While the importance of effective VoIP troubleshooting may have faded from the headlines in favor of hot topics like cloud and security, this critical technology is the backbone of business.

It’s estimated that the global VoIP market reached the 1 billion user milestone by the end of 2017. Even more impressive, the VoIP services market is expected to be worth some $140 billion USD by 2021. To understand what’s driving this growth, we first have to look at the history, the advantages it brings to the table over traditional phones as well as the key VoIP troubleshooting challenges.

A Brief History of VoIP Technology

VoIP was first developed by VocalTec in 1995, although most would hardly recognize that early version of the protocol that so many individuals and businesses rely on today. The first incarnation was InternetPhone, a system that required both users to be using the same software in order to connect.

Despite their innovation, these early attempts at VoIP were rather crude, with high system requirements, poor performance and even worse audio quality. Like many Internet technologies, VoIP software was usually offered for free, although users were often subjected to ads before and after a call. Needless to say VoIP troubleshooting processes were often ad hoc.

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Over the course of the next few years, VocalTec continued to improve VoIP, adding computer-to-telephone and telephone-to-telephone capabilities. In the meantime, telecommunications companies and manufacturers began to see the potential of the new technology and started adding IP capabilities to their switches so individuals could use VoIP adapters with their phones.

Another significant breakthrough on the road to VoIP communications was the introduction of hardware switches that could take on the role that an end-user’s computer was previously handling, in terms of switching the voice data packets to a format that a traditional phone network could understand. This greatly reduced the system requirements for an individual to effectively use VoIP, while at the same time improving the overall quality.

A final piece of the puzzle to help spur the widespread adoption of VoIP was the creation of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Unlike previous protocols, SIP traced its roots to the Internet community rather than the telecommunications industry. Most importantly, SIP provided a method to initiate communication between two users, eliminating the need for dedicated hardware at the two endpoints. SIP was quickly adopted by Skype and other instant messaging applications and is now an integral part of the VoIP industry.

VoIP Today

Now more than 20 years-old, VoIP has matured into a widely used technology that in many ways is indistinguishable from a traditional phone system to end-users.

As technology has improved VoIP has increasingly been replacing traditional phone service across the corporate world. In an age when business can be conducted on a computer, tablet, or cellphone, having the ability to keep employees connected across devices is invaluable. In fact, unified messaging—where an employee uses a single application to access voice, email and fax—contributes to an estimated savings of 40 minutes per day, while the mobility VoIP enables saves another 30 minutes a day(4).

Thanks to faster Internet speeds, improved networking hardware, improved compression and better packet handling, VoIP represents a significant savings for most individuals and businesses. But what about when something goes wrong?

VoIP Challenges

In spite of the overall positive state of the VoIP industry, there are still pain points that often need to be addressed. The most common issues with VoIP implementations are network quality and poor network design. That’s where effective VoIP troubleshooting becomes essential.

Poor network conditions, such as high latency or jitter—a random deviation in the timing between data packets—can degrade VoIP performance, ultimately leading to packet loss. VoIP networks make use of jitter buffers to help smooth out any variance in data packet transmission using Real-time Transmission Protocol (RTP). While this can improve network performance, if the buffer becomes overloaded, voice quality will degrade.

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Likewise, packet loss occurs when one or more data packets fail to arrive at their destination, often as a result of network congestion, when too much data is being sent through a router or network segment. Once the congestion reaches a critical point, packets start dropping. For an application such as VoIP, the call quality can drop, become distorted or lost all together.

Similarly, poor network design can have a detrimental impact on VoIP implementations. For example, many companies underestimate the overhead VoIP will place on their networks and fail to use routers properly configured to prioritize VoIP packets. As a result, as standard network traffic picks up, files are downloaded and more users log on, VoIP calls can quickly degrade.

How VIAVI Can Help

Unified communications through VoIP offers companies many benefits, including lower cost, improved communication and better time management. Despite those benefits, as the above issues show, VoIP communications require careful planning and effective troubleshooting.

To successfully integrate VoIP operations into your business, it’s important to properly optimize your network performance. This means understanding exactly how your network is performing and where potential problems are occurring.

VIAVI Observer can help your company monitor and optimize your network. Geolocation capabilities help you see your IT health from regional down to data center levels. Observer also helps you identify issues with your network that are impacting the end-user experience. It can also help you do active testing with synthetic traffic so you can identify potential problems before they impact your users. As a result, you can achieve nearly lossless packet transmission.

With years of experience in the network and service enablement field, VIAVI Solutions helps service providers, enterprises, and their ecosystems, to deploy, maintain, optimize and evolve the most complex and powerful networks on the planet. If your company is looking to improve its VoIP communication, VIAVI can help.

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