VoIP has become one of the most popular communication systems implemented in small to medium businesses. While there are many different systems out there offering different solutions and features one element you should really look into is what experts call QoS, or Quality of Service. Here is a quick overview of what QoS is and some important questions to ask potential providers.
What is QoS?
When you hear VoIP providers or IT experts talking about Quality of Service what they are referring to is the overall performance of a VoIP system or network. This performance is usually measured by what the end-users think of as the system’s performance and by looking at other statistics like bandwidth use, transmission (call) delay, error rates, etc.
Why is it important?
QoS is not just used for VoIP systems, in fact it has been something even traditional phone providers strive for. Think back to your original landline service, chances are that 99% of the time call quality was perfect, or near perfect. This is because traditional phone network providers invested in physical networks and connections that offer high QoS, all of the time. If you switch from one provider to another, there is a good chance that quality doesn’t change.
With these well established physical networks, you are going to have to pay more though. Most traditional phone systems are more expensive than VoIP, because the network providers have to physically maintain their transmission network (phone lines, switches, etc.). This high-maintenance cost is also the reason why there are only a couple of phone providers in your area – it’s just too costly for small companies to launch a traditional phone network.
The Internet, more specifically broadband connections, have enabled VoIP and therefore lead to a high number of VoIP providers, largely because you don’t need to own the transmission network (in this case the Internet) to launch a VoIP platform. Because of this, the QoS amongst providers varies drastically.
What this means for you is that you should be taking a provider’s QoS into account when looking for new VoIP systems. To help you ensure that you are getting the best possible, here are three questions you should ask each prospective provider:
1. How much of the network infrastructure your system uses do you own?
Almost every VoIP provider will rely at some point on public Internet in order to transmit their services. Essentially, the less infrastructure a company owns, the higher the risk that quality will be lower. Conversely, using more public systems means lower prices, so it really is a trade off you need to think about.
For businesses that rely on phone systems, one of the best options is to look for facilities-based providers. These companies own all, or most, of the network that carries VoIP calls and can therefore offer better services and quality.
2. How much traffic will run over public Internet?
This answer will vary amongst providers. Some of the most popular solutions amongst really small businesses and home users like Vonage will use almost 100% public Internet for their traffic. Other companies will use a mixture or public and private networks, often using public for more affordable services and private for high-end users.
For example, cable providers who offer VoIP calling will often use public Internet to carry lower-level traffic, while high-end business plans will often run on private networks. The reason to ask this question is because traffic that goes over public Internet networks will be subject to bandwidth sharing. If there is a high demand for bandwidth in the general area, call quality may drop.
3. What level of quality can you guarantee
Good providers will be able to guarantee a QoS that is comparable, or even better, than traditional networks. This is especially important for businesses who are looking to switch to a full VoIP solution. What a provider should do is run a few tests on your network and then give you a quality assurance. If it is too low, then look for another provider.
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