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Poor VoIP and video performance? It’s not just bandwidth.

Tech Trends · Nov 16, 2020

More than ever, companies are relying on cloud-based VoIP, video and collaboration applications across their workforce. Business Connect, one of our leading Unified Communications (UC) platforms, has seen a 300% to 400% increase in video calls over pre-pandemic levels. And while some may argue that will decline as workers return to the office, it indicates a substantial change in how businesses are communicating.

Having high quality communication services is crucial to both employee productivity and customer experiences. But unfortunately, less than one-third (31%) of businesses surveyed by IDC Canada in 2019 report that their IT, telecom and network infrastructure is very prepared for ongoing change. That leaves a majority of businesses struggling to match their technology to their fast-evolving needs.

Some organizations know the pain of technology-induced reliability and performance issues all too well. Dropped calls, stalled meetings and poor voice quality are frequent and frustrating. You may be tempted to invest in more bandwidth in an effort to ensure better performance. But delivering always-available cloud-based communications is a complex task – adding bandwidth capacity isn’t the only consideration.

The widespread impacts of unreliable communication apps

Unreliable communication impacts organizations in many ways. It can be a matter of life and death, as in the case of 911 services, health care and other emergency and rescue operations. It can impact a business’s bottom line if customers leave over missed or dropped calls or a frustrating contact centre interaction.

Poor meeting experiences and wasted time trying to connect and reconnect disrupts employee workflow and lowers productivity and morale. The numbers are telling:

  • On average, 15 minutes of a 38-minute conference call are wasted getting started or coping with distractions and drops, says UK cloud provider Loopup.

  • 72% of virtual meetings start late, due to application sharing, background noise or other technical problems, according to technology leader Cisco.

  • Cisco also found that fully 85% of online meeting participants are regularly frustrated with software and staying connected.

In other words, almost every employee is feeling the pain. Long-term, unreliable UC apps can cause teams to lose trust in new technology, making it more difficult for them to embrace future digital transformation initiatives. The status quo is not acceptable.

Don’t (just) blame bandwidth for your poor video performance

UC applications like voice and video are more sensitive to performance issues than many other Software as a Service (SaaS) apps, including those for team collaboration (messaging, sharing) and data storage. In particular, UC apps can suffer from:

  • Latency, the short delay between one person speaking and another hearing the voice;

  • Packet loss, when small units of data are missing, resulting in periods of silence or robotic-sounding voice;

  • And jitter, scrambled or garbled voice caused by data packets arriving out of order.

As UC usage increases, network traffic and bandwidth use also escalate – and so does the potential for these performance problems.

The real-time nature of UC applications makes them particularly sensitive to connection issues. As you work to understand the reasons for poor UC performance, consider:

  1. Do you have enough bandwidth to meet your updated needs? More importantly, are you using it efficiently? Purchasing additional bandwidth may help, but it’s a partial solution at best. Increasing bandwidth alone is usually expensive without necessarily improving overall performance. How you are using that bandwidth may be the key.

  2. Is your network optimized for the cloud? Many organizations have been quick to adopt UC applications without readying their networks for digital transformation. Conventional networks tend to follow the hub and spoke model: a central data centre is the hub to which all branch offices or sites are connected (via the spokes). In this configuration, WAN networks pull all traffic, even traffic destined for the cloud, through that central hub before connecting to the internet. This indirect route, controlled by traditional routers and site-to-site WAN connections, is not always cost-effective when call quality and uptime is business or service critical.

  3. Does your network prioritize voice and UC traffic at the application layer? Because the internet delivers all traffic more or less indiscriminately, there’s no inherent quality of service (QoS). With QoS, typically delivered over traditional networks like MPLS, you decide what and how traffic is prioritized to ensure predictable service. Without QoS, UC apps delivered over the internet are done in a “best effort” manner, leading to uneven availability. As noted above, voice and video traffic are highly susceptible to latency and jitter, so application prioritization is critical.

Take control of voice and video quality with SD-WAN

Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is relatively new technology that many businesses are using to help optimize their networks for cloud applications like UC. SD-WAN is a virtual WAN architecture that connects users directly to the internet to reach cloud-based apps instead of routing through a data centre. Removing this step increases speed, agility and the ability to scale up quickly. It allows for much more efficient use of bandwidth. It also offers specific UC benefits, including high quality, reliable voice and video for improved employee and customer experiences.

Importantly, SD-WAN is flexible. It integrates seamlessly with multiple connectivity underlays, including managed and unmanaged internet, MPLS and Wireless LTE circuits. This ensures you can maintain private networks like MPLS for site-to-site connections where required, while taking advantage of direct internet connections for other traffic like cloud-based UC applications. By doing so, SD-WAN is highly adaptable to your particular needs and setup. And SD-WAN simplifies your infrastructure needs, making it just as easy to set up new branch sites and monitor your network as it is to access UC services.

Integrating SD-WAN with your UC applications specifically improves performance on several fronts:

  1. Application-aware routing: SD-WAN can intelligently prioritize traffic on your network or over different links using quality of experience (QoE) policies determined by your detailed business requirements. For example, you may delegate VoIP or video application priority to specific locations or users over others.

  2. Control and visibility: SD-WAN solutions use a single dashboard to offer visibility into all the applications on your network. Among other benefits, this control panel enables you to set up automated rules to recognize and prioritize critical applications like voice and video.

  3. Better reliability: Having multiple, redundant network connections in your SD-WAN network provides failover and business continuity protection. If your primary line fails, the network will automatically switch your most important traffic to an alternate or secondary wired or wireless LTE connection.

  4. Automation and agility: Many SD-WAN solutions offer network self-healing, network design and scalability tools, using policies and machine learning to actively monitor and adjust data paths for critical applications.

Assess your network needs and find the right solution

According to IDC’s Canadian Top Executive Survey in 2019, efficiency and productivity remain the top priorities for Canadian businesses. Don’t let unreliable VoIP and video experiences undercut your efforts. You need to understand exactly why you’re running into problems so you can find the right fix, the first time.

Among the increasing number of businesses that have adopted SD-WAN solutions, further research from Frost and Sullivan in 2018 showed that 78% did so to improve app performance and ensure 24x7 business continuity – and they’re seeing results. SD-WAN offers a scalable, intelligent solution that automatically routes your highest priority traffic to the most robust connections.

Improved, streamlined communications will benefit all levels of your operations. IT teams will have time for other projects, and everyone will have more confidence as they plan and execute day-to-day tasks.

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Authored by:
Arif Dhalla