Make those minutes count

Understanding VoIP Issues and How to Solve Them

t2-december-1Although Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) offers superior quality and service compared to legacy private branch exchange (PBX) systems, situations can still occur that frustrate businesses and customers. Having reliable, clear call service is necessary to maintain a professional image. Dropped or choppy communications generates a bad impression and has the power to reduce revenues.

Fortunately, by knowing the reasons for poor VoIP service, companies can solve those problems swiftly. Following are the most common causes of call quality difficulties, and solutions for eliminating them.

#1. Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Often, dropped calls and persistent sound quality issues are related to the business’s ISP. Many SMBs make the switch to VoIP in order to reduce costs, but fail to calculate the exact impact it will have on their total bandwidth consumption. Other issues include the speed or hardware used. Companies that are still using cable connections rather than fiber-optic service can suffer. Ookla offers a free speed test that can be used to determine current capacity.

Another ISP problem results from having two different providers deliver VoIP and network connectivity. Since call issues can usually be traced back to packet priority, voice transmissions are basically vying for precedence over all other types of data transmissions. So if someone in the office starts a download, call quality suffers.

Solution: Switching to a comprehensive provider that offers hosted phone service in a unified business communication service provides companies with effective packet routing.

#2. Call Interference

Crackly sounds, buzzing, fading in and out, and other disruptions make it difficult for people to communicate. This issue is generally referred to as “jitter,” which is essentially a delay in the reception of voice packets. Although the packets are transmitted in the correct order, evenly spaced, and in a continual stream, they aren’t received in the right order. Causes of jitter include network congestion, unsuitable routing, or faulty configuration.

Solution: Moving to a single provider can resolve these problems; or, companies can increase their bandwidth, place calls above all other traffic (voice receives priority), or overcome the issues by resolving hardware incompatibilities.

#3. Echoes and Delays

When the call sounds like it has been placed inside a cave, the echo heard is the result of latency issues. Voice transmission delays that are longer than 50ms can be discerned by users, and make communications extremely frustrating. This type of propagation delay is irksome, but latency is also a result of improper prioritization.

Solution: Purchasing new hardware, arranging for policy-based network management, and instituting packet prioritization can be accomplished either in-house or by contracting with a service provider.

#4. Dropped Calls and Inconsistent Quality

Companies that suffer from fluctuating VoIP quality and frequent dropped calls present an unprofessional appearance. Although quality problems can be addressed using increased bandwidth, sometimes the issues are a result of inadequate switches, routers, or service.

Solution: Choosing a provider that offers active monitoring and troubleshooting is a good start. However, companies can also check equipment configuration and look at options for simplifying their networks.

As more and more businesses move from legacy PBX to VoIP, the need for

superior service becomes clear. Contracting with a single provider offers network performance solutions that solve many call problems for the modern enterprise.

How VoIP Systems Can Make Businesses More Productive

shutterstock_328634297As businesses contend with large numbers of calls and massive amounts of data, they continue to search for a solution that makes it easy to meet business and customer service goals while saving time. Enter Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which keeps communications systems efficient and cost-effective.

VoIP uses a broadband Internet connection to handle phone calls, video, and other content. This system makes customer service more effective because of centralized data storage. Following are some of the many benefits that companies can experience with VoIP.

Fewer Expenses on Customer Communications

Many companies communicate with customers primarily through the phone, which can incur high costs when using traditional phone systems. This is especially difficult for businesses that work with international customers. VoIP systems make it easy for companies to communicate with customers located anywhere while reducing concerns over cost.

Unified and Streamlined Operations

Using a VoIP system, companies can more easily keep track of customer calls and service requests, ensuring that customers are never overlooked and avoiding communication delays. Regardless of whether a customer calls, faxes, or sends an email, a VoIP system will keep employees are aware of attempted communications at all times.

Reduced Stress Among Employees

If employees experience stress, they become less productive, have trouble focusing on the tasks they need to complete, and are more likely to make mistakes. VoIP can help alleviate stress by automatically transferring calls to workers who aren’t already occupied. Certain networks can even utilize automated interactive voice systems that prevent employees from having to constantly redirect calls and put customers on hold.
Improved Overall Customer Service

It can be easy for customers to get frustrated if they don’t get what they need when they need it. VoIP sends customers to the right department the first time based on their individual needs. Both customers and employees waste less time on calls this way, and management of calls improves.

Make Telecom Easier for Both Employees and Customers

VoIP technology gives employees the tools they need while allowing customers to contact representatives to address any questions or concerns with ease. Customers will walk away satisfied, and employees will be able to better manage their time and communicate with customers effectively, allowing them to do their job more efficiently.

These are some of the many reasons VoIP systems are beneficial for businesses on both the employee and customer end. Ultimately, this technology makes customer and employee communications easier than ever.

Making the Switch: A VoIP Adoption Checklist

shutterstock_54629416smFor any business contemplating the switch from an old-fashioned public switched telephone network (PSTN) system to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), it’s easy to focus on the shiny new functionality and convenience and overlook the potential complications such a transition inevitably entails. To help avoid difficulties and maximize the benefits, here is a checklist of five things to consider before moving to a new VoIP system.

 

How Many Users?

Whether considering hosted VoIP or a premises-based system, it’s important to take into account the size of the user base before signing a service agreement or provisioning the hardware. Ensure that the service provider is capable of accommodating the number of users on the system in addition to enabling potential growth. To that end, it is a good general guideline to add 20% to the maximum projected user count for the next 12 months when calculating how much capacity the new VoIP system will need to support.

How Much Data?

In addition to considering the number of users on the system, it is important to have a reasonably accurate idea of how much data each of those users will require, and to ensure that the network infrastructure can carry that load. On top of being able to deal smoothly with normal bandwidth requirements, a good service provider must be able to handle abnormal surges in the amount of traffic passing through the system.

Upward Mobility

Most workplaces now are mobile, with a great deal of communications and other work being performed on mobile devices. This is largely due to the fact that the vast majority of people now use mobile devices in their personal lives, and they like to continue doing so at work. It is generally better to plan for employees’ preferences to use their personal mobile devices and implement those devices properly than to allow them to be used haphazardly on the VoIP system.

Relationship Worries

Aside from the technical aspects of setting up a new telecommunications system, the relationship with the service provider is an important consideration. Look for signs that a VoIP service provider is professional and values its clients. A service provider who takes unduly long to respond to questions or continuously attempts to up-sell potential customers before they’ve even sold the service is probably not a good choice.

Hidden Costs

It’s quite easy to look no further than the startup costs when considering the effects of switching to VoIP, but a more sound approach is to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO), which includes both startup and operating costs. Hosted services might involve lower startup costs than premises-based systems, but the operational expenses are sure to be higher.

Making the switch to VoIP services can be a daunting task. By considering these five areas, the process is more likely to be successful.

Understand VoIP Security Vulnerabilities and How to Combat Them

shutterstock_165758546smVoice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) offers substantial benefits to businesses, but the same IP technology that creates these benefits also introduces potential security vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity has become an increasing focus for companies across the United States and around the world as hackers try to exploit the growing use of IP to gain access to networks.

Budget resources are increasingly being dedicated to fending off threats, but breaches continue to expand. Companies must take security threats via VoIP seriously and take steps to counter those potential attacks. Consider the following threats and mitigation measures.

Types of Threats

  • Call Interception. VoIP by its nature involves the transmission of voice interactions over IP links, and bad actors will look for opportunities to intercept those transmissions. This requires the hacker to fully access the signal transmission between point A and point B. Typically, the intent of this type of breach is to interrupt the call by diminishing call quality via transmission delays or echoes or uploading sound packets to a server. Authentication and encryption tools are the most effective way to combat this type of threat.
  • Identity Misrepresentation. Hackers may attempt to access VoIP calls so they can eavesdrop, sometimes with the intent to steal information. This is particularly worrisome when sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, is transferred across VoIP links. Typically, hackers will seek the path of least resistance when attempting to access a network, so basic security features such as authentication and encryption may serve as an adequate barrier to entry for most hackers.
  • Theft of Service. An increasing concern for VoIP systems is hackers gaining access to use service, then leaving companies with the bill. These attacks are often carried out outside of business hours, so the breach is less likely to be detected and shut down right away. This threat is best mitigated with software-based measures, firewalls, and good security hygiene, including strong passwords.
  • Disruption. Denial-of-service attacks are another growing area of concern. These attacks seek to interrupt normal business communications by flooding call centers or transmission lines with fraudulent calls. When this occurs, calls from legitimate callers often are unable to get through. Firewall solutions that are built to identify and block fraudulent calls are the best defense against service interruption attacks.
  • Physical Attacks. Sometimes bad actors will go to any length to disrupt service and wreak havoc on a company’s operations. While attention is often focused on thwarting virtual attacks, physical infrastructure can be left vulnerable. Criminals may cut off a power source or damage hardware, rendering the network temporarily useless. It is crucial to take physical security at data centers as seriously as virtual security by ensuring equipment and data centers are secured and inaccessible.

Protection Measures

While the threats may be somewhat different for VoIP, the steps companies can take to safeguard their systems are the same common-sense approaches recommended for traditional computers and networks. Install and maintain firewalls, ensure communications and transactions are encrypted, and implement user authentication techniques along with basic security hygiene policies.
Companies also should work to stay ahead of threats by studying security trends and deploying best practices recommended to combat or prevent those threats. Businesses should work as a team with their VoIP vendor to ensure both virtual and physical assets are secure and hardened against potential attacks.

How to Solve Some Common Problems with VoIP

In the past, the ability of a small to medium sized business (SMB) to expand into international markets was impeded by the exorbitant costs of international telephony. But with the roll out of general purpose data networks and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, a significant barrier to entry was removed from the international marketplace. VoIP telephony is the process of routing calls over the Internet instead of traditional phone lines. Its advantages are so compelling that even larger businesses that can afford to use traditional tech for international calls are switching to VoIP systems.

Indispensable though it may be, it’s important to realize that VoIP isn’t a perfect technology. There are some common issues that can interfere with a business’s ability to communicate. Here are three of the more frequent issues that can occur, and some simple ways to deal with them.

Unable to Connect

The ability to connect depends on the reliability of the VoIP service provider. Many of the better providers offer a 99.99% uptime guarantee, which is made possible by building in redundancy in call routing and robust failover provisioning.

For businesses already experiencing call connection issues, contacting the service provider immediately may resolve the issues. If problems persist, it may be necessary to switch providers.

For companies still looking for a service provider, it is important to ask about service level agreements and to investigate what sorts of backup provisioning are in place.

Poor Call Quality

Sometimes calls connect without any issues but with sub-standard audio quality. Even in cases where communication is still possible, low call quality can negatively affect a company’s image with clients and customers.

In most cases of consistently low call quality, the cause is insufficient bandwidth. Each concurrent call generally needs around 100kbps of bandwidth. That doesn’t sound like much, but can quickly add up as business expands. Thanks to the wealth of options available today, provisioning enough bandwidth and adding more as necessary is a relatively straightforward process.

Dropped Calls

VoIP can suffer from dropped calls more frequently than the older public switched telephone network (PTSN), but it is usually a simple fix.

Dropped calls are typically caused by excessive packet loss, and packet loss is usually caused by an overloaded network. Adding more bandwidth can often resolve these issues. Before paying more for additional bandwidth, though, it may be worth looking at the network’s quality of service (QoS) settings. QoS settings tell the network what types of data and which packets have priority. By simply setting VoIP data as a high-priority data stream, dropped call issues can often be resolved without paying an additional cent.

VoIP has made progress toward leveling the international playing field for SMBs. It is by no means perfect, but a bit of planning and preparation can help ensure that this tremendously useful technology lives up to its full potential.

Manage Your Business Through VoIP

shutterstock_117804328The customer contact center is critical for organizations that don’t rely on brick-and-mortar locations to conduct business with customers. For such companies it is important that calls are clear and understandable, making an investment in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) particularly advantageous. VoIP has many features that enable companies to better manage call flows and employees.

 

Call Forwarding

Call forwarding allows a customer to ring multiple employee telephones, rather than having to leave a message. Call forwarding also makes it easier to send calls to other departments and managers depending on the needs of a specific customer.

Leveraging Employee Skills

Many contact centers use the skill feature to have Spanish-speaking customers interface with Spanish-speaking employees. This isn’t the only application of the skill feature, however. Skills can be set to capitalize on an employee’s specific strengths. For instance, a call involving a specific computer part can be directed to an employee who has been trained on that particular product. This ensures that calls are always answered by knowledgeable representatives.

24/7 Customer Service

Many contact centers have multiple locations. A common reason for this is to make customer service available at all hours of the day. For example, if a business has contact centers in Chicago, Paris, and Tokyo, each of those centers would have the ability to cover calls around the clock — no matter where or when a customer makes a call.

Dividing Calls by Contact Center Size

Of course, time zones are not the only way to split up calls between different contact centers. A business, for instance, might have two contact centers: one staffed with 40 employees and the other with 60. It would be reasonable to split call volume between those two locations in proportion to the size of their staffs.

Basic features of VoIP allow companies to provide better customer service through their contact centers. With VoIP, businesses can more effectively manage their operations.

VoIP Deployment Models: Which One Makes the Most Sense for Your Company?

shutterstock_289575947The ability to communicate is the lifeblood of most companies and advances in technology, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), are transforming the way communications take place in the business world.

Employees must have the ability to communicate with each other and, more importantly, with clients and customers. In the not-too-distant past, most employees had a wired telephone at their desk that connected to private branch exchange (PBX) equipment. As technology has evolved, Internet-based solutions like VoIP have begun to take the place of traditional PBXs.

VoIP provides a variety of benefits that help businesses be more efficient and give employees more advanced communications tools. VoIP solutions often provide the same critical features that PBXs provided, but add flexibility and the ability to incorporate a variety of devices.

Deployment Models

VoIP can be deployed within a company via two primary models.

A company that wishes to retain a high level of control over the network and can afford to maintain it both in terms of cost and personnel may opt for an on-premises VoIP solution. This model calls for servers and local area network (LAN) equipment to be hosted on-site.

Companies looking for a more turnkey VoIP model that requires little to no maintenance on-site may choose a hosted VoIP solution. In this scenario, the network equipment is hosted off-site and maintenance is handled by a third-party provider. Service usually can be activated quickly and the number of connections that can be made to the network is flexible.

Each model offers its own benefits and tradeoffs for companies to consider when making the choice to transition to a VoIP solution.

Cost Tradeoffs

Both VoIP models involve costs. On-premises deployments typically require a company to make an upfront investment in equipment. In addition, the company is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the network and equipment, which may include both capital costs as well as investment in personnel who can service the network.

A hosted model, on the other hand, does not require much of an upfront investment, but usually requires companies to pay a recurring fee for the service as well as fees for maintenance of the network equipment by the provider.

Security Considerations

Protecting company data and information is critical for any business. When deploying a new network, either on-site or via a host provider, how the network will be secured is a primary concern. The level of security and how it will be delivered may be a differentiating factor when network deployment decisions are being made.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that data stored on network equipment housed on-site is more secure because it travels over fewer connections that could potentially cause a compromise. However, that line of thinking can sometimes lead to complacency and a higher potential for a security breach, as a result.

A reputable hosted provider should place a high priority on security and will work hard to stay up-to-date on the latest security threats and protections. While data may have to travel more extensively on a hosted network, the provider’s reputation and business survival depends on keeping its clients’ data secure.

The Decision

A large company that has the manpower and capital resources may decide an on-premises deployment fits its business model the best. A hosted solution might appeal to smaller companies that may be resource constrained and need flexibility.

There is no inherent right or wrong choice for a VoIP deployment model. The decision will come down to which model makes the most sense for the specific company’s needs.

Hosted VoIP or VoIP PBX? Making the Right Choice for Your Business

t2aThe advent of high-speed Internet has radically changed the technological landscape. A high-speed connection makes it possible for businesses to switch from regular telephony to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. But with such a switch comes an important decision: whether to choose a hosted VoIP solution or go with a VoIP Private Branch Exchange (PBX) system.

Hosted VoIP Pros and Cons
Hosted VoIP is a popular choice with small- and medium-sized businesses due to its ease of operation and low cost. Also, because the service is managed by outside providers, businesses are freed from the burden of implementing and managing the system themselves. There are several other advantages to using a hosted VoIP solution:

  • The initial cost of setup is lower compared to a VoIP PBX system.
  • Maintenance fees are also reasonable.
  • Businesses can move the phone system in a quick and efficient manner with little to no interruption in service.
  • Third-party hosting means that fewer resources are spent on the phone system.

However, there are also a few caveats to consider:

  • It may cost extra to add new features or more users. However, this depends largely on the service provider’s policies and capabilities.
  • Implementing customized features on a hosted VoIP solution can be challenging.
  • More bandwidth is required as compared to a VoIP PBX solution.
  • If the hosted VoIP provider goes out of business, it could cause a gap in service until another provider is found.

VoIP PBX Pros and Cons
VoIP PBX solutions are ideal for larger companies with their own in-house IT staff, especially if it can take on the additional work of managing this system. This solution is highly customizable, allowing the staff greater control over how it’s used and the features available. There are several other benefits to using a VoIP PBX:

  • As all the equipment and software is in-house, IT staff can easily add or change features as needed.
  • VoIP PBX becomes more cost-effective than hosted VoIP in the long run.
  • Companies with pre-existing VoIP PBX equipment can pick up where they left off.

As with hosted VoIP, there are also a few disadvantages to VoIP PBX:

  • Creating a brand-new VoIP PBX from scratch can be cost-prohibitive for some businesses due to the steep upfront costs of acquiring and setting up new hardware.
  • VoIP PBX systems require dedicated staff to manage and monitor the system.
  • Moving a VoIP PBX phone system can be difficult, primarily due to server relocation issues.

Which Is the Right Choice?
The choice between hosted VoIP and VoIP PBX depends upon a business’s specific needs. Some businesses may already have the staff and the hardware needed for a reliable VoIP PBX system, while others may benefit more from the flexibility and low initial cost of a hosted VoIP solution. In the end, a company should carefully consider its goals, resources, and requirements before deciding which communication solution is best for the bottom line.