We recently exchanged emails with Craig Borowski, an analyst at business software review site SoftwareAdvice.com. Craig-Borowski

Craig has worked for TIME magazine, The China Post, Acer Inc. and the Office of the Mayor of Taipei, Taiwan. He is the author of twelve books and is an expert on internet telephony.

We asked him three questions about optimizing voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) call quality – read on to see what he said!

1. What kinds of call-quality problems can happen on VoIP?

There’s actually a whole range of call-quality problems that can surface with VoIP calls. But it’s also important to note that pretty much all of them are becoming less and less common.

When problems do strike, they usually fall into one of three categories: echoes, delays and choppiness.

Echoing is pretty self-explanatory, I think. Imagine hearing your or the other party’s voice repeated after a delay.

Delays can be small and unnoticeable or long and very frustrating. Delays of a second or so are enough to bring conversations to a halt, with both parties repeatedly interrupting each other.

Choppy calls have fragments of audio – sounds, syllables, entire words – missing. People usually say the call is “breaking up” when they have a choppy connection.

I recently worked on a call-quality research project for my company Software Advice (we research VoIP and SIP trunking solutions), so if you are interested in learning some basic ways to pinpoint and troubleshoot call-quality issues you can visit my article here.

2. What are the most common causes of these problems?

blog_image_sms_3 It depends on what kind of environment we’re talking about. In a residential, home office or small business setting, chances are good the problem will lie somewhere in the router settings.

Routers and (their included firewalls) often have a staggering number of settings and configuration options. They’re usually preconfigured for the average user. Unfortunately, this means they’re probably not optimized for VoIP traffic out of the box.

The trick is that VoIP traffic is more time-sensitive than the other kinds of data, so an improperly configured router will have a noticeable impact on VoIP call quality. If you’re not comfortable adjusting your router settings yourself, contact your internet service provider (ISP) or VoIP provider to see if they can help walk you through it.

(Corporations that rely on VoIP usually have IT staff to handle network configuration. As a result, problems are rare. When they do occur, they’re usually due to some external network issue, like a large power outage.)

3. What are the best, most cost-effective ways to eliminate VoIP audio issues?

Let’s focus on residential, home office and small business settings again. The first and most important component will be the quality and the speed of the internet connection. It needs to be both stable and reliable.

If you notice your connection slowing down at certain times of day, talk to your ISP about fixing the problem (or consider finding a different ISP!).

As for bandwidth, the general rule of thumb is that you’ll want around 100Kbps for every VoIP connection you plan to have. Remember, though, this is in addition to whatever your existing bandwidth needs are. This test can help you determine how many concurrent VoIP connections your network can support.

After making sure your connection is strong, look for a router that offers Quality of Service (QoS). This feature, when switched on, will tell the router to prioritize VoIP traffic above all other traffic on the network. There’s a great list of VoIP-friendly routers here – all include the QoS function. Choosing one on that list – even if you aren’t a RingCentral customer – is a smart way to ensure that you will have a good VoIP experience.

Thanks, Craig!