Softphone Quality: Poor audio quality self-help

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If you are experiencing poor audio quality, this is usually a sign of bad network conditions. Sometimes the softphone can experience call quality issues that Phonebooth desk phones do not because they may be on different networks.

Troubleshooting voice connections should be started with very basic tests, in most cases. These simple troubleshooting tests can give valuable, easy to identify information about potential problems and can be a quick start for just about anyone. Troubleshooting step by step can solve most voice issues.

Checking for packet loss

Voice connections are very susceptible to the loss of any packets due to the use of UDP as transmission. Even low amounts of packet loss can quickly degrade the quality of conversations, especially if the packets lost come in bursts. To check for packet loss, follow these steps:

  1. On Windows Start, then Run, and type in cmd and click on OK, which will open a command window. On OS X, open a Terminal.
  2. Type in the following ping pb2.bandwidth.com and then hit Enter. This will start a continuous ping in which you should see "Reply from" one after another until you stop the command. Allow about 100 to 150 pings watching for any "Request Timed Out" and jumps in time values.
  3. Hit Ctrl + C at the same time which will stop the test and display some summary information about the test.

If any packets are lost (Request timed out) then these lost packets will show up in ping statistics and percent loss. Any packet loss should be a concern with voice communications, especially if it is reproducible and not a one time aberration. Groups of packets lost will be noticeable by having voice loss. Packet loss in the 3% or higher range will make conversations degrade quite significantly.

Typical times should be in the 25ms to 75ms range and be fairly consistent by not jumping all over the place by significant amounts. If times jump 100ms or greater (i.e. go from 50ms to 150ms or more) then this would be a concern given that it happens sporadically. If you capture this type of event, do several more tests to see if it is chronic or an isolated incident.

Other tests

To help isolate the issue, the following steps should be taken with results recorded:

  • Try using the softphone on a different network. Easy for laptops but admitedly difficult for desktops. If you are experiencing call audio quality issues at work, use the softphone from home. Try both wired networks and WiFi networks. Be deductive in where the call quality is an issue.
  • Test the quality during a time when you can confirm there is NOT a lot of traffic. For instance, if you inconsistently have call audio quality, ensure you, or others on the same network, are not performing large downloads, watching YouTube, etc.
  • Lastly, to rule out your computer, check whether someone else on your network also is experiencing poor audio quality.
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