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RingCentral Team
November 7, 2013

How-To: Choose the Best Network Connection

For most online activities, your choice of internet connection isn’t terribly important. DSL, cable and fiber all work just fine for email, web browsing, file transfers and so forth.

But RingCentral Office isn’t connection-agnostic: Office will perform better on some connections than others. Our official policy is that any service with at least 90 kilobits per second (kbps) up- and downstream per IP phone will suffice. Yet the truth is a bit more nuanced.

medium_3677688990Each of the three major connection types has advantages and disadvantages, from a VoIP service standpoint. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

DSL

Advantages: often relatively low in cost; uses existing phone lines to transmit data (and is therefore appropriate for older buildings not wired for broadband, a.k.a. cable).

Disadvantages: Not as strong in high-traffic situations as the alternatives. DSL networks have less bandwidth available than do cable and fiber, so DSL network operators may struggle to manage heavy data traffic as well. In other words, DSL networks present more data “bottlenecks” – and those can produce high latency (transmission times) and packet loss (what happens when data is transmitted out of order). Both can lead to VoIP issues like choppy calls or one-way audio.

Cable

Advantages: better in heavy-use situations than DSL; more widely available than fiber.

Disadvantages: cable networks are not cheap to install and maintain, so there may only be a couple cable providers serving your area. If one or two providers dominate your local market, higher service costs may result.

Fiber

Advantages: very quick. Google’s fiber service – introduced in Kansas City in 2012 and now available in a few other cities – has theoretical download speeds of 1Gbps. By contrast, a very quick cable connection offers 100Mbps download speeds – roughly 1/10 as fast.

Disadvantages: not widely available. Even if you live in an area served by fiber, connections may not be available in your building – the concept of delivering fiber to end users is still relatively new, so the service can be hard to find.

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While it looks like fiber is the clear winner if you can get it, speed isn’t the only thing to consider. What’s actually more impactful on VoIP call quality than peak download speeds is how your call data gets managed – and here, fiber operators don’t always win the day. A 20Mbps cable connection that offers consistent speeds will be superior (for VoIP purposes) than a fiber connection whose speeds vary depending on network demand.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer to the question of which connection type is best. We recommend that you check with others in your area to see what they’ve used successfully. You can also spend time in forums like DSLReports.com and SpeedTest.net – other forum users will be able to help you choose the right connection where you work.

Don’t forget, too, that your internet is just one piece of the puzzle. Check out this blog post on optimizing VoIP call quality to see what else you can do to ensure your Office service performs at its best.

Featured photo courtesy of Justin Marty via photopin cc.