Cloud System Technology 101

By Wayne Scaggs

Has a salesperson ever said to you, “If you use the Internet with VoIP calls, your call quality will be bad, your Internet will go down, and you will lose customers?” It’s time to take the fear out of this statement and empower you with the knowledge to make an informed decision that is best for your business, not best for the salesperson.

We will start with a question: Who owns the Internet? While no one owns the Internet everyone owns an individual piece of the Internet. Owners such as AT&T, Verizon, Level3, and Time Warner are some of the bigger players, with massive amounts of infrastructure in place. Most everyone who reads this article is a stakeholder in the Internet. There are multiple Internets, too – the public Internet, the military Internet, the telephone companies’ private Internet for voice traffic, and a number of other private Internets with restricted access.

The Internet is a powerful and essential tool of modern day life. Without it our way of life would cease. Trillions of pieces of data travel over the Internet hourly. Our goal is to get our information to its destination on time and securely.

Not all the data on the Internet is equal. In our case, voice data is more critical than the visual screen data we work with. Voice is sampled, encoded at a high rate, and converted into data. That data is sent to a destination end point where the data is converted back to voice. The data packets must stay essentially in the same sequential order and flow rate as when the data left the originating point. If the data is out of sequence, the ear hears distorted sounds, and the voice may not be understandable. When things are not understood or are improperly implemented, unwanted results are the result, and the door is open for fear to step in and distort the truth.

The technical issues of a cloud system have three major components: 1) the servers, datacenter, and surrounding infrastructure; 2) the data transmission from the instant the data enters the Internet backbone to the instant the data leaves it; 3) the company’s infrastructure, which extends out to the provider.

Cloud Infrastructure: The servers, datacenter, and surrounding infrastructure refer to the datacenter with all the proper redundancies required. This should be as close to the Internet backbone as possible. It connects directly to VoIP calls through SIP ports. The datacenter is on the Internet backbone with multiple Internet providers and has backup power in the form of UPS and generators. The datacenter is accessible twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and strict security is enforced.

Data Transmission: Data transmission occurs from the instant the data enters the Internet backbone to the instant it leaves. This component has a major influence on the quality of the voice call center agents and callers hear. By far, the vast majority of voice connections are above acceptable quality for telephone conversation. So what happens when you have a bad call? One or more of the following three things likely caused it:

Delay (latency) happens when the callers seem to be talking over each other; the voice is so delayed that the other person has started to talk before all the voice data packets have reached the listener. Sometimes it’s similar to talking on a walkie-talkie because the delay is so bad. End-to-end delay must not exceed 230 milliseconds. Performing a ping test determines the extent of the delay. It is not the physical distance that matters as much as the latency of the data.

Jitter occurs when the voice data packets are not in the correct order or not flowing in a consistent manner, and the voice gateway is unable to correct for the flow of misaligned voice data packets. The resulting call, or portions of the call, will sound garbled; speech will be incomprehensible or choppy.

Voice data packet loss happens when a portion of the call data is lost. The caller might experience dead air, or the call will sound choppy. Data loss in one direction will cause one of the parties not to hear the other. Data loss must not exceed 10 percent to be considered an acceptable call.

These are the three key quality factors. However, they are not the only causes. Additional contributors to poor quality calls are:

  • The codec selected (G.711 to G.729) – a codec determines how much the voice is compressed
  • Insufficient bandwidth for both uploads and downloads
  • QoS (Quality of Service) required when bandwidth is marginal
  • An excessive number of hops in the signal path

Company Infrastructure: If you do not ask, you may not get the Internet service you require. You should ask your Internet provider to reveal the upload speed of the service. Internet providers advertise the download speed, but the upload speed is often considerably less. If the upload speed is not enough, the caller may not hear your voice. Internet service is often advertised as “up to” a certain speed, which means that if you get half of the advertised speed, the provider has delivered the service you bought. Instead always ask for dedicated or guaranteed speeds.

The information in this article is intended to inform you and help you make informed decisions regarding your business. The information not only applies to your call center system; it may also apply to any Internet connection you have. Underline what is important to you, and keep this article for future reference.

Wayne Scaggs is president of Alston Tascom, Inc., which offers premised-based and hosted contact center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

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