With broadband speeds increasing in many areas, many small business are looking to increase efficiency any possibly reduce costs by moving to voice over IP (VoIP). VoIP allows you to send your voice traffic (i.e. telephone calls) over your broadband connection. While this does make sense for many businesses, there are a few things to consider prior to making the leap.
Speed – will your current plan meet your data AND voice needs?
Do you have a big enough pipe. Many physical addresses are limited by what types of broadband are available – DSL, cable, fiber, etc. You may currently have enough bandwidth, or the ability to upgrade to a sufficient level. On the other hand, you could be maxed out with no room to grow at a level that simply won’t support your call volume. A simple way to calculate bandwidth requirements is to multiply the average voice call requirement (approximately 100kb/s) by the number of concurrent calls you have on average. If you are using an asynchronous service like DSL, the upload speed will be your limiting factor. For instance:
4 concurrent calls x 100kb/s = 400kb/s at a minimum.
If you have a DSL connection with a speed of 3Mb/s down and 384k upload, your bandwidth will not support your concurrent call volume, and it may be time to upgrade, if possible.
QoS Hardware, Packet Loss and Latency
There’s more to quality voice than just speed. The biggest pipe won’t allow for quality voice if latency and packet loss are high. Packet loss occurs when one or more packets of data travelling across a computer network fail to reach their destination. When sending an email or browsing the web, this isn’t really an issue, because the packets can be reassembled and the recipient is never the wiser. With voice, packet loss results in “choppiness” or dropped calls. Another potential issue is latency. Latency is essentially how long it takes for the packets to reach their destination. If you combine high levels of latency and packet loss, the result is poor (if any) quality voice calls. One way to reduce both packet loss and latency is with the use of quality of service (QoS) hardware. While this is most effective when you can control both ends of the connection (not possible with most services) it won’t hurt to have hardware on your end to clean up the pipe as much as possible.
Static IP Addresses – you’ll likely need at least 5
With your existing broadband service, you may be utilizing dynamic IP address allocation. All that means is that your broadband router is being assigned an IP address by your provider dynamically. Every so often, or after a power cycle or outage it’s possible that your hardware may receive a different IP address upon reconnection. By contrast, static IP addresses are those that are assigned to you by your provider and will not change. When you utilize voice over IP, it is important that you have a statically assigned IP address. Since you likely already have hardware on your network, and you will be adding addition gear to handle your voice, it is highly recommended that you have at least five statically assigned IP addresses, which is offered by most providers.
Static or dynamic bandwidth allocation?
Dynamic and static also applies to how your bandwidth is allotted to your new voice traffic. With static bandwidth allocation, the voice traffic grabs a portion (100k on average) of your total bandwidth for the duration of the call, after which it is freed up again. This is accomplished by assigning voice traffic priority to the voice “endpoints” on your network (phones, etc.). If you are really serious about ensuring your voice has bandwidth priority, you can statically allocate a certain portion for your voice needs. Simply determine your average the number of calls you typically have ongoing at the same time and multiply that number by 100. That’s the number of kb/s (at a minimum) that you’ll want to break off of your total pipe to serve your voice traffic. That amount can be tweaked if your call volume changes over time.
For many small businesses, VoIP makes a lot of sense from a efficiency and financial standpoint. It may be right for you small business too, if you have a capable broadband connection in place. Hopefully you are now better equipped to make that decision.