Whether you are looking to deploy VoIP (Voice over IP) in the form of PC-installed VoIP software or dedicated SIP phones, there is no escaping the importance of good network infrastructure to support the flow of digitalized voice data. Indeed, a poorly performing network is likely to have a detrimental or even adverse effect on mission critical VoIP communications.


With this in mind, we want to highlight a number of tips to help enhance your network environment for VoIP — without breaking the bank.


1. Upgrade to Gigabit Ethernet


Businesses still relying on Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) network switches may want to seriously consider swapping it out in favor of Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) equipment. The latter offers 10 times the theoretical throughput, and prices have dropped so much that even entry-level switching equipment today offers GbE as standard. In addition, desktops, servers, and laptops purchased over the last couple of years should already offer support for GbE, which means that the sum cost for a network-wide enhancement may be as low as the price tag of a network switch.


Even organizations that rely primarily on wireless networking stand to benefit from running gigabit on the core network. Moreover, only GbE offers sufficient bandwidth to properly support faster 802.11n Wi-Fi implementations (300Mbps or 450Mbps), as well as the next-gen 802.11ac standard.


2. Favor Wired Over Wireless


Experienced network administrators will always prefer a wired network over wireless for data intensive applications such as VoIP, regardless of the numbers printed on a Wi-Fi access point’s (AP) specifications sheet. As such, always look to deploy wired Ethernet where it makes sense to do so. Such a strategy helps to free up limited wireless bandwidth in order to better support laptops and BYOD devices such as smartphones and tablets — including the VoIP software that may be running on them.


3. Establish a Separate Network for Voice


One common technique on wired networks is to prioritize voice data packets over other data packets. While an excellent idea, such an implementation may require the use of more expensive hardware that may not be cost efficient for smaller businesses. Organizations that rely heavily on their network for computer file transfers, such as engineering firms and graphic design houses, may want to consider running a separate wired network for their SIP hardware phones. This is possible due to the low per-port price of Ethernet switches. Also, networks that have been upgraded to gigabit Ethernet can always reuse their old Fast Ethernet equipment for VoIP.


4. Internet Connectivity


We all know intuitively that Internet speed and reliability are important considerations in order to properly support VoIP. However, it is worth noting that lower-end Internet plans don’t typically come with any uptime guarantees, while higher-end “business-grade” plans tend to cost significantly more. Regardless, most SLA (Service Level Agreement) doesn’t guarantee zero downtime, and certainly none will compensate your business losses when the phones stop ringing.


One obvious but often overlooked strategy to further reduce the chances of an Internet outage downing your business would be to sign up with a second ISP. This should be preferably over a different physical medium than the primary Internet line, such as phone line (ADSL), fiber optics, cable Internet, or even mobile wireless (3G/4G LTE). Connectivity could either be load-balanced with a hardware appliance or router, or set as failover should the primary link fail. While infrastructure limitations in some regions may prevent such a setup, this should not be a problem in most cities.


Have any additional tips? Please share in the comments section below.