VoIP Basics (6): The Internet and call quality

VoIP-series-for-webBusiness communications need to be careful about who and what they trust to carry their calls – more so than consumers – because real money is involved. Degraded call quality can have a negative impact on a customer’s impression of the business. That big deal you were waiting to come through might not happen if it doesn’t happen at the perfect moment.


The next couple of articles will cover exactly what happens when the call signal crosses the public Internet, and how premium VoIP providers deploy strategies to help you stay on a prioritized channel with Quality of Service (QoS).


The gist: The open ocean might give you wind; it might give you rain. And the Internet is no different.

When a communications signal travels across the Internet, you are relying on the Internet’s “best effort.” Data calls on the public routers can rise at any moment – whether it’s for a World Cup match or a Katy Perry concert. When that happens, the routers start throwing out packets of data to keep up.


That spells trouble for real-time audio and video calls because there is no way to get that data back in time. Phone call signals can sound pretty degraded when they travel across the public Internet, as opposed to going through a carrier.


Quality of Service (QoS). Huge.

Probably the biggest disadvantage of sending a call across the open Internet is the lack of Network Quality of Service (QoS). QoS is kind of like an automated inspector of the consistency and quality of phone calls, but it can only operate as far as the network extends, giving feedback on the quality of the call when it exits.


If a telecom picks up the signal, you can be sure that the quality will not degrade. But that is not the case with the public Internet. So QoS is almost pointless in calls where the Internet plays a part.


There are providers that use SIP to route calls across the Internet in order to avoid international long distance fees, but they cannot ensure call quality. Some providers and larger businesses are able to circumvent international long distance charges without running the risk.


It is possible to pay for your own MultiProtocol Label Switching network (MPLS). This can span country borders and keep calls within a private network. This option is extremely expensive, but some companies – carriers, enterprises and some VoIP providers – make the investment so that they can serve as a direct conduit between countries.
The best way an SMB can ensure call quality is to be aware that some providers will have made the investment; others will send your signals across public channels. If long distance is a concern, be sure to ask before you buy.