Overcoming the limitations of VoIP

I’ve written blog posts before discussing the advantages and disadvantages of VoIP, but I haven’t thoroughly explained how you can overcome a lot of these disadvantages. In this blog post, I’m going to explain how you can overcome some of the common limitations of VoIP.

Here are some of the common limitations of Voice over IP telephone systems:

  • Reliance upon your internet connection
  • Poor voice quality
  • Dependence upon your VoIP handset

In this blog post, I’ll explain these perceived limitations in some more detail and explain how your business can easily overcome them.

The main limitations of VoIP telephone systems

There are a lot of good reasons to move over to a Voice over Internet Protocol telephone system. In fact, I’ve written a few posts about them (The benefits of VoIP for small businesses, is VoIP better than traditional PSTN?, and are VoIP telephone systems reliable?)

However, there are limitations too. Fortunately, the vast majority of VoIP limitations can be overcome or prevented in some way. To recap, here are the main limitations or notable concerns that businesses have with VoIP:

  • Reliance upon your internet connection
  • Poor voice quality
  • Dependence upon your VoIP handset
  • The complexity of setting up and managing a VoIP telephone system

All of these limitations can be overcome so that they’re no longer a concern for your business. Here’s each limitation and how you can overcome them.

VoIP relies on your internet connection

VoIP is very reliable in general but there’s one big drawback that gets pointed out time and time again: communication using your VoIP telephone system is only possible if you have an internet connection.

There’s no denying that this is a significant limitation. You never know when your internet connection is going to drop, so having a telephone system reliant upon your connection is a concern. However, there are ways to circumvent the problem of VoIP being reliant upon having a connection.

  • Backup broadband connection
  • Built-in call continuity features
  • Have softphones on your employees’ devices (calls possible using 4G/5G)

Backup internet connection

Installing a backup internet connection for businesses using voice over IP telephone systems is commonplace. It’s the primary way to protect businesses from losing their telephone system in the case of their main internet connection dropping. With a backup internet connection, you can ensure that you don’t lose your telephone system if you lose your broadband.

If your business uses a VoIP telephone system, it’s more important than ever to have something in place in case your internet drops.

If you have a backup connection, your VoIP phone system and other technologies will automatically switch connection if your primary connection fails. This ensures VoIP resiliency, no matter what happens to your primary connection. Since the connections are from separate providers, you protect yourself if the loss of connection is an ISP issue.

Built-in call continuity features

When assessing which VoIP system would best meet your requirements, ask the provider if the system has any built-in call continuity features. If your internet drops, call continuity features protect your business.

Built-in call continuity can take many shapes. Some providers offer an automatic failover function, where all calls are instantly routed to another location if the intended target phones lose connectivity. With some providers, it’s as simple as phoning them up and requesting they set up a call divert for you until your internet connection returns.

Virtual number managers enable you to easily put a call divert in place. If your internet connection drops, you can forward all your calls to one or multiple phone numbers.

For hosted VoIP customers with handsets, customers can simply take their handsets to a location with an internet connection, plug them in and then work as usual. If you have more than one office nearby, your staff can simply move to the other office and continue working as usual. Alternatively, your employees can take their handsets home and plug them into their home connections to continue working productively.

Most VoIP telephone systems these days have the built-in continuity and redundancy features that I’ve mentioned above. However, remember to check that your provider has these features available before you choose to go with them.

Have softphones on your employees’ devices (calls possible using 4G/5G)

A softphone is a piece of software that can be installed on internet-enabled devices, such as desktop PCs, laptops, and mobile phones. I previously wrote a post about softphones that you can read here. The majority of VoIP providers offer a softphone, which allows you to use all the features of your VoIP telephone system on all of your internet-enabled devices.

Example image of a softphone installed on a laptop. Paired with a microphone and speaker (laptops usually have both built in) you’ll be able to make and receive calls.

Softphone benefits include easy remote working and enhanced collaboration between teams. However, this software can also protect you in a crisis. How? If you have softphones installed on your employees’ mobile devices, they’ll be able to make and receive calls using your cloud-based telephone system using 3G, 4G, and 5G connectivity. Providing your employees have 3G-,4G-, or 5G-capable devices and enough data, the full functionality of your VoIP system will be available on their mobile phones.

Even if your main office internet connection drops, your employees can still work in the office and you won’t miss any calls. If you don’t want your employees to use their own data, you could invest in a backup 4G router. In the case of your physical internet connection dropping, your team can connect to the 4G router and still make and receive calls via the softphone software.

So as you can probably tell, you’re not so reliant upon your main internet connection after all! Should your main internet connection be down, there are several ways to ensure that you can still make and receive calls.

VoIP has poor voice quality

In the early days of VoIP, poor voice quality was the norm. We’ve all had a choppy Skype call with audio lag! Nowadays, calls with poor voice quality are absolutely avoidable. If your calls are poor quality, it’s probably not the VoIP telephone system itself that is causing the issue; instead, it’s likely one of the following:

  • Not enough upload/download capacity
  • The codec you’re using
  • How your network is configured

These are all issues you can quickly overcome to improve the poor voice quality of calls using your VoIP telephone system. I’ll explain a bit more about each issue as well as how you can overcome them.

Not enough upload/download capacity

You will experience poor quality calls if your broadband connection doesn’t have enough upload or download capacity.

Generally the following applies:

If you don’t have enough download capacity, you will hear the other person cutting out. If the person you’re calling says you’re audio is choppy and cutting out, your upload capacity is the issue.

If you’re experiencing bandwidth limitations as I’ve outlined above, there’s an easy resolution: upgrade your internet connection. You don’t actually need a great deal of bandwidth for VoIP (you can read more about that in my blog post How Much Bandwidth Do I Need For VoIP?) so if you’re having bandwidth-related issues your connection isn’t sufficient.

If there’s a reason that you cannot upgrade your internet connection, read on to my next point about codecs. The codec you use will affect how much dedicated bandwidth you need per concurrent call.

The codec you’re using

It’s not always going to be possible to upgrade your internet connection. For example, you might live in a location where there’s no better connection than the one you already have. In that case, you have to look at other options such as changing to another codec that requires less bandwidth.

The codec your system uses is only really a problem if you don’t have a good connection with decent bandwidth. Each VoIP call requires a certain amount of dedicated bandwidth.

If you’re using one of the more bandwidth-hungry codecs, you will struggle if you don’t have the dedicated bandwidth that you need.

Some codecs require much less bandwidth than others. For example, here is a table comparing the bandwidth required by different VoIP codecs.

Bandwidth Required By Popular VoIP Codecs

CodecBandwidth Needed
Silk6 - 40Kbps

As you can see, some codecs require much more bandwidth than others. The G.711 requires over double the bandwidth needed by the G.729 codec. This could pose an issue if your system is using the G.711 codec but you can’t guarantee you have the bandwidth you need.

The bandwidth required above doubles with each concurrent call. For example, if you are using the G.711 and need to make 5 concurrent calls, you will need at least 500Kbps upstream and downstream. With all the other processes consuming bandwidth in your office, you may struggle with a poor connection such as ADSL.

If your VoIP calls are poor quality because of your broadband connection, try changing the codec that you are using. You might find that it improves the quality of your calls significantly.

How your network is configured

The way your network is configured will affect whether your VoIP calls are good quality or not. There are two main network configuration issues that can cause VoIP problems:

  1. Incorrectly configured QoS settings: QoS, which means Quality of Service, is a term that covers settings that enable you to prioritise voice traffic over any other type of traffic at router-level. If you haven’t configured your Quality of Service settings, or you’re not using them at all, this could be another reason for VoIP calls regularly dropping.
  2. Not using a VLAN for VoIP:  By placing your VoIP phones on their own VLAN, you’ll separate all VoIP traffic from the rest of your traffic. An optimisation such as this enables you to prioritise VoIP traffic over anything else, hopefully preventing low-quality audio calls in the future. If you look after your network yourself, this is a quick change to enact. If a business or a member of your team is responsible for looking after your network, find out if your VoIP is on its own VLAN.

If your network isn’t configured correctly, you could face a lot of issues.

Dependence upon your VoIP handset

If you have IP handsets in your office, what happens if your internet connection goes down, or your hardphones are unavailable for some other reason? A concern I hear time and time again is that businesses are concerned about being dependent upon their handsets. In actuality, you’re less dependent on your handsets when using VoIP versus when you’re using a traditional telephone system.

If you can’t use your handsets for any reason, there are numerous workarounds that are perfectly serviceable and will still allow your employees to work effectively.

  • Use the soft client/softphone your provider offers
  • Divert your calls to other numbers such as mobile phones

I’ll explain each of these two options in a bit more detail.

Use the soft client/softphone your provider offers

As I explained earlier in this blog post, a soft client/softphone gives you all the functionality of your VoIP telephone system and IP handsets within an application.

This is an application that you can install on any internet-enabled device with a microphone and speaker. For example, a soft client can usually be installed on:

  • Smartphone
  • Tablet
  • Laptop
  • Desktop PC

The soft client enables you to make and receive calls using your office telephone number. Furthermore, soft clients usually include extra features such as instant messaging between teams.

If, for whatever reason, your VoIP handsets are not working, your employees can move over to using the soft client on their devices. As long as they have an internet connection of some kind, whether that’s wired, wireless, or mobile broadband, they’ll be able to make and receive calls.

Divert your calls to other numbers such as mobile phones

If you don’t have soft clients or you’ve lost your internet connection and can’t use them, you can divert your calls to other numbers such as mobile phone numbers. This won’t enable your team to make calls using the office number. However, it will mean that they can still receive calls which is obviously the priority if you lose your internet connection.

As I briefly mentioned earlier in this blog post, you can easily divert all your calls to other numbers using a fairly intuitive interface. If you missed the image earlier in the blog post, here’s another example from a different platform that shows what you can expect.

In the platform shown above, you can select ‘Edit’ to enter the number that you want your calls forwarded to. Once you click ‘Edit’ and select ‘Save’, you can then click ‘Activate’ to put the call divert in place.

It really is as easy as that to point all your calls to another number.

Hopefully this blog post has helped you to see beyond the perceived drawbacks of VoIP. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell has been the Operations manager at telecoms and MSP Optionbox for more than 4 years. He has played a crucial role in the company, from marketing to helpdesk, and ensures that the IT requirements of over 300 clients are continuously met. With his innate passion for technology and troubleshooting and a particular interest in Apple products, Jack now delivers the most comprehensive tech guides to make your life easier. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn.

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