Delivering Quality of Experience for VoIP and VoLTE customers is challenging, far more so than is the case with legacy network voice services. Successfully meeting the challenge, given the booming market opportunity VoIP and VoLTE represent, is therefore essential.
Voice remains a key service and it’s largely delivered via one form of IP or another. Unfortunately, there are quality issues that can undermine voice performance – shifting it from something that we take for granted (and expect) to something that we can get really rather upset about.
These issues are not new – indeed, most of us have experienced them directly. 85% of users who use a VoIP service are reported to experience issues with the software. 69.5% of businesses say the most important feature they look for when choosing a VoIP service is reliability. Taking all these (and other) numbers into account, something has to give.
Alongside the predominance of VoIP, VoLTE is now emerging and set to become even more important for mobile operators as 3G networks are gradually closed down. VoLTE is essentially an IP-based service too – but it’s one controlled by mobile operators and is designed to provide enhanced experiences. As a result, it’s even more important to ensure consistent quality for VoLTE services.
Moreover, 3G network shutdown means that fallback to circuit switched networks (which happens when a VoLTE user needs to speak with a non-VoLTE user, or when roaming – as few operators have implemented VoLTE roaming at this point) won’t be an option for much longer. That shift will change the dynamic – operators delivering VoLTE roaming have to be sure they get it right. All the time.
The reality is that VoIP and to a lesser extent VoLTE, (as though natively IP based, it’s designed to address some of the issues that affect the former and provide a superior experience) calls can be impaired by a wide range of issues and to address them requires identifying the root cause of problems. That’s not always easy to do. The problem to be overcome is essentially one of complexity.
In traditional, circuit-switched networks specific resources were allocated to all voice calls so problem identification was reasonably straightforward. In packet-switched networks designed to carry data traffic, this isn’t the case. Multiple different elements (from routers to handsets themselves) can affect the quality of a call meaning that ensuring quality of service is far more difficult to achieve (not least because the source of issues is far harder to identify).
To understand better the variety here, let’s look at five common VoIP service issues.
How many times have you been on a call, and, at a critical moment, the speaker’s voice disappears (usually, but not always, a bad thing!) And then, you’re suddenly left asking the speaker to repeat themselves, sometimes more than once. The issue here is usually bandwidth capacity or, if you’re using an Internet connection, it might be packet loss. The corollaries are network disruption, slow service, and poor call quality. Often, when these issues arise bandwidth-hungry services like audio and video are the first to suffer.
If you’re a regular VoIP or VoLTE user, you’ve probably experienced this one too: voice echoes on your call. This is likely the result of either an issue with your device, headset lag, or a network latency problem. To address it, first you must isolate where the problem lies and only then can you work on a fix which may well, in the third case, require improving network stability.
If there are network stability or bandwidth issues, then the default response of the network will be to try to avoid dropping the call at all costs. To do this, it will “lower” the call to the most reliable (which means lowest bandwidth) audio format, meaning call quality will suffer even though the call is maintained. But where’s the issue occurring? It could be in your own network, or it could be in the network of the person with whom you’re communicating. In either case, there’s a network performance issue to address, if you can find it.
We’ve all experienced speaking into the ether. You know the drill. The call starts; you’re speaking; no one can hear you. Most often, this is the result of a firewall blocking RTP packets and the solution requires an adjusted SIP protocol or the opening of additional ports to allow traffic to pass.
You’re most likely familiar with this one, too – calls that suddenly end mid-conversation with no warning at all. The problem here may be related to traffic volume (it’s a particularly common issue at call centres where volume is high) or it may be related to software, hardware, or equipment that hasn’t been updated. It may also be a deeper-lying issue such as, if calls consistently drop after a specific time, automatic disconnects may be in place. Regardless of which, the issue has to be identified quickly and adjustments made.
The five problems listed above are common, but they’re far from the only ones that beset VoIP/VoLTE and impact quality of service. The point is that they provide a flavour of the challenges network operators face, and a sense of the complexity to be addressed in order to solve them.
At Utel, we’ve developed a solution to the issue that enables operators to assure VoIP Quality of Experience confidently via a Voice Recording and Playback module. While this blog isn’t the place for a deep dive, in simple terms the module is deployed on a media server and interacts with both network monitoring systems and network probes. It enables recording of selected calls for analysis.
By alerting the operator to an issue, it can then listen to the problem call in question, analyse any adverse network events, and identify the root cause(s) for the poor voice quality the customer experienced.
As an operator, whether you are offering VoIP or VoLTE (or both), the module provides you with an effective diagnostic tool to respond to voice call issues – and handle customer complaints. And regardless of the transport mechanism, you need to ensure your services are delivered consistently and at higher quality than your competitors, who in some cases may neither own networks nor be able to control quality and performance to the extent that are you are able to.
Utel also provides a complete Real-Time Network Monitoring solution that helps operators accrue advantages in the areas we’ve discussed in this blog and others.
Based on virtual probes, analytics functions and dashboards, Utel technology helps telcos to gain greater control of how their networks are performing, improve service assurance, and benefit from an enhanced ability to deliver the best possible experience to their customers – across all relevant interfaces.
If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch directly by clicking here.