It should be obvious that the quality of a user’s broadband connection is reflected in the quality of VoIP service over that broadband – far more so than mere surfing.
While larger corporations with in-house IT departments routinely monitor their broadband, very few individual users or small businesses – the users of Home Phone Plus and Virtual Office – can afford such a luxury. But still, it is worth your time to check your service every now and then.
One thing that probably isn’t an issue these days is bandwidth. That used to be a VoIP bugaboo, back in the days of data service measured in kilobits per second. A single VoIP call needs up to 100 Kb/s, once a handsome amount of bandwidth but these days trivial compared to the multi-megabit service available.
But there are other metrics that users should be checking every now and then, most notably latency and packet loss. If latency is too high there’s a noticeable and sometimes disconcerting bit of silence in the conversation. Some experts suggest that callers notice roundtrip voice delays when latency exceeds 250 ms (milliseconds). The International Telecommunication Union, in a standard called G.114, recommends a maximum of a 150 ms one-way latency.
Even more serious is what’s called packet loss. Simply put, if a packet of data that’s part of a VoIP call is lost, a little piece of what a caller says is missing. Lose enough packets and whole syllables or words might even disappear. Even 1% packet loss can significantly degrade a VOIP call, even using the most advanced technologies available today. Indeed broadband carriers set themselves network standards ranging from 0% to no more than 0.5% packet loss.
Fortunately even the most casual user can easily find a multiplicity of sites on the Internet where they can run tests on their own connections. And most – though not all – broadband provider’s technical support folks can and will “tune up” a broadband line that’s not up to snuff. After all, you have a right to decent service that you’re paying for (remember, a call to your VoIP provider won’t help – the issue is your broadband service).
I happen to be one of those rare types who actually has continuous monitoring of broadband service. For the record, last month my average latency was 33.31ms, which is not bad. But one Tuesday night it soared to 181.55ms, dangerously close to the maximum. Even worse, my packet loss hit an astronomical 60.27% for a brief period – a number that makes phone calls impossible. To be fair, the average packet loss for last month was only 0.12%, and on many days it did hit the magical 0% level.
Stuart Zipper is the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break and a contributing editor to Communications Technology.