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Tabush Group's Cloud & Managed IT Blog

Why VoIP and The Internet Don't Play Well Together.

In April, I explored whether Willy Wonka invented the Internet in this post. So far, neither Vint Cerf nor anyone else has disputed this theory; so my next task will be to propose that www shall stand for Willy Wonka Web, instead of the World Wide Web.

Enough, onto VoIP

In the past ten or so years, VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, has become very popular. VoIP happens when you take an audio signal, convert it into data packets, and move those packets across an IP network, so your phone call can be sent through a network (or the Internet) in the same manner that everything else does. This is different from traditional phone calls that travel over a "switched network" where each call is on a predetermined fixed line and are connected to the caller through end-over dedicated channels.

VoIP can come in many shapes and sizes, from consumer-based services like Vonage and Skype to business-grade VoIP from companies such as Cisco, Asterisk, and Broadsoft. While these vendors may use different protocols, in the end they’re all achieving the same result.

There are many benefits to VoIP, including easier management, cheap or free long distance, and more calling features than most of us will ever care to use. The problem is that VoIP data packets aren’t just regular data, like email or web browsing, and can't be treated as such. Here's what I mean:

As I discussed last month, the Internet is made up of millions of fiber optic links connected by routers in a large mesh network. Those routers send traffic towards their final destination where it's reassembled from tiny packets into a webpage, email, YouTube video, or the voice on the other end of your phone call. Things like a single web page, email, image, or phone call may consist of thousands or millions of packets. Because the Internet is made up of thousands of links controlled by hundreds of companies, data will pass through several providers' networks when traveling to its final destination. Not all packets take the same route, but the packets still reach their destination around the same time (within one second or less).

Now, for everything except live video or voice packets, this is fine. It means that your email, webpage, or YouTube video may take one second longer to display on your screen or start playing. (This is also why videos buffer before playing—to allow for network imperfections).

But for live voice, it's not fine. When voice traffic travels on an uncontrolled network (the internet), any network issue, including routine spikes, route changes, and more, can interrupt your call, making it sound like you're on a cell phone with a weak signal. While we've all come to expect the occasional poor cell-phone connection, we expect our land line phones to be 100% clear and reliable, all the time.

So, is VoIP doomed because of this? —Far from it. VoIP, when deployed properly and when using proper network links (like MPLS and dedicated circuits, managed switches, Quality of Service, and all the other fancy stuff that us IT people love to show off with) it’s great.

In fact, Tabush is switching to a new VoIP system this week that we’re very excited about. VoIP, however, is a very risky bet, and before embarking on something that sounds too good to be true, do your homework. We’ve saved many clients from making this costly mistake, and we’re always happy to advise you or help with any VoIP questions you may have.

We've seen too many businesses in New York City make the mistake of going with a commodity VoIP service only to dump it a few months late. We did our first enterprise VoIP network implementation in 2004 (and its still in use today) and have done many successful ones since then.