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VoIP networking: Optimizing your network for Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP)

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VoIP communications has become the go-to telephony solution for many modern businesses. The reasons are obvious. It’s flexible and scalable, and it minimizes business communications costs because companies don’t need to buy expensive hardware for it.

But to get the best quality for VoIP, you need to optimize your IT network. To help you understand how it all works, here’s an overview (with diagrams) of the reasons why you need optimization and how you can achieve it.

VoIP myths: So, what is a “VoIP network?”

Let’s start by clarifying something that's been misunderstood about VoIP.

Technically speaking, there is no such thing as a dedicated VoIP network. Whatever computer network VoIP uses to transmit voice data is the “VoIP network.”

This is one of the biggest misunderstandings a lot of people have about VoIP technology. It’s because people tend to think of it as the digital equivalent of traditional telephone systems. Those systems run through PSTN or Public Switched Telephone Networks and have a dedicated physical network of copper wires. The sole purpose of those wires is to transmit calls.

That’s not the case with VoIP or IP telephony. It works by using the existing computer networks available, including the biggest computer network of all—the Internet.  

In other words, the network you use to download or upload your files, send your emails, or watch video streams is the same network you use to make VoIP calls.

Diagram showing that VoIP shares the same network as other internet-related traffic like email and file downloading and uploading

Voice Over IP and the internet: What is broadband connection?

Before you can use VoIP and make calls over the internet, you need an internet connection (of course). 

This is where broadband connection comes in. 

Broadband connection is the most used type of internet access by the time the late 2010’s rolled around. It’s the technology used by the majority of people for internet connectivity. As the name implies, it’s called “broadband” because the bandwidth it uses is “broad” or "wide”. It allows for multiple signals at once.

You might be more familiar with the broadband modes of connection like DSL, Fibre optic, and cable.

If you need an example of a non-broadband type of internet access, look no further than the dial-up connection. Unlike broadband, which allows multiple signals to travel at once, dial-up can only allow one signal at a time. That’s why you lose internet connection when someone picks up the phone to make a call.

Of course, even with its capacity to allow for diverse traffic, broadband has its limitations. Most internet providers can only handle a certain amount of traffic within their bandwidth. 

And when broadband bandwidth is low, VoIP quality can also suffer.

Diagram shows VoIP uses broadband connection like DSL, fibre, or cable to connect to the Internet.

VoIP and your IT network: Why do you need to optimize your network for VoIP?

One significant selling point of VoIP telephony is that it’s almost a plug-and-play communications system. Once you subscribe to the phone service, you can instantly use it as long as you have internet connection.

So, why do you have to go through all the trouble of optimizing your network for VoIP when you can connect directly to the internet?

Well, as fantastic a technology as VoIP is, it does have limitations. And the main limitation is that its quality is dependent on your internet or broadband connection.

As you may remember, there is no such thing as a “dedicated VoIP network.” So it’ll be competing for internet bandwidth with other internet-related tasks like downloading or uploading large files, streaming videos, and more.

Without optimized IP networks, your VoIP connections can experience some problems which can affect the quality of your phone calls.

VoIP Problems: Common difficulties encountered by VoIP due to network issues

Common issues you encounter when you have poor VoIP connection due to overloaded networks include:

  • Choppy audio – One of the most common VoIP problems. Usually characterized as stuttering sounds due to those brief silences because audio is going in and out.
  • Echo – When your own voice is reflected back at you, there may be some problem. It can simply be a headset issue (usually with Bluetooth-based headsets), but it can also be because there is a delay in data transmission.
  • Delayed audio – If you’re on a video meeting and it looks like a badly dubbed movie, then your audio might not be getting delivered on time.
  • Jumbled audio – VoIP works by breaking down your audio into smaller data packets so it can travel through networks. Sometimes, due to lack of bandwidth or overloaded networks, data packets can get dropped. It results in muddled conversations where voice packets come in out of order.
Diagram shows that network issues can cause a variety of VoIP problems such as choppy audio, echo, delayed audio, and jumbled conversations.

VoIP networking best practices – How to optimize your network for VoIP

Your company can avoid a lot of these problems by optimizing your IT network for VoIP calls. And to help you with that, here are some steps that you can take.

1. Analyze what kind of VoIP calls your business makes

First, you have to determine the types of calls your organization will be making or receiving. Do you have many in-office employees using desk IP phones to make outbound sales calls? Maybe you have an in-house helpdesk that handles inbound employee calls? Do you have many remote employees or hybrid workers (people who have a flexible work arrangement)?

Why do this? Well, it’ll help your company answer other questions. For example: How robust of a network do you need? If you make or receive a high volume of calls, you’ll need higher bandwidth and a more robust network. If you mostly have remote employees, then they won’t be using your office network that much, so there’s no need for a high-capacity network.

In addition, knowing the type of calls your business makes also determines the type of equipment you need (like desk phones and routers). Maybe you can even live with just supplying your employees with good headsets because VoIP can also be used via laptops and mobile devices. They simply have to download the softphone, the VoIP apps or VoIP software, of the provider.

2. Analyze the current capacity of your network for VoIP

Once you know the type of calls you’ll be handling, you need to test if your existing network can handle it.

RingCentral has an online tool that can help you do just that. The RingCentral Quality of Service test will simulate calls between your computer and RingCentral to give you an estimate of the call quality you can expect when you sign up for the service.

It will help you determine whether your current internet connection can support VoIP for your business.

Once the test is done, you can use the results to find areas of improvement. Some factors you may consider include:

  • Latency - This refers to the time it takes for voice packets to travel from one point to another. When there is high latency, there is a delay in delivering voice packets, which usually results in different problems for VoIP like echo and delayed audio.
  • Jitter – It refers to the variation in the delay of voice packet delivery. From the sending side, the voice packets are sent in a continuous stream. To make sure that VoIP conversations are clear, there’s what’s called a jitter buffer, which creates a kind of screen so that the voice packets can play out in a steady stream. However, when the jitter or variation of delivery is too big, some packets are discarded and lost. This affects the quality of voice calls and leads to jumbled or muddled conversations.
  • Packet loss – This refers to packets of data being lost during VoIP transmissions. VoIP works by breaking down your voice into small data packets then reforming it at the other end into your voice. However, when your network bandwidth is working at its limit – probably because of multiple internet-related tasks happening simultaneously – it can result in packet loss or dropped data packets. This in turn, may result in low quality or choppy audio.

Once you’ve taken these factors into consideration, you can take steps to optimize your network.

3. Use the QoS (Quality of Service) feature of Routers

Chances are, your organization is still using the same routers you had before getting business VoIP services. But many of these routers aren’t designed to maximize VoIP.

You can remedy that by replacing your old routers with QoS routers. What makes these routers special is that they allow you to prioritize certain types of traffic over others. In this case, you want to prioritize VoIP voice traffic over other types of traffic like file downloads or video streams.

This way, VoIP voice traffic is not competing with other types of internet traffic and are prioritized by the router every time.

Diagram shows that QoS routers can be configured to prioritize VoIP over other Internet traffic.

4. Use the right cables

If you want to run a fast Ethernet network in your office, regardless of whether you’re using VoIP or not, it’s just practical to use the right cables. Your network will be much more reliable with them.

And with VoIP running through those cables, you want Ethernet cables that can handle the load. Cat 6 cables can support up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) at 250 MHz for up to 328 feet, making them highly recommended.

Most enterprise businesses should be able to get this. But since it’s a bit pricey, small businesses can go for Cat 5 cables instead. Those can still support 1GbE traffic loads.

5. Use a Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN)

Another way to solve the problem of having too much traffic competing for bandwidth is through the use of a VLAN or Virtual Local Area Network. What happens is that a part of your network will be managed as a private network. It’s essentially a network within your network.

This way, you can route all voice communications into this virtual network while other internet-related traffic uses other parts of your network.

Remote VoIP - Implementing VoIP for hybrid and remote employees

Now that you’ve optimized your business IT infrastructure to maximize VoIP telephone services, you now have to think of your users outside that network.

When you have people using VoIP remotely, they will be using their home internet connection and possibly personal or public WiFi networks.

Here are some tips for applying VoIP for remote and hybrid workers:

Ask users to connect to a corporate VPN when using VoIP

One of the first questions about VoIP, when used outside the office, is its security. While top providers like RingCentral have several security layers in their service, it wouldn’t hurt to be extra careful. Asking your remote workers to use a VPN connection, which helps encrypt the VoIP transmission stream, adds another layer of protection that can prevent malicious attacks like call interception.

Let users bring desk VoIP phones or handsets at home

While users can use their laptops or mobile phones to use VoIP, many employees still like the feel of a good old desk phone. It allows users to work as if they’re still in the office since they might be used to the added functionality of a desk handset.. Ensure that they have a power source for it, though, because most modern VoIP phones use an Ethernet connection for that. If they only have WiFi, they won’t be able to use the IP phones. You can provide a power adapter, Ethernet dongles, or a router with ethernet ports to your users.

Consider providing a separate broadband connection for VoIP

There are many cases where home broadband connections are too busy, especially with multiple Internet users.

Consider providing your employees a separate internet service for work, especially for VoIP, so they are not competing with other family members for bandwidth.

Consider the security measures of your VoIP provider

Choose a business VoIP solution that implements several layers of high-security measures to protect their users.

RingCentral, in particular, emphasizes security in its service. This includes:

  • Transmission security – prevention of transmission interception
  • Infrastructure and network security -  protection of networks and applications, including administrative functions
  • Physical security and environment – the service is hosted in secure and redundant data centers

RingCentral also regularly undergoes independent verification for its security controls to protect customer data and communications, and to meet regulatory and compliance requirements.

VoIP FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Voice over IP

What is VoIP and how does it work?

VoIP, Voice over IP, or Voice over Internet Protocols is the technology that allows you to make voice calls over a computer network, particularly the Internet.
Instead of circuit switching (used in traditional telecommunications), it uses packet network switching where the multimedia, in this case your audio signal or your voice, goes through data compression and is broken down into smaller data packets which travel through different data networks. Once it reaches the endpoint, it will be reformed as voice data so the person on the other end can hear it.
Diagram shows how VoIP uses packet switching to transmit voice calls over the Internet
To make sure everything go well, it uses different protocols. Here are the three most common types of VoIP protocols.
  • Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) – responsible for signaling. It initiates and terminates connections. Think of it as the one responsible for dialing and dropping telephone calls.
  • Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) – responsible for how your voice data is carried over to the person you are calling.
  • Transport Control Protocol (TCP) / User Datagram Control (UDP) – These are the two most common delivery protocols used in VoIP. TCP ensures that data is transmitted even if it sacrifices speed, while UDP prioritizes speed but sometimes results in lost data. RingCentral uses a combination of both to provide both speed and quality of data transmission.
While there are other protocols, these three are the main ones. All these work together to mimic regular telephone calls.

What is a VoIP phone system?

Most modern business phone systems use VoIP as the telephony component. That is also the reason why these VoIP solutions are referred to as VoIP phone systems as well. 
A lot of hosted VoIP providers offer a combination of VoIP and cloud PBX (Private Branch Exchange) to provide companies with a business phone system that allows for inbound and outbound calls while also providing an inbound call management system that automatically answers all calls before routing it to the right department or extension.
Pro-tip:
RingCentral provides more than just a business phone system but a complete unified communications solution that combines your VoIP system with instant messaging and video conferencing. Plus, RingCentral integrates with most business applications including CRMs like Salesforce.

Who can I call with VoIP?

You can call literally anyone with VoIP. You can make VoIP-to-VoIP calls or connect with someone using traditional phones like landlines or smartphones using cellular networks. 
VoIP uses a media gateway that converts digital voice data to analog (and vice versa), so it can communicate with traditional phone lines. 
Whether it's for a local call, a long-distance or an international call, or a call to a mobile phone, VoIP works just as well as an analog phone (maybe even better).

Do I need to have my computer on for VoIP calling?

Not necessarily. The only device that needs to be on is the device you’ll use to make a VoIP call–and probably the router if you are using WiFi or Ethernet to connect to the Internet. If you are using your cellphone, you can use mobile data to make the call.
The best part is that you can use your business phone number from anywhere instead of using your personal phone number for work-related calls.

Are VoIP service providers regulated?

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) differentiates between VoIP services that interconnect with the PSTN and those that don’t. It only regulates “interconnected” VoIP services, whose providers must comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (CALEA).
This means that they must:
  • Adhere to the Enhanced 911 system (for emergency calls)
  • Comply with Local Number Portability rules
  • Protect calling records from disclosure
  • Contribute to funds supporting services to remote areas, low-income subscribers, and those with disabilities
It makes sense to choose a trusted VoIP provider (such as RingCentral) that’s committed to compliance and goes above and beyond living up to industry standards.
Sign up and get a free trial of our VoIP business phone service. It’s part of a bigger unified communications solution, which includes video and messaging. Get in touch with us—we can help you figure out the best way to adapt RingCentral into your day-to-day business.
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