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Achieving Quality VoIP from the Cloud

5 Aug 2013

It is indisputable that hosted, cloud-based Voice over IP (VoIP) and IP-PBX technologies are gaining traction, primarily because they reduce costs for equipment, lines, manpower, and maintenance. But there are stumbling blocks - namely around reliability, quality and weak or non-existent failover capabilities - that are keeping businesses from fully committing.

Fortunately, there are new and emerging technologies that can optimize performance without the need for costly upgrades to premium Internet services. These technologies also protect VoIP services from jitter, latency caused by slow network links, and other common unpredictable behaviors of IP networks that impact VoIP performance. For example, Broadband Bonding, a technique that bonds various Internet lines into a single connection, boosts connectivity speeds and improves management of the latency within an IP tunnel. Advanced algorithms can closely monitor WAN links and are able to make intelligent decisions about each packet of traffic ensure nothing is ever late or lost during communication.

VoIP Gains Market Share

The global VoIP services market, including residential and business VoIP services, totaled $63 billion in 2012, up 9 percent from 2011, according to market research firm Infonetics. The combined business and residential VoIP services market is forecasted to grow to $82.7 billion in 2017, Infonetics says. While the residential segment makes up the majority of VoIP services revenue, real growth is in the business segment. Managed IP-PBX services, which focus on dedicated enterprise systems, remain the largest business VoIP services segment.

According to Harbor Ridge Capital research from 2012, there are a number of reasons for VoIP's growth. Among them: the reduction in capital investments and the flexibility hosted VoIP provides, enabling businesses to scale up or down their VoIP services as needed. However, the mergers and acquisitions advisory firm points out a number of challenges, among them the need to improve the quality of service and meet customer expectations for reliability and ease of use.

But VolP Isn't Always Reliable

No business can really afford a dropped call or a garbled message left in voicemail. But these mishaps do occur when using pure hosted VoIP services, largely because they are reliant on the performance of the IP tunnel through which the communications must travel. IP tunnels are inevitably congested and routing is unpredictable, two factors that contribute to jitter, defined as the variation in the time between packets arriving at their destinations. Jitter can cause clicks or other undesired effects in audio signals, and the loss of transmitted data between network devices. Latency - the time between when a voice packet is transmitted and the moment it reaches its destination - can cause delays and lead to echo.

Data and voice traffic fight it out for Internet bandwidth. IP-PBX servers placed in a data centers or at the company's headquarters can help by providing some protection over pure hosted VoIP services. They offer multiple WAN interfaces that let businesses add additional links to serve as backups if one fails. Businesses can also take advantage of the various functions that an IP-PBX system offers, such as unlimited extensions and voice mail boxes, caller ID customizing, conferencing, interactive voice response and more. But IP-PBXes are still reliant on the WAN performance and offer limited monitoring features. Some hosted VoIP services include a hosted IP-PBX, which typically include back-up and storage and failover functions, as well as limited monitoring.

Boosting Performance through Bonding and Armor

Several technologies have been developed to improve the performance, reliability and intelligence of a range of Internet connection applications, including VoIP services. WAN virtualization, along with Broadband Bonding, has proven highly effective. WAN virtualization is a software-based technology that uncouples operating systems and applications from the physical hardware, so that infrastructure can be consolidated and application and communications resources can be pooled within virtualized environments. The technology adds intelligence and management, allowing network managers to dynamically build a simpler, higher-performing IP pipe out of real WAN resources, including existing private WANs and various Internet WAN links like DSL, cable, fiber, wireless and others.

Broadband Bonding is recent technique that melds various numbers of Internet lines into a single connection. Using this technique provides faster connectivity via the sum of all the line speeds as well, as intelligent management of the latency within the tunnel. The solution is cost-effective, even for global firms that have hundreds of branch offices scattered around the world, because it can be used with existing infrastructures, enabling disparate offices to have the same level of connectivity as the headquarters without the outlay of too much capital. The end result is a faster connection with multiple built-in redundancies that can automatically shield negative network events and outages from the applications such as VoIP. Broadband Bonding also combines the best attributes of the various connections, boosting speeds and reliability.

Additionally, new "armor" technology, has been developed to shield VoIP services from the negative effects of IP jitter, latency, packet drops, link disconnects and other issues. This technology relies on Network Calculus, a unique research field of study in electrical engineering that is able to model and optimize communication resources. Through decision algorithms, it monitors traffic and refines routing in the aggregated, bonded pipe by enforcing application-specific goals, whether it's throughput or reduced latency.

The aforementioned technologies can optimize IP performance, boost connectivity speeds, improve monitoring and shield VoIP services from jitter, latency, packet loss, link loss and other unwanted behaviors that degrade performance. Such technologies also offer cost-effect models that can be implemented in a wide variety of environments.

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Dr. Cahit Jay Akin, is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Mushroom Networks, a privately held company based in San Diego, CA, providing broadband products and solutions for a range of Internet applications.

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