When we talk to a potential client about a new phone system, we want to evaluate whether or not a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) solution would work for them.  It’s not a solution for everybody, but VoIP does have the potential to dramatically increase the flexibility of your communications and reduce your monthly phone cost.

Many people and companies have been lured by the promise of VoIP, Googled providers and signed up online to have preconfigured phones drop-shipped to them.  They plug them in and, often, end up having audio issues, dropped connections, missed calls and other issues.  Especially for businesses, this can be a horrible experience, driving many away from a VoIP solution.

Let’s pause for a moment and examine what VoIP actually is.

When you pick up a VoIP phone and begin talking, your voice is converted into a long string of ones and zeroes, which is then chopped up into tiny bits and sent separately across the public internet by various and separate paths to be reassembled in the correct order on the receiving end and then converted from ones and zeroes back into actual sound we can hear.  Pretty remarkable, isn’t it?

Inherent in any VoIP system is a huge variable called the Internet – it’s open, it’s public and it’s not quality controlled by any one organization.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  VoIP is going to be subject to environment of the Internet no matter what service you use.  However, there are other variables that you can check and potentially have more control over:

1.       Upload speed – this is one of the first things to look at.  Internet service providers (Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, etc.) will provide you with two speeds for your internet connection: an upload speed and a download speed.  Your download speed will almost always be sufficient for VoIP, but upload is where it counts.  Make sure that you have at least a 1Mbps upload speed, but faster is always better.

2.       Ping time – this is a measure of delay in your network (use a site like speedtest.net or pingtest.net).  The more delay there is, the more likely to have audio issues.  If you’re having an issue with your VoIP provider and the sites above tell you that your ping times are great, you can do a specific ping test using the command line to your VoIP provider – the result could be dramatically different.

3.       Jitter – this is a funny word that basically tells how much variation there is in your ping times.  A lot of variation means stutter in your audio stream and inconsistency in your service.

4.       Packet loss – All those little chunks of ones and zeroes travel as packets across the internet.  If you have packet loss, you’re going to drop words or whole sentences.  You can check packet loss from the command line or through pingtest.net

If you do your homework ahead of time, the transition to VoIP can be a lot smoother and your overall experience more reliable.  VoIP can be very reliable, but much of that reliability will depend on your VoIP provider.  Look for ones that are willing to test their service on your network before the install and ask them questions about what they do to ensure reliability and uptime.