While Voice over Internet Protocol – aka VoIP – systems have become the go-to solution for business telecommunications, they’re not perfect. For the most part, the systems offer better call quality than traditional phone lines, but there are times when you might experience delays and poorer call quality. This is usually caused by what experts call “packet delays.”
So what exactly are packet delays, and what can you do to minimize issues and ultimately improve the quality of your VoIP calls?
What are packet delays?
To understand this, we first have to understand the packet. In digital communication, data travels back and forth between a sender and receiver. This data can be a file, a VoIP call, or other information. In practice, this data is too large to send as one chunk. As a result, it is broken down into smaller pieces that are called packets.
These packets are then transmitted to the receiver and reassembled into the original piece of data. The time that these packets take to get from one source to another is called latency. However, because digital transmission lines can only handle so many packets at once, they occasionally become overloaded. This means it takes packets longer to get to their destination, causing higher latency, or in other words, packet delays.
When this happens, you might notice a drop in call quality, echoes, or delays.
What causes these delays?
In a perfect world, all networks and VoIP systems would be able to essentially organize their packets so as to minimize delay and offer high quality calls with zero issues. Unfortunately, this is not possible all of the time.
Packet delays are actually a normal part of VoIP, and providers have integrated systems and buffers to minimize their impact, offering call quality on a par with, and often better than, traditional landlines.
There are two main reasons why delays occur:
- Network connections – If there are a high number of users connected, or there is a high volume of bandwidth being used while you are also trying to use a VoIP connection, you will likely see a drop in call quality. Be aware that peak usage times may result in some delays.
- End systems – Sometimes, it is the end system – the system where the data packets are reassembled into data – that creates the delay. The cause of this is usually older equipment that lacks the computing power to handle fast connections and large data transfers.
How to minimize the effect of packet delays
As the end-user of VoIP systems, it may seem like there is little you can do to reduce packet delays. This isn’t true. There are actually several steps you can take to decrease delays:
- Reduce the systems between the connection and you – Generally, the higher the number of systems that have to code and decode packets, the higher the chance of delays. If you are connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi, try connecting directly to your router or modem via a cable. This will drastically reduce the chances of delays.
- Try turning equipment off and on again – If you normally experience a high call quality, and are experiencing delays or low quality, try re-booting the computer, server or router/modem to which the VoIP line is connected. This cycle refreshes systems and may improve quality.
- Close other applications – Other applications that use bandwidth could be causing delays. For example, if a colleague is downloading a file via a P2P program, you may notice delays in Internet speed. This will affect call quality, so try turning other programs off.
- Work with an IT partner – Sometimes the problem runs deeper. For example, the cabling in your building may need to be upgraded, or servers might not be configured properly for VoIP. Try contacting your IT partner to see if they can help spot and fix problems.