A Primer on the Merits of VoIP - Talkdesk - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
This post is written by Talkdesk’s Director of Customer Support, Scott Allison.
Have you had a bad experience with IP telephony or are you too hesitant to even try it? You’re not alone. Many professionals don’t believe this new technology (also known as VoIP) is reliable enough to be used in business.
Much of this sentiment stems from the fact that most people first experience VoIP technology using consumer services like Skype or FaceTime. While these services can be great, they are also free, and the old adage that you get what you pay can sometimes ring true.
But, given a more sophisticated technology, can VoIP be reliable enough for business communications? Yes, absolutely, with the proviso that you need to have the right expectations.
A VoIP system is not a landline telephone. The two share some traits but are notably different in a few ways. With the exception of cables that are physically damaged by external forces (trees, rain, squirrels, etc.), your traditional home or office phone connection is completely reliable; it works every time you pick it up, with uninterrupted connectivity. That’s a tall order for a VoIP system.
Then again, the copper wires needed for a landline are pretty expensive. If VoIP hadn’t come along we’d all still be paying for these old-school circuit-switched connections.
VoIP has brought flexibility, cost-effectiveness and competition to the telephony marketplace. Nearly all of us are benefiting from these new services and lower costs.
But still, some have had poor experiences with VoIP. We’ve all experienced that robotic voice on Skype, or audio cutting in and out on FaceTime.
In order to understand why this can happen, we need to look at how data is transmitted via VoIP.
Analog landline phones are a technology that is largely unchanged since its invention in the late 1800s by Scotsman, Alexander Graham Bell. Telephones are connected to each other via two wires. Think back to those black and white photos of switchboard operators. Their job was to manually connect callers. They way they did this was to connect a jack plug at the end of your pair of wires, to another subscriber’s pair of wires, also terminated in a jack-plug. It was that simple.
Long distance calls just included more telephone operators and more jack-plugs, but still it was a direct connection of two wires, all along the route. Over time, all that really happened to improve this signal system was more automation, and digitization at certain points, to increase voice quality over long distances. But even though the voice call was converted to a stream of 1’s and 0’s, there was still a dedicated physical path for each call.
Once the internet became ubiquitous, software engineers wasted no time in trying to transmit analog voice over internet protocols (VoIP).
A quick lesson in how data is sent and received over the internet is required here:
The internet is a loosely connected network, and in between you and the web server, there could be thousands of miles, and many routes, none of which you have any control over. You don’t need a dedicated channel open in order to view pages from a particular web site. You press a hyperlink, the request is sent, and you get a response. You can sit there for a minute reading the page until you click a link to go elsewhere, but during that minute, you didn’t take up any resources on the internet.
Let me explain using an analogy with a highway. In the circuit-switched world of telephony that Bell dreamed up, every call requires a dedicated lane. In the world of the internet, highways are like the ones in the real-world: anyone can access the road, change lanes, and there are often multiple routes to the destination. It’s pretty efficient, for the most part. It’s certainly a lot more efficient than a dedicated lane for each driver!
Now, the thing that makes internet work brilliantly is something known as “transmission control protocol” or TCP. TCP ensures that no matter where you’re downloading a file from, all of the data gets to you. If there’s a pothole on the road, or an accident in the right lane, retransmission of data will occur.
Here’s the challenge when it comes to using the internet to place calls: In order to transmit analog sound on the internet, the audio first needs to be converted to a digital stream, you first have to convert the audio to a digital stream, which is then chopped up into packets of data. Those packets then head out on to the “information superhighway” (as we called it back in the 90s!).
Unfortunately if there’s a bump in the road and that data is lost, or retransmitted, it’s a big problem. Remember, VoIP is supposed to be transmitting a live conversation you’re having with someone. VoIP doesn’t use TCP because there simply isn’t time to retransmit data when it’s live. When you download a normal file, it might be annoying to see that file download buffering, but a few seconds delay in the completed download will be unnoticeable. Conversely, if a part of your phone call disappears or is late in arriving, you’re going to notice, and you’re going to be unhappy. This is the heart of why some people don’t like VoIP.
Happily, networks and bandwidth have improved so much over time that the problems we see nowadays are not often related to potholes in the highway of your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The most common cause of poor audio quality is at the end of connection. In other words, it’s the user’s Local Area Network (LAN). Assuming you have a decent ISP, if you’re having problems with VoIP you’re going to need to look in your own backyard for the solution.
So where does this leave us? We’ve proven the efficacy of VoIP, but pointed out the flaws in LAN. The answer, my friends, is blowing in the WiFi. Or rather, the ethernet.
Want to learn more? Stay tuned for the second part of this three part series: “Ethernet Killed the WiFi Star.”
Publish Date: January 21, 2016 5:00 AM
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Lieber & Associates provides services to develop, interpret, and improve contact center metrics and analytics. The firm's experience spans forecasting, customer service, order-taking, lead-qualification, sales, segmentation, media-source-tracking, and testing design. L&A's president pioneered segmentation for telephone scripts and the tri-level service level metric. He brings broad analytics experience to contact centers.
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