IT professionals managing business phone services have faced a lot of difficulty in 2020. With so many workers suddenly moving to a distributed model, means not only a careful reorganization of how your phone is system is constructed, but it also adds network layer challenges since now much of your business communication is happening over unmanaged home networks. That’s difficult enough for simple voice communications, but most of these services also deliver additional communication channels, like team chatting, conference calling, video conferencing, and even electronic faxing. This is making things very tricky for VoIP-saddled administrators running into common VoIP network issues, especially those rolling out a new VoIP service or even just getting into VoIP for the first time.
1. What Kinds of Calls Does Your Business Make?
Before we get into networking specifics, there’s some prep work you should do. First, figure out what the majority of your company’s phone calls are about. Do you do a lot of sales over the phone? Handle a big help desk internally or to customers outside the organization? Are your workers at their desks most of the time or in the field? And a big one is: Are some of these common voice conversations moving to another medium, like chat? Figuring out the basic blue print of how your business communicates is key to choosing the features you’ll want in a phone service as well as planning for how to implement them.
2. Test Your Cabling
This is a no-brainer but, now that you’re making the switch to VoIP, you’ll need not only enough Ethernet cables to connect your devices to the internet, but also the right Ethernet cables. Peterson recommends buying Cat 6 cables if you can afford them. These cables can typically support up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) at 250 MHz for up to 328 feet. You can get 1,000 feet for anywhere from $90 to $170. Just remember that if you’re interested in running such a fast network of Ethernet, you’ll likely also have to upgrade your networking infrastructure. Most SMB network devices default to a single gigabit rather than 10. Additionally, there are often some reliability and tweaking issues that go along with such a fast network, so if you’re upgrading both your cables and your network infrastructure, too, then it pays to check out alternatives to Ethernet for 10 gigabit per second (Gbps) traffic, especially fiber.
3. Design a Better Power Plan
Most vendors will tell you that the easiest way to ensure you’re getting power to your VoIP phones is to do it via Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE simply lets lets devices that aren’t plugged into AC sources pull that juice right through your Ethernet network, generally from the nearest device to which they’re connected. So for phones, that’s often the PC sitting right next to them or the router or switch in the closet down the hall. It sounds strange to newcomers, but if you look around, you’ll probably see some examples of PoE around you right now. Companies use PoE for surveillance cameras, ceiling-mounted access points, and even LED lights.
4. Explore the VLAN Option
There’s lots of stuff competing for the limited space on your network. Every web page your employees open, every database query, every new customer relationship management (CRM) record, it’s all running over the same wires. And for software, that’s not a big deal as the network contains features that let data “heal” itself should a packet go missing or arrive at its destination a little late. Voice, however, is a different animal since it’s a real-time application. The last few syllables of your sales pitch can’t be healed if they arrive late, they’re just dropped, which means your customer will hear static. You don’t want that and there are several ways that network administrators and VoIP providers can configure your network to avoid. One of the most popular is the virtual LAN (VLAN).
5. Use Access Point Handoff to Manage Traffic
Mobile VoIP is becoming a popular solution in many business settings, partially because it adds flexibility to certain workloads and partially because it reduces data transfer costs over mobile devices. That’s essentially done by automatically having voice communications move to your Wi-Fi network whenever your company-owned mobile devices see your on-premises network. But many of the same challenges network managers face when adding voice traffic to their wired network are mirrored when it moves to wireless.
6. Flex Your Firewall
Peterson suggests taking any vendor’s maximum published throughput with a grain of salt. “This is not enough of a benchmark for how much media you can drive through a firewall,” he explained. If you don’t have someone in your organization who can help you determine the difference between media and data traffic, then contact a professional, which companies like RingCentral or Intermedia are usually happy to provide.