Voice over IP (VoIP) is by far the most popular business phone service especially for small to midsized businesses (SMBs). It’s generally cheaper, and because it’s software it’s far more flexible, which means it’s able to provide not only voice conversations but other communications channels, too, like team chatting, conference calling, video conferencing, and even electronic faxing. But though basic setup is fairly easy, once you add real-life conversation load to your data network, things can get tricky. 

As more businesses than ever are moving away from their traditional PBX and toward comprehensive VoIP solutions, it has become vital for companies to ensure their network infrastructure is brought up-to-date to accommodate and optimize voice signals over data lines. This transition to VoIP solutions over traditional on-premises PBX systems, with an industrygrowth rate of almost 20%, is spurred by the many advantages that come with a VoIP system. These can include lowered costs, flexibility, scalability, and much more.

However, as voice signals now travel over the same lines as data, there are important considerations that should be reviewed to continue experiencing a high level of call quality and optimized voice functionality while using VoIP.  Review the options below and make any necessary changes to ensure that your network infrastructure is fully optimized for Voice-over-IP (VoIP).  

1. Upgrade your Network Infrastructure

One of the first places to start when ensuring your infrastructure is optimized for a VoIP installation is properly estimating the necessary bandwidth for the best performance. It is crucial to remember this piece of the infrastructure pie – otherwise, you’ll surely be hearing about it from your users in terms of complaints about poor voice quality and the number of dropped calls. Make sure to thoroughly analyze the network and do a complete assessment prior to implementing your business VoIP solution.

Instead of upgrading your network infrastructure piecemeal, another option is to deploy the Maxxis application network from West. The Maxxis network solution enables your enterprise to set up a converged, all-IP network as a fully-managed infrastructure with unprecedented application performance, flexibility, and resiliency. Maxxis uses multiple Tier 1 carriers to ensure wide geographic coverage with a complete choice of network interfaces suitable to each business’ needs.

2. Ensure QoS (Quality of Service)

In a VoIP solution, the way QoS works is to send certain data packets with a higher priority. The highest priority packets would be for voice and video calls, since latency can largely impact the level of call quality. If data packets are not prioritized properly, call quality may be degraded through delays and jitter, as well as packet loss. Callers may experience echoes or delayed speech. For obvious reasons, QoS needs to be addressed in order to realize a fully-enhanced VoIP network infrastructure.

3. Look at Grade of Service (GoS)

Grade of Service (GoS) is another important aspect to look at when optimizing your VoIP network. GoS is defined as the probability of a call being blocked or delayed more than a specified interval, expressed as a fractional percentage. Essentially it looks at the possibility of calls made or received being dropped due to network traffic. An industry standard for good GoS is 85% of calls answered in 30 seconds. An example of a bad GoS is when a call is dropped or may take longer than usual to connect to your VoIP phone system.  

To have the best GoS, you will need to consider improving your call routing capacity. This can be optimized through the appropriate VoIP contact center solution. Westcloud contact can supply just that – giving your enterprise state-of-the-art call routing and management with sophisticated contact center tools.

4. Be sure to Consider Security

With the rate of cybercrimes continuing to increase, it is of utmost importance to secure your voice lines across the internet in addition to your data lines. Your VoIP network infrastructure should include appropriate firewall policies as well as good antivirus, malware and spyware prevention programs.

West’s Maxxsecure puts security in the cloud to help protect networks from spam and viruses, intrusions, and inappropriate web content while providing simplicity and consistency of security policy management. MaxxSecure can also serve to eliminate single–points–of–failure and bottlenecks that are common with premises–based security solutions.

5. Select Scalable VoIP Solutions

The need for scalability is the top reason for evaluating new VoIP systems, according to a recent study. Today’s enterprises require VoIP solutions containing an extensive number of features that can be easily managed and scaled to the current volume of business and support personnel. These solutions also need to also be scalable to multiple geographic locations that can span the globe and connect employees at any location, whether it’s from the corporate office, a branch office, or a remote location.

Voicemaxx from West is a fully-scalable hosted VoIP solution that allows companies to transform and reshape their use of communications technology. It includes a suite of cloud-based, on-demand services containing full PBX functionality, advanced call management tools, and leading edge Unified Communications features.

6. Don’t skimp on Support

In the event of an outage, it’s important to have a solid customer support agreement in your back pocket that you can rely on for quick response times and quality service. Make sure you select a VoIP solutions company that has the reputation to stand behind their VoIP solutions, and will maintain a high level of uptime and top level quality of service.

West has Cisco-certified Tier2 and Infrastructure Engineers available in their Network Operations Center to attend to your network needs 24x7x365. And they have the longevity to stand behind their products to ensure your issue is resolved quickly and your business is back to running normally in short order.

As your company transitions to a VoIP solution, be sure to partner with a company that can help the process go smoothly. Select West Unified Communications Services.  West can work with your existing network infrastructure to create a solution that will maximize your capital investments while simultaneously working towards a customized solution to meet all of your growing needs. To ensure your VoIP network infrastructure is fully optimized,

7 Check Your Cabling

This is a no-brainer but, now that you’re making the switch to VoIP, you’ll need not only enough Ethernet cables to connect your devices to the internet, but also the right Ethernet cables. Peterson recommends buying Cat 6 cables if you can afford them. These cables can typically support up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) at 250 MHz for up to 328 feet. You can get 1,000 feet for anywhere from $90 to $170. Just remember that if you’re interested in running such a fast network of Ethernet, you’ll likely also have to upgrade your networking infrastructure. Most SMB network devices default to a single gigabit rather than 10. Additionally, there are often some reliability and tweaking issues that go along with such a fast network, so if you’re upgrading both your cables and your network infrastructure, too, then it pays to check out alternatives to Ethernet for 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) traffic, especially fiber. 

If you’re on more of a budget, then Ethernet is definitely the way to go. If you can’t afford Cat 6, then Peterson recommends you use Cat 5e cables, which can still support the more popular 1GbE traffic loads. Peterson discourages his clients from using older Cat 3 cables, because those will have trouble handling not only the additional load but the reliability management that goes along with VoIP which he said can present a “troubleshooting nightmare” for Cat 3 users.

8.Plan Your Power

Most vendors will tell you that the easiest way to ensure you’re getting power to your VoIP phones is to do it via Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE simply lets lets devices that aren’t plugged into AC sources pull that juice right through your Ethernet network, generally from the nearest device to which they’re connected. So for phones, that’s often the PC sitting right next to them or the router or switch in the closet down the hall. It sounds strange to newcomers, but if you look around, you’ll probably see some examples of PoE around you right now. Companies use PoE for surveillance cameras, ceiling-mounted access points, and even LED lights.

The trick with PoE is twofold. First, you need devices that support it. Typically, anything either pulling or providing power will need to specifically support PoE. It’s an independent standard, so you shouldn’t have to worry about mixing and matching hardware from different vendors, but as is the case with most networking hardware, you’re probably better off sticking with the same maker. 

Second, while it’s not traffic, electricity is still running over your network cables and that will have an affect on overall performance. That means testing and then preparing a workable management plan for your IT staff. Fortunately, PoE is a very popular solution for VoIP providers when delivering desktop phones, so your chosen provider should have lots of experience on hand in the customer service department should you need help. If your Ethernet switch doesn’t allow for PoE, then you can order a PoE injector, which is an additional power source that can be used alongside non-PoE switches.

 Explore the VLAN Option

Image of cables coming out of a working switch device

There’s lots of stuff competing for the limited space on your network. Every web page your employees open, every database query, every new customer relationship management (CRM) record, it’s all running over the same wires. And for software, that’s not a big deal as the network contains features that let data “heal” itself should a packet go missing or arrive at its destination a little late. Voice, however, is a different animal since it’s a real-time application. The last few syllables of your sales pitch can’t be healed if they arrive late, they’re just dropped, which means your customer will hear static. You don’t want that and there are several ways that network administrators and VoIP providers can configure your network to avoid. One of the most popular is the virtual LAN (VLAN).

Building one of these is the same principal as building a virtual PC “inside” your physical PC, only in this case it’s a virtual network inside your physical network. Essentially a portion of your network cabling (or “pipe space”) is now managed as a network unto itself, running its own traffic. That’s advantageous for VoIP because if that’s the only traffic running over your VLAN you’re far less likely to have that traffic drop or have other difficulties. VLANs let you re-distribute voice network traffic into its own protected space to ensure that voice and video calls don’t get dropped when someone starts downloading a large file. If you dedicate your VLAN only to phone and video traffic, then you’ll be able to isolate and manage VoIP traffic without having to worry about tertiary traffic.

Of course, the flip side is (a) how much of your pipe should you apportion to this VLAN, and (b) how will the loss of that overall bandwidth affect your other applications? Those are important questions and you can really only answer them with some real-world testing, so make sure that’s part of your roll-out process for any VoIP implementation. Voice is important, but if protecting it means crashing everything else on a regular basis, you’re not doing yourself any favors. What are your most resilient apps when it comes to loss of bandwidth, and how can you configure your network infrastructure to support the rest of your software portfolio? Your network administrators need answers to these questions and only some quality testing time can provide them. 

Manage Wireless Traffic with Access Point Handoff

Mobile VoIP is becoming a popular solution in many business settings, partially because it adds flexibility to certain workloads and partially because it reduces data transfer costs over mobile devices. That’s essentially done by automatically having voice communications move to your Wi-Fi network whenever your company-owned mobile devices see your on-premises network. But many of the same challenges network managers face when adding voice traffic to their wired network are mirrored when it moves to wireless.

“Traditional Wi-Fi networks are usually a small managed system designed for laptops and tablets, and not for voice and video,” said Peterson. Because of this discrepancy, it’s important that you analyze your network to determine how many simultaneous calls your wireless connection can manage. Peterson recommends managed Wi-Fi that supports accesspoint (AP) handoff for when one network becomes overburdened. That capability helps network administrators ensure a smooth traffic handoff when a mobile device moves out of the range of one access point and into the range of another. Failure to optimize that little step can result in auditory problems at a minimum all the way up to outright dropped calls. He also suggests a system that is set for smaller packet sizes as well as an on-premises or cloud-based controller that can manually control access points when necessary.  

Concept image of data security

6. Expand Your Firewall Function

Peterson suggests taking any vendor’s maximum published throughput with a grain of salt. “This is not enough of a benchmark for how much media you can drive through a firewall,” he explained. If you don’t have someone in your organization who can help you determine the difference between media and data traffic, then contact a professional, which companies like RingCentral or intermedia are usually happy to provide.

If you’re IT-savvy, then know that Peterson recommends using software-defined firewalls, which are designed to filter internal data traffic and packets rather than just data traffic. Of course, that means building a software-defined network on top of your physical network, which usually has it’s own planning and implementation process. 

Image of a wireless router

7. Evaluate Your Router

Determine if your router has functionality dedicated to providing traffic shaping and policy-based management. This can make things drastically less complex and time consuming for your already-stressed IT managers because it lets you prioritize voice and video data on your network in multiple ways.

“What we look for is basically assuming one out of every five people will be on a 1-megabits-per-second [Mbps] voice call, and one out of every 7 will be on a conference at 100 megabits per second,” he said. Multiply the number of voice users at your company who will be on a voice call and a video call at any given moment, and then multiple that number by a minimum of five. That’s how many Mbps of traffic your router should be able to manage without any issue.  And, again, these same issues will happen on your wireless network should you opt for mobile VoIP connectivity.

Fortunately, this can all be solved with the same process: testing. Proper network testing is simply a matter of running the right kind of simulation traffic through your current network configuration and then tweaking our settings until VoIP and application traffic can exist peacefully. Naturally, IT managers and likely some professional services engineers from your VoIP provider will do this work, but on the upside you probably won’t have to spend additional money on network tools as testing is generally part of any existing network monitoring tool suite. On the wireless side, however, you might want to look at beefing up your network management capability with tools dedicated to wireless traffic management, like J2 Global’s own Ekahao pro 

Concept image of network traffic

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