Choppy Voice Issues and What to Do About It

Back in the 1930s and 40s, a dance craze swept America called “the jitterbug.” Well, here we are nearly a century later, and a different kind of jitterbug is happening — except instead of inspiring people to take a swirl on the dance floor, this one is provoking people to say: “HELLO? HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Yes, we are talking about choppy voice issues.

Sadly, choppy voice issues (a.k.a. jitter) impact some Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) users. But the good news is that in many cases, the issues are solved by increasing bandwidth. In this article, we take a closer look at choppy voice issues and what to do about them. We will also look at how upload and download speeds affect VoIP.

What is Jitter, Anyway?

Let’s start by answering a basic, but important question: just what is jitter, anyway? Well, the simplest way to understand it is by comparing it to a traffic jam. Under normal conditions, cars travel at (or near) the posted speed limit.

However, as we all know — especially those of us in Greensboro, NC when we’re driving that section of I-40/85 from US-29 to the 40/85 — an excess number of cars triggers those two awful words: traffic jam!

In the same sense, VoIP voice packets can get “jammed up,” causing them to get delayed or rerouted. When this happens, choppy audio is one of the main symptoms.  

Thankfully, though, improving upload and download speed and solving VoIP traffic jams is much, much easier, faster, and cheaper than dealing with road traffic jams.

VoIP Itself is NOT the Issue

Another key thing to keep in mind is that if you are experiencing choppy voice — or are worried about dealing with this if you upgrade from a conventional landline phone to VoIP — that VoIP services, itself, does NOT cause jitter. The root cause is the network itself, or any of its components (e.g. the router).

Main Causes of Jitter

There are three main causes of jitter: a poor network connection, a congested network, and hardware issues.

Poor Network Connection

We have all experienced a poor network connection while using public WiFi in a coffee shop, hotel, airport, and so on. Yes, we can (usually) log onto the network. But due to insufficient bandwidth, even something as simple as streaming a YouTube video is tedious at best, and impossible at worst. And as for making video calls, as they say in New York City: fuhgeddaboudit!

Well, a bad office connection — either Wifi or wired — is definitely going to degrade VoIP performance and lead to choppy voice and other issues.

Solving this common problem is straightforward, and typically involves a combination of increasing bandwidth (through the Internet Provider), upgrading routers, and upgrading ethernet cable. This latter tactic can be especially helpful. A surprising number of businesses with a wired (LAN) connection are using Cat5 ethernet cable. This effectively limits transfer speeds to a maximum of 100 Mbps (note this is the maximum — the average transfer speed can be much lower, especially during peak usage periods).

At Carolina Digital Phone, we strongly recommend Cat5e or Cat6 ethernet cable, both of which support speeds up to 1000 Mbps, which is a whopping 10x more than Cat5!

Congested Network

We already covered this when we looked at the traffic jam example. When too many VoIP packets are cross-crossing along the network, there isn’t enough “room” for them to travel at optimal speeds — which forces them to slow down and leads to issues like choppy voice.

Solving this can involve increasing the bandwidth, and configuring quality of service settings to give VoIP traffic priority on the network. Additionally, this corrects jitter buffers that may be too small or too large. Either scenario will degrade call quality and cause packet loss, choppy voice, and echo.

In some cases, it may be necessary to switch the Internet Service Provider, if promised bandwidth speeds and Internet connections are at an acceptable level. 

Hardware Issues

All hardware has an “end-of-life” point, and if your routers and modems have reached that point — or if they are in some other way defective, damaged, or even dusty and dirty — then you could experience choppy voice. Cleaning, fixing, or replacing hardware can lead to dramatic improvement.

How We Ensure Upload Speeds Don’t Affect VoIP and Cause Choppy Voice

At Carolina Digital Phone, we ensure that our customers get full value from their VoIP phone system through a comprehensive quality assurance (QA) framework, which ensures the highest level of VoIP call quality. Our QA framework includes the following:

Pre-Implementation Site Survey

Before we implement a cloud telephone system on our customers’ premises (i.e. installing managed routers, backup power supplies, IP phones, etc.), we conduct a comprehensive site survey to evaluate critical network aspects, such as usage patterns, traffic flows, WAN bandwidth usage, switches, and more. This deep analysis process enables our team to adjust and optimize the infrastructure as required, in order to optimize internet speed for both audio quality and streaming video quality.

User Experience Review

Our user experience review is integrated into the pre-implementation site survey process. The focus here is not on the technology (yet), but more on the people: who will use the system, when, and how (e.g. concurrent calls). Our experts use this data to ensure that once the system is implemented, it will be immediately ready to support anticipated usage.

Quality of Service Prioritization

Another key part of our QA framework is analyzing and validating QoS settings . Here, we ensure that the system is given suitable priority throughout different points of the network. This helps prevent delays in packet delivery, packet loss, and other quality issues.

Establishing Metrics

Our team also relies on a range of tools to monitor and optimize performance. The metrics that we analyze include (but are not limited to) jitter, burst density, compression, gap density, R-factor, mean opinion score (MOS), and many others. We also monitor user experience by focusing on key network performance metrics, such as codecs, VLAN configuration, link utilization, etc.

Installing Resolution Tools

As the wise saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We install tools that enable us to monitor and resolve potential poor call quality issues that may months or years in the future, such as using VLANs organized by user groups to keep an eye on traffic patterns, setting alarms to detect when voice traffic/usage patterns deviate from typical baseline norms, etc.

The Bottom Line

Perhaps the best thing about our comprehensive QA framework is the price that our customers pay: NOTHING! It is part of our enhanced offering. Because we know that dancing the jitterbug is fun (hey, retro is trendy, right?), but dealing with choppy voice, echo, and other issues isn’t!

To learn more about how we ensure VoIP quality of service, call us at (336) 544-4000. Discover why we are the VoIP provider that businesses choose, trust, and recommend. Your consultation is free!