Before we get started, what exactly is Quality of Service (QoS)? According to Wikipedia it is:
In the fields of packet-switched networks and computer networking, the traffic engineering term Quality of Service (QoS) refers to the probability of the telecommunication network meeting a given traffic contract, or in many cases is used informally to refer to the probability of a packet succeeding in passing between two points in the network within its desired latency period.
As a VoIP call is basically a packet of data being transferred via the internet, your call is subject to potential problems such as packets loss, delays, jitters and errors. Therefore your connection to the internet and the devices used to connect to internet can play a part in reducing or improving your QoS.
So in light of this, here a few ways that you can improve your VoIP QoS.
- Upgrade Your Internet Connection
VoIP is highly dependent on upload and download speeds. If you have experienced hissing or delays during a call then your first stop should be with your current ISP. Check that they are not offering any free upgrades, in the UK many ISPs will actually upgrade your connection speeds for free simply to keep you as a customer. If you are unable to get a free upgrade, then you should either consider paying for more speed or moving to another ISP who offers greater connection speeds for the same price.
- Improve Your Contention Ratio
OK, but what exactly is a contention ratio you may ask? You aren’t the only customer connecting to your ISPs servers. At any given time there will be other customers connected to the same server. Some will be light users, sending a few emails and browsing the web. Others will be downloading music and movies, placing a heavy burden on that server.The more users there are connecting to a server at the same time, the slower your connection and the higher your contention ratio. To improve your call quality, look for a low contention ratio. Some ISPs will offer a 1:1 contention ratio, but you will probably have to pay handsomely for the privilege. My advice would be to ask for an upgrade to a contention ratio as low as possible, you’ll see big benefits! As long as it isn’t 100:1!
- Optimize Your Computer For Broadband
A typical computer, fresh off the manufacturing line, is not optimized for broadband. Windows and Mac OS X are by default not programmed to handle the challenge posed by the larger packets and faster transfer rates of a broadband connection. However, there are many applications (available for free) that you can download and install, which will change your OS’s networking settings to allow your computer to make the best use of your broadband connection. By optimizing your OS for broadband it will be capable of handling more traffic and thus improve your call quality.Here are few programs to try that will optimize your system:
- Upgrade Your Software
I know this sounds so ordinary, but if you are a soft phone user then make sure you have the latest stable release. If you are using a beta version and have been experiencing issue with quality of service, my advise is to downgrade to the latest stable release. There are many benefits in keeping your software up to date as most new releases will have improvements in the codecs and compression technologies used for your calls. And if you are totally sick of what you are using, don’t forget that there is always an alternative.
- Improve Your WiFi Signal
There have been a lot of WiFi phones announced recently that use a wireless network to make a call, typically with Skype. If you are using a WiFi phone for your calls then one of the best things you could do to improve call quality is to improve your WiFi signal. There are numerous ways to achieve this, luckily we already have an article outlining 10 ways to improve your WiFi signal.
- Use A DECT Phone
If you have tried to improve your wireless network so you can make better calls on your WiFi phone but have not had an improvement, perhaps you should consider a DECT VoIP phone. These phones do not need a wireless network, instead they work just like your existing cordless phone. The difference is that you can plug the base station into your computer via USB as well as plugging into the telephone socket. Another obvious advantage of using a DECT phone is that you can still make an emergency call with confidence as some VoIP services are currently unable to route an emergency call.
- Get A New Headset
This one is for those of us who use a soft phone and make calls while sitting in front of the computer. My basic premise is that headsets can be moody things, especially that refurbished model you got for a steal on eBay. Often the flimsy cable connecting the headset to the computer doesn’t last long. I find that the cable gets in the way all too often, meaning I have to tug it round the back of the desk or over a monitor. Just a word of advice here, light cables do not like getting run over repeatedly with your office chair. So if your call quality is poor, it could be time to bin your old headset and splash out on something new.
- Drop WiFi, Use Ethernet
WiFi networks can be patchy, especially in areas where you are surrounded by concrete floors and walls. Problems with wireless networking are further exacerbated by interference from other electrical devices broadcasting a signal on the same frequency. If you have tried to improve your WiFi signal and failed, maybe it is time to try Ethernet. A wired solution reduces the possibility of interference significantly and can handle a lot of data intensive calls. Think about it.
- Reduce Number Of Simultaneous Calls
Every call you make places a demand on your connection. So it stands to reason that multiple simultaneous calls on the same network will add to the overhead. While reducing the number of calls is not an option in a business environment, you could try it at home.
- Pause Any Downloads While On Call
Say you have been downloading a few torrents or movies off iTunes, that will place a large demand on data transfer rates. Quite often I find that a call can drop out and experience delays while downloading large files, simply because my connection cannot handle so much data. Therefore, it would be an idea to pause any non-essential downloads while you make your calls then restart them.
- Complain To Your VoIP Provider
This is pretty much the last chance saloon. If all else fails, get on the (PSTN) phone, call your VoIP provider and complain. Make it clear that you have exhausted all other methods of addressing the problem and have come to the conclusion that the fault is theirs and not yours. Ask them to get a technician on to the problem immediately, otherwise you will cancel your subscription. Personally I don’t like sounding like an arrogant, self-obsessed egomaniac on the phone, especially when the call handler is just doing their job. But at the end of the day, you are paying for an unsatisfactory service.
And there’s more. Check out these other factors that can affect VoIP call quality. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments!