Before You Make the Leap to VoIP

When thinking about switching to or starting VoIP services there are some things that you should think about that many people don’t. They mean the difference between crisp, reliable calls and choppy, dropped calls. VoIP uses the internet in a way that it wasn’t quite designed for and there are a few things that you want to make sure are right.

Consider your internet connection. Is it bad? Do you have frequent slow downs? Are you constantly downloading or browsing? Are multiple people using the connection? Most DSL lines are asynchronous. They receive more speed downloading than uploading. This works just fine for most internet activities. Your computer or tablet needs to receive far more information than it needs to send when playing games, checking email and just generally browsing. This is not true of a VoIP call. A VoIP uses the exact same amount of bandwidth in both directions.

Synchronous DSL (or cable, or fiber) provides the same bandwidth both coming and going so calls will sound good on both ends. Remember what YOU hear depends on your download speed, which is probably good, but what the CALLER hears is up to your upload speed (probably a little slow). Some unscrupulous providers will make sure downloading incoming calls gets priority while ignoring the upload of your outgoing calls. You can hear just fine so you’re happy, but anybody calling is annoyed at noise and choppiness.

Once you have the correct pipeline for your internet connection arranged you need to make sure that your VoIP lines are getting priority. It’s important that VoIP data packets are received in the correct order in as close to real time as possible. A properly set up Quality of Service (QoS) router will make sure that any data associated with your phone calls arrives at the other end on time and in the correct order without unduly sacrificing your other internet activities. It never hurts to give your VoIP and data lines two separate networks either.

As with all things there is only so much you can do to make sure that things work perfectly. Your VoIP provider has a responsibility to you to keep your phone lines up and running. This is often expressed in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). The provider essentially says that their equipment will work at least some percentage of the time otherwise you get a partial refund for the month.

Most of the time this percentage is 99% or better. In everyday parlance we are used to 99% essentially meaning 100%, but in the literal world of an SLA 99% means that your phones could be down for up to 7 hours in a month and it would be completely acceptable. That 99% also doesn’t count planned maintenance or issues with your own equipment.

This is why it pays to understand the equipment that you need beforehand. If you set up your own equipment poorly or don’t manage your internet connection properly you will be stuck with a system that does not work and in many cases your service provider may not be able to help.

Most maintenance happens in the middle of the night though, and there’s no guarantee that those seven hours of possible downtime will happen at a time when it matters, or even at all.

99% is not necessarily a scam or a rip-off. No system is perfect and anyone who offers you 100% reliability is lying. You should understand what your SLA means so that you aren’t frustrated later though. Unrealistic expectations cause as much frustration as deception or misleading marketing. Knowing what you are supposed to be getting makes it far easier to bring grievance when you don’t get it.

There’s more to getting VoIP to work for you than just buying new phones. It can be a great business decision that saves you money and increases efficiency. It can also be a headache if you don’t have everything in order. Keep your eye on these things and you’ll be making things much smoother for yourself.

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About the Author

Eric D. is a technology and communications blogger for Affordable Communications. He is an explorer of the possibilities of a digitally connected real world.

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