Is Mobile VoIP really the next big thing?

April 18th, 2016, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Mobile VoIP really is the next thing – the best thing. Gone are the early days of the technology when you were hoping that everything would work. Today, the quality is such that many of the purported “problems” have been solved. The platforms that are offered today no longer suffer the fate of those even three years ago.

VoIP sounds “tiny” or “warbly” – while this is still true to a minor extent, the simple fact is that you are transmitting voice, not files, in real time. Are you singing the opera? No, and if “face to face” quality is needed, the simple fact is, very few digital networks working in the cellular realm are going to provide that. Honestly, if you need recording quality, then a mobile VoIP platform can slow you down. In the “real” world, 99% of users rarely experience sound quality issues.

Of course, the gorilla in the room with the mobile VoIP platform is that you have to have a network to be able to use it. Guess what? We do! Certainly there are places out in the veld that you aren’t going to be able to use it, but your cellphone isn’t going to work there either, and you’d better be on some high ground to be able to use a radio.

Mobile VoIP enables users to make calls off the existing cell network, thereby eliminating an entire cost centre. This is of particular benefit for larger companies that handle a high volume of calls, as it may save significantly on long distance calls within the organisation or to clients internationally.

Mobile phones can utilise VoIP and be linked into the organisation’s phone network, thus allowing access to a full menu of features, including video conferencing, call recording, voicemail, caller ID, call forwarding, four-way calling and much more. The best part? Users can move between the office and the mobile unit seamlessly.

By utilising a data network that is already in-house, the cost of setting up a full system for a business or individual is fractional compared to the wiring and infrastructure needed to establish a phone service.

Today, mobile VoIP offers a complete solution to many of the financial issues that we see holding back business growth – especially in the entrepreneurial realm.

A bad connection during a phone call can be frustrating, and even infuriating, when you are taking or making a personal call. For business calls – when clear communication with clients, associates and colleagues is crucial – bad quality or dropped calls can have downright catastrophic consequences.

Inconsistency in call quality is familiar to anyone who has ever used a cellphone anywhere in the world. A few years ago, one of the major mobile networks in the United States had a television commercial where someone speaking on a mobile phone was pictured in various locations – from the middle of a bustling city, to a secluded woodland, and even on a mountain top – asking: “Can you hear me now? And now? How about now?” The ad meant to convey the network’s superior coverage, but many cell users, including here in South Africa, often shout those exact words into their mobiles while running around, frantically searching for a passable signal.

The concern about call quality extends beyond the cellular networks. It is one of the major concerns that people have before switching over to voice over internet protocol (VoIP) for their business voice needs. Everyone is aware of the many benefits of VoIP, such as the significant cost savings on phone bills – estimated to be up to 40% a month in South Africa. It is also economical to have converged voice and data services, and VoiP also affords mobility, allowing you to keep your landline number when you port over and even when you relocate your business premises elsewhere.

Despite all those advantages, business owners remain dubious about the call quality. Many providers provide excellent, line-grade quality for VoIP users, but those who have not adopted the technology yet are still sceptical. Their concern is legitimate, because, although clients will remain sympathetic and understanding up to a point, when they constantly struggle to have a decent phone conversation with you, they might lose patience to such an extent that they would feel compelled to just hang up on you and your business.

Call quality on South Africa’s cellular networks is monitored by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). The Authority recently released its quality of service (QoS) reports for the 2012/13 financial year, covering Vodacom, MTN and Cell C’s networks and services provided in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. ICASA explained that QoS measures the service performance of a network, which determines the degree of satisfaction among users of the service, and the capability of a network to provide a quality service to selected network traffic over various technologies, such as global system for mobile communications (GSM).

The question now is whether VoIP QoS is regulated in South Africa, and if so, by whom?

Currently, the quality of VoIP is regulated through the interconnection agreements entered into between providers, which sets |out the parameters within which interconnection must be provided,” says Dominic Cull, founder, owner and telecoms regulatory expert at Ellipsis, a company that provides specialist regulatory and compliance advice to the electronic communications industry. “Perhaps the biggest underlying contributor to QoS problems occurs where VoIP is provided over an ADSL network – Telkom who provides the ADSL connection irrespective of the company subscribed to does not give any QoS guarantees on ADSL; it is a best-effort service.”

Cull explains that, due to the nature of VoIP – that it is an internet data packet that is converted into voice – it would be a tricky exercise for ICASA to directly monitor it. “Bearing in mind that ICASA works with capacity constraints, it does make sense for them to focus on the QoS of the most widely used technology, being GSM, as this affects a substantial majority of South African consumers and will also form the majority of the complaints they receive. This does not imply that VOIP QoS is not important or that they will not focus thereon in future.”

The most important component to a successful IP implementation is the connectivity. Ensure that the provider you choose has direct management of the network, can ensure end-to-end QoS for voice prioritisation, and that the last-mile link carries a service level agreement (SLA) – this will ultimately result in complete satisfaction and quality of experience for IP voice.

How to deal with bad quality VoIP

ICASA has stipulated refunds that apply when a fault has been reported but remains unresolved for more than three days.

South African consumers who are fed up with poor network quality and dropped calls are set to smile, as ICASA has unveiled an amended version of its service charter for network operators and service providers.

The charter seeks to prescribe the minimum standards for services to end-users and subscribers to electronic communications network and services licensees, and also seeks to ensure the service is offered in accordance with established service parameters.

In the document, published in the Government Gazette, the Authority sets out several targets for network and service providers. These include network and services uptime, fault clearance rates, and call centre response times. ICASA has also stipulated refunds that apply when a fault has been reported but remains unresolved for more than three days.

In addition, the charter also specifies that electronic communication network service (ECNS) and electronic communication service (ECS) licensees must provide their end-users and subscribers with critical information, as well as protect the confidentiality of their clients. Critical information includes all the relevant details of tariff plans, and international roaming charges upon arrival in a foreign country.

Additional benefits to subscribers are that ICASA also stated that subscribers should be given the opportunity to opt into international roaming, and should a user have a fault pending with a fixed wireless or wireline service provider for more than three days, ICASA has specified rebates. Also, fixed and mobile users should be given a pro-rata rebate on service activation for the time the services are not activated, and dropped calls on mobile services should be reconnected at no cost, with providers being unable to charge for the first minute after reconnection.

Should users continue to experience dropped calls and service interruption, which severely impedes their quality of experience, the service provider must cancel the contract on request with no early cancellation penalty. The end-user must maintain a history of poor quality service reported to the service provider.

In terms of contraventions and penalties, he says the draft regulations stipulate that ECNS and ECS licensees will have contravened the provisions should they fail to perform and submit quality of service measurements reports as prescribed by the regulations, or fail to achieve the targets as set out in the service parameters in these regulations. In addition, should they fail to submit information requested by ICASA in terms of the regulations in the prescribed format or fail to provide accurate information to ICASA about their quality of service, they are also in contravention of the provisions. Licensees that are held to be non-compliant with the regulations are liable for a fine of up to R1-million.

Repeat offenders will be handed the fine and are subject to publication of the non-compliance on ICASA’s website, as well as their own website.
However, over and above a bad connection from your service provider, there are other issues that can cause poor quality calls, and several other ways to overcome them.

Jitter is one very common hiccup. Because the packets of information travel by a different path from sender to receiver, they can arrive in a different order, resulting in poor or scrambled sound. Jitter buffers will solve this issue, as they temporarily store incoming packets in order to lessen delay variations.

Another frequently experienced issue is VoIP delay or latency. Often sounding like an echo, this is the length of time it takes for speech to leave the speaker’s mouth, and reach the listener’s ear. There are several types of delay – propagation delay, handling delay or queuing delay, and all can be dealt with by prioritising VoIP traffic over the network.

Bad equipment can also cause hassles. An inadequate router will not do the job. Install a specialised VoIP router that is configured for packet prioritisation, to lessen the impact on call quality caused by other users on the network.

Another common issue is the incorrect configuration of the internal network. VoIP, as far as communication technologies go, is in its infancy. Many organisations have not thoroughly thought about the higher quality demands of VoIP. Businesses who opt to route both voice and data over the same network, without properly configuring it for VoIP traffic, will have serious call quality issues.

Ultimately, the root of poor quality VoIP calls is easy to find. Your VoIP service provider should be able to identify and fix any problems, and these problems should not be ongoing. If your service provider is unable to do so, it’s time to change provider.

Contact Mitchell Barker, WhichVoIP, Tel 087 750 1010, mitchell@whichvoip.co.za

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