Phone Call Quality & Packet Loss: Why They're Related - Aircall Blog

Phone Call Quality & Packet Loss: Why They're Related

Packet loss is important because it impacts the overall phone call quality.
by
Nicholas Price

Cloud phone systems utilize VoIP (voice over internet protocol) technology to transmit calls over the internet. That sounds simple enough, and it all happens within seconds. These split second interactions are what actually determine your phone call quality. While it’s all pretty quick and straightforward on the front end, things are far from simple on the backend, especially when it comes to packet loss.

Behind the scenes of every phone call, data packets swiftly collect various bits of data and send them to the appropriate destination. Typical data packets might contain 1,000-1,500 bytes of data. Data packets can lose data along the way, and techies commonly refer to that as packet loss.

Data transmission isn’t exactly a neat and tidy process. The data gets all scrambled up and divided into different packets before it travels along its path. On the receiving end, the data gets unscrambled and reassembles itself into some meaningful message. When packet loss occurs, it negatively impacts call quality. Fortunately, there are ways to test for packet loss and specific steps you can take to improve call quality.

What Is Packet Loss?

When data packets arrive at their intended destination, the data unscrambling process begins. The packets also contain data from the sender and the receiver, usually in the form of an IP address. In the interest of efficiency, all data packets don’t necessarily take the same route. If the hardware isn’t working optimally, data packets might look for a workaround to make sure all the data arrives at the destination together.

Once all the data arrives on the receiver’s end, the receiving party answers the call, and a cheery hello starts the conversation.

That’s the way things work under the best of circumstances. What happens when all the data packets don’t arrive at the same time, or they don’t arrive at all? The data packets that arrive simply don’t have enough information to create a discernable message. We refer to that as packet loss.

Packet loss disrupts the network, which manifests in slow service or loss of connectivity. Poor quality transmissions negatively affect the quality of voice calls and other signals. For example, during phone calls, you might experience things like:

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  • Dropped calls
  • Cutting out
  • Slow rate of speech (also known as latency)
  • Background noise or interference

If you were streaming games or watching a television show, you might notice occasional buffering or a lag.

What can cause packet loss? 

4 Factors That Cause Packet Loss:

1) Network congestion — When networks are extremely busy, pathways clog, and data backs up. During times of extreme congestion, the network might ignore data packets or toss them out. This can happen when your call center has a high call volume of incoming calls.

2) Software bugs — Software sometimes gets errors, also known as bugs. Software updates can create bugs and alter network behavior.

3) Network hardware problems — Network problems sometimes happen because of poor or outdated network hardware (for example, firewalls, network switches, etc.) and they can slow down traffic.

4) Security threats — Cybercriminals sometimes use data packets to create a security breach. They’ve learned how to take control of a router and create commands that insert packets into streams of data to disrupt the network and engage in a cyberattack.

The good news is that billions of data transmissions occur every day, and most of them go from point to point without a hitch.

How to Test for Packet Loss

If your employees or customers complain about poor call quality or dropped calls, it could be due to packet loss. There is a way to test for packet loss to see if that’s the culprit. We’re outlining the process for testing packet loss for Windows here, and there’s a similar process for other operating systems.

Windows has a native tool that shows you the percentage of packet loss you’re experiencing at any given time. There are two commands to conduct a packet loss test — ipconfig and ping. These commands allow you to test for wireless congestion and network congestion. For these tests, you’ll need a computer with Windows 10 installed that’s connected to a standard Wi-Fi network and has the access point acting as the router and internet gateway.

Before you perform the packet loss tests, you need to complete the following two steps:

1) Open the “run” application and go to the command line interface (or use the shortcut by holding down the Windows key + R and type “cmd”).

2) Open the “cmd” application (command prompt).

Now, you’re ready to start testing for packet loss!

Testing for Wireless Coverage

Move as far away from the access point as possible. It’s best to separate yourself by a concrete wall to ensure that signal coverage is causing the loss. Next, find the access point IPv4 address. You should be able to see the command “ipconfig” which indicates your network adapter’s IP configuration. The wireless LAN adapter Wi-Fi section might display the IPv4 and IPv6 address, subnet mask, and default gateway. The next step is to ping the wireless access point by running a “ping (target IP) -n25” command. Replace “target IP” with the default gateway IP.

Completing this process will send 25 ICMP packets to the access point, and it will calculate a percentage of packet loss and an average time for the round trip.

Testing for Network Congestion

The next test will determine how congested your network is. The first step is to sit next to the wireless access point. Open up the Google Home app and tap Wi-Fi (under Network). Then, tap “run speed test”. It will display your results at the bottom of the page.

The results of these tests should give you an indication of where the packet loss is coming from. If they’re inconclusive, you might try redoing the tests at a different time of day, change your location, or try it again using another device.

Understanding the Results of Your Packet Loss Test

As you gather your packet loss test results, let’s take a closer look at some of the terms and measurements you need to know.

Latency (or Ping) — This term refers to the delay between a user’s action and the web’s response to it. In simpler terms, it refers to the amount of time it takes for data packets to make the entire trip.

Jitter — This term refers to the variation in the times that various data packets arrive. The longer it takes for all the packets to arrive, the more likely calling parties will experience audio problems.

Data loss — This term refers to a system error where information gets lost or destroyed during storage, transmission, or processing.

How do you define good call quality?

For VoIP calls, you should aim for under 150ms ping and 30ms jitter for optimal call quality.

Latency, jitter, and data loss aren’t much of a concern if you’re browsing around the internet or checking in on your social media accounts. For business purposes, these terms have a lot more significance because they impact call quality. Phone communication is essential for small businesses, and you’ll want to be sure the call quality is consistently good. Poor call quality will create a bad customer experience, which most likely will lead to customer churn.

Packet Loss & The Quality of Your Phone Calls

By now, it should be clear that packet loss directly impacts the quality of your business phone calls. The hallmark of quality phone communication is a smooth conversation between two or more people where there are no added noises or distractions. The mechanics of transmitting calls should continue running in the background without any of the parties to a phone call being aware of them. Customers get frustrated and annoyed when the conversation keeps cutting out, the sound is garbled, or the calls drop.

As an SMB, you should be aware that voice call quality can sometimes affect both parties. It can also affect one calling party and not the other. If one person can hear the conversation just fine while the other experiences noise and cutting out, the problem could be on one end or both ends of the transmission.

In either case, you’ll be better able to monitor audio quality in your business communications when you understand the terms related to packet loss and phone call quality, and test your system regularly to ensure good quality voice communication.

How to Fix Packet Loss

Packet loss doesn’t have to be an issue that causes you daily headaches. By taking a few steps upfront, continually monitoring your system for high quality, and getting professional help when you need it, your employees and customers will be able to focus on their conversations without disruptions and distractions.

Poor voice calling quality can create big problems for your company. Packet loss not only disrupts voice calls, but it can also slow down your file transfers and cause problems with data security. In the end, it can damage your brand’s reputation.

Here are some steps you can take to fix the problem of packet loss:

  • Ensure your hardware is always up to date. Having the most recent updates on your software programs will ensure your cloud phone system is working at an optimal level. The same should be said for any phone applications that your teams are using.
  • Bandwidth matters. Make sure your office and your teams, whether remote or distributed, have the proper amount of bandwidth.
  • Make sure all of your internet cables are in good working condition. Also make sure that you put devices in a safe location that will not be disrupted.
  • Reduce radio signals and any other signals that could be interfering with your Wi-Fi connection.

Suppose you continue to experience problems with poor phone call quality, latency, jitter, or data loss. In that case, you might consider getting a professional involved to help clear up the problem and get tips about avoiding it in the future.

How to Determine the Best VoIP Phone for Call Quality

VoIP phone systems are affordable and they offer the necessary versatility to provide a good customer experience. VoIP doesn’t depend on traditional phone system hardware. It all works directly from the cloud. You and your employees can access the system directly from your computer, mobile phone, or other devices.

Every VoIP system comes complete with its own set of voice calling features. When you leverage your phone system alongside software integrations, you can extend your business capabilities even further. Voice quality is just one of the important issues to consider as you explore the potential options for purchasing a VoIP phone system for your call center.

Like any other product, VoIP phone systems aren’t all the same. In making the best choice for your business, you’ll need to assess your business’s needs and compare them with the available options for VoIP phone systems.

Here’s a list of things to consider as you make narrow your list choices:

  • At a minimum, the system should meet your primary business needs.
  • The phone system provides advanced calling features.
  • The phone system allows you to scale your employees and your company as future needs change.
  • The system offers a robust set of voice calling features including automatic call distribution, ring groups, hold music, call queuing, and more.
  • It should sync with your CRM system and other software programs that you’re currently using or wish to use in the future.
  • It gives you the ability to use multiple communication channels and forms the basis for a more unified communication system.

The Importance of Testing Your Internet Connection

When you first set up your internet provider, you were most likely given a few options for different internet speed packages. Generally, the rate of internet speed determines the pricing. The faster the speed, the more you pay for the package. Small business owners often opt for higher internet speed packages to ensure clear voice call quality with customers.

It’s important to test your internet connection speed, so you know your vendor is delivering on its promise of the internet speed you paid for. You should also be aware that internet speeds vary from day to day. With that in mind, you may want to check your internet speed for a few days in a row and evaluate the results. One poor result could be an anomaly, but poor results for several days likely indicate a problem. Testing your internet speed is easy and you can do it in a few minutes. It’s well worth your time to do so.

What do you do if you’re getting poor results consistently? Contact your service provider and let them know. They could be working on a system problem already. If not, they should be able to explain why you’re having trouble and give you some tips for getting better service.

Evaluating Internet Providers

It’s common for internet service providers to promote their companies as having the best service and the fastest speeds. Not all of them deliver on their promises. There’s no harm in taking advantage of a free trial offer. You can always test the speed during your trial to see how it pans out. Once you select a service, run another speed test just to be sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Reviews and testimonials are also good sources of information about the most reputable internet service providers.

Finally, be sure to put a secure password on your Wi-Fi system. It’s best to use a combination of symbols, numbers, lowercase, and uppercase letters to reduce the chance of hacking. Otherwise, anyone within your vicinity could connect to your internet, which could cause your system to slow down.

Why Aircall

Clear communication is vital for small businesses, and your business will suffer when you continually experience problems with call quality and connectivity. With Aircall, you get a market-leading infrastructure to ensure excellent call quality. Aircall has distributed data centers (7 globally) and we offer redundancy on every level to avoid single points of failure. To prevent disruptions and provide consistent call quality, Aircall works with multiple carriers that allow for dynamic switch capability. In other words, Aircall just can’t be beaten for excellent call quality.

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