If you are running into call quality issues use this article to help you resolve them.
What is call quality?
It's a holistic measure of how easy it is for the parties on a call to have a productive conversation.
Bad call quality is generally related to network issues like high latency (delay), jitter, or even slow speed (speed is rarely an issue).
High latency, jitter, and slow speed are caused by the components that make up your network and calling infrastructure including your router(s), internet service provider, audio devices (headsets), computers, and software. We discuss each of these and best practice recommendations below.
To guess at which of latency or jitter may be related to your call quality issues consider them in relation to the symptoms you experience on a call,
- Latency = An obvious delay on your call
- Jitter = Audio that sounds bad, broken up, or a call that drops completely
Speed and latency are generally easy to identify and solve so for this article we'll focus on jitter and its relationship to call quality.
Jitter and its relationship to call quality
Technically, jitter can be defined as any deviation in, or displacement of, the signal pulses in a high-frequency digital signal.
💡You can think of jitter as a measure of the strength of your internet connection.
People often think, "hey, my internet connection is really fast, it shouldn't be the cause of my issues". But you can have a really high speed internet connection, with high jitter (high jitter is bad). If you have high jitter you will likely also experience poor call quality.
To fix our call quality issues, we don't have to be technical experts and deeply understand what jitter is. We just need to know that it exists and what causes high jitter.
Because jitter measures the strength of your internet connection, we often see higher levels of jitter on wireless internet connections where a wireless signal has to travel from your internet router through or around objects in your home or at the office to your device.
Two of the best ways to address a poor internet connection strength which we'll cover in more detail later, are upgrading your internet router and connecting to your router using physical ethernet cables.
💡 High jitter is a symptom of a weak internet connection.
An average jitter of 30 milliseconds or lower is best for phone calls and video calls. 100 milliseconds or lower is fine, and you probably won't run into too many issues. If you have an average jitter of more than 100 milliseconds, you're going to start to see noticeable problems.
What should your jitter be?
🥳 Great - 30ms or less
😐 Okay - 30ms to 100ms
👎 Bad - 100ms to 500ms
💀 Oh my - 500ms+
Testing network jitter is not so easy and it's not something we're going to cover in this video. If you're trying to improve your call quality at work, share this article with the people responsible for your IT.
If you're comfortable with more technical tasks, I want you to test your network jitter using the Ookla speed test CLI.
There are a lot of free off-the-shelf tools that we can use to test jitter on our network, and I've used them. The Ookla speed test CLI is the best. It gives us great information really quickly.
We can see the lowest measurement of jitter, the highest measurement of jitter, and more importantly the average. We're getting a low average jitter measurement on our download and upload. That's great! But we might also be seeing some really high measurements on our upload or download, and that's something to keep an eye out for because you might have an average jitter of 80 milliseconds like in the test.
See example results from a jitter test using the Ookla speed test CLI below.
The screenshot above shows the results of a jitter test using the Ookla speed test CLI. In the screenshot, we can see the jitter measured on our download and upload internet traffic. During the test, we saw a maximum jitter of 561.77ms on our upload which could cause people on the other end of a phone call or video call to have issues hearing or seeing us.
What affects our internet connection and call quality? Typical network components.
So let's move on to talk about the components that affect your internet connection and call quality. Everything from the headset you use. the router you connect to, even your internet service provider, and the software you use to make your calls has a part to play.
Use modern devices and wired headsets
So let's start off with our user's devices. The quality of our mobile phones and our laptop devices probably isn't going to cause us any issues, but modern and high-quality devices are best.
Headsets on the other hand are very important. Now, interestingly, it doesn't matter so much how expensive and high quality they are. What does matter is that they are wired. Headsets that plug into your devices will improve your experience and improve your call quality. This is because data transmission is generally much more reliable. through a fixed wire than it is through a wireless connection.
Improving your router is the easiest way to improve your call quality
This one's super important because your router setup probably has the biggest influence on your call quality out of anything that we're going to discuss today.
The router you use was designed with limits on the rate at which it can transmit data between the internet and your devices. the number of devices that can be connected to it simultaneously, and the distance between the router and the device that's connected to it, in the context of a wireless connection.
The general rule of thumb, the cheaper the routers, the worse they perform on those measures, and when you're working from home, you're probably using the router that your internet service provider gave you, which is a very, very cheap router.
Plugging in the computer that you use to make your calls to your router with an ethernet cable will also improve your call quality. However, it won't solve all of your problems. If you want to improve your call quality when you're working from home, I would highly recommend going to your local tech store and buying a new router that costs around $100. At this price point the differences between the router you choose are insignificant.
Make sure the router you are purchasing is compatible with the type if internet connection you have at your home or office such as ADSL or DSL (copper wires or fiber).
If you are using the internet in a home or office that is very large or includes a lot of people using the internet at the same time, this will also affect the infrastructure (router quality, network extenders etc) and connection you will need.
Connect the devices you can to the internet via ethernet cables
A quick way to improve your connection strength and your call quality is to make sure that you're connecting your laptop devices, thin clients, and desktop computers via ethernet connections, not over the wireless internet. If you want to improve the Wi-Fi at the office, think about the number and location of routers, otherwise known as access points, compared to the number and location of connected devices.
Test your network switch (Office only)
This one is only relevant to your network at the office. Your network switch is the intermediary between your main internet connection and the access points (routers) throughout the office. So thinking about the network switch's quality is important. And you can test and compare the network switch that you use today with alternatives.
Consider different internet service providers
Your internet service provider only has so much internet bandwidth to provide all of their customers. So when the demand on internet services in your local area or for your internet service provider goes up, the quality of the connections on that network will go down.
We recommend using internet service providers that have a significant market share of customers in your local area because they tend to pay network infrastructure providers for greater network bandwidth and therefore typically provide more reliable networks. If you aren't sure which networks are popular in your area you can use tools like Cloudflare Radar to compare networks in your area using a third-party estimate of network populations and general quality.
Investigate your phone system
Of course, the phone system that you use is also going to affect your call quality and your general experience. When investigating your phone system, it can be useful to understand if they are using popular and reliable voice-over IP codecs. What's the quality of their engineering?
Of course, if they have great customer service, they might be able to help you with your call quality issues.
When you're looking to replace your phone system and are trialing alternative providers, make sure you test the new system with a diverse group of users at your company and make sure you make the test realistic. So you're putting enough calls through the system to see if the call quality is the same, worse, or better.
So let's go through our best practice recommendations.
Follow these recommendations (in priority order) to improve your call quality:
- Use high-quality routers when you're working from home or the office,
- Use wired headsets (not Bluetooth or wireless),
- Connected to your router via ethernet cables,
- Use a large number of routers (access points) in the office,
- Use a high-quality network switch at the office,
- Make sure your internet service provider has a reliable network with low jitter,
- Use modern, high-quality mobile and desktop devices,
- Work with a knowledgeable, reliable phone system provider like VXT.