most important calls come to the individual’s cell phone.  The desk phone is convenient for keeping unimportant calls going to a different location or keeping a company presence.

So why pay for unlimited calling for desk phones?  It’s understandable for cell phones, but as the volume of calls to the office becoming less and less, there is no need to overpay.  Yes, it takes away the unknown of overage charges.  Yes, the cost is still less than what the old phone system cost.  And yes, it seems that is what everyone is offering.

We at Yoji never followed that ‘unlimited’ model.  Again, why overpay for something that is being used less and less everyday?  We give our customers a choice based on what they need.   We have various minute tiers that follow the average call volume based on the number of phones.  How about the unknown of overage charges?  Well, we start our customers on the average volume tier and then move them to the appropriate tier, as we see the numbers over a three month span.  We If there is an overage, we either move the customer up to the next tier the following month if it makes sense or leave them on the current tier if we see it as an anomaly.   We charge overage only if the customer demands to stay in the current tier, but goes over the minute package on a consistent basis.

Does the cost saving warrant the change?  Of course it does.  Look at the numbers.  Call us today and find out how much you can save.

Steve Choy, President – Yoji

Challenges of VoIP

Sound is an analog medium.  It uses waves to transmit the sound from one end of a phone connection to the other.  Telephone lines were designed to carry analog wave signals.  A great example of this is connecting two cans with a long string, stretching it tight and talking into one can and listening on the other.  When the line is tight, you should be able to hear clearly from one can what the other person is saying into the other can.

Enter VoIP.  VoIP transmits signals digitally, meaning it transmits signals from one end to another in sequences of zeroes and ones.  When person speaks into a phone, the analog signal is converted into digital signals, routed through an IP network, then reconverted to analog for the sound to be heard on the other end.  As the sound packets get routed, it goes through various networking equipment such as switches, routers, firewalls, and sometimes though the cloud (Internet).  Depending on how the equipment is set up, some packets could get lost, delayed or skewed.  This can cause issues such as cut outs, echoes, static or a disconnection.  Troubleshooting these issues can be burdensome and will require the expertise of someone well versed in not only VoIP, but networking and security.

The technicians at Yoji are all networking consultants.  We understand both realms, voice and data, and make sure that the network is set up properly for VoIP.   We set priority rules on the firewall to minimize delays of voice packets when it gets scanned, determine port settings for firewalls that may not play well with VoIP, and create separate virtual LANs for larger environments to create a clean voice segment and separate it from the disruptive data network.  We also work with the ISP to fix line clarity issues that can cause problems once it leaves the local network and gets to the public medium (Internet).  When we walk out that door during deployment, our phones are working properly or we put together a plan of action to get it working right.  We feel the time invested will create a better experience for our clients while lessening the support issues that arise from a voice system deployed improperly.

Steve Choy – President – Yoji Inc.