Working from home has become the new normal for many of us since March last year. While it’s allowed us to keep the cogs turning during uncertain times, it’s not without its own unique challenges – calls and video conferences are interrupted several times a day by Amazon, dogs demanding walkies, inquisitive children, and of course, the person who sounds and moves like a robot on the other end. In this blog, we’re going to help you fix your call quality issues whilst you sip your coffee from the comfort of your living room.
If you do experience poor call quality, the gut reaction is to get in touch with your IT department or with your telecoms provider and get them to fix it. After all, poor quality is not only a rubbish experience for you, but it makes you wonder what the important contact on the other end of the call is thinking.
However, before you ask IT or your comms provider to step in, remember that most homeworking telephony solutions involve the internet – your personal connection – in some way. One study conducted last year found that 30% of homeworkers reported frequent or occasional connectivity issues since Coronavirus sent them home.
Even if the internet isn’t at fault, call quality is a complex issue and has a lot of moving parts. And yes, we will freely admit sometimes your telephony service is just having a bad day. However, before you raise a ticket, here are some things you can check yourself. You may just find you resolve your own issue (and can add IT superhero to your list of qualifications). If not, it will really help your communications provider continue with troubleshooting should you need them.
How to fix call quality issues whilst at home:
1. One-off or all the time?
Or put another way, how frequently are you experiencing call quality issues? If it’s a one-off, don’t panic. It’s more than likely the issue was caused by the person you were speaking to and has nothing to do with your own setup. Continue to monitor, and if you see a recurrence over the next couple of days, continue with our troubleshooting steps below.
2. Is it just me?
Ok, so the problem is recurring more often than you’d like. The next thing to do is speak to your colleagues – call their mobile, ping them on Teams, WhatsApp them, whatever. Just find out if anyone else is experiencing the same issue. The more people having problems, the more likely it is the telephony service itself is at fault. If it’s just you though, keep troubleshooting.
3. Too many cooks (or devices)…
If too many cooks spoil the pot the same can be said for too many devices spoiling a connection. Chances are you have a limited amount of bandwidth that will be shared between everything connected to your service. How many other devices are connected to the internet in your home? What are those devices doing? Things that eat up a lot of bandwidth tend to be anything that’s done in real-time, such as video calling, streaming (Netflix, Prime, iPlayer), gaming etc. Check with the other people in your house. Does call quality improve when these devices aren’t connected? If so, you’ve found your issue. If not, there’s still some checking to do.
4. Speed test is best
The next thing to do is to run a speed test. Blackstar recommends speedtest.net. It’s best to run the speed test while you’re experiencing the issue – so preferably while you’re on a call that’s experiencing poor quality. You should be able to get a result during even a quick phone conversation. Once you have the result, look at the download and upload speeds – are they anywhere near what you should be getting? What about the ping result? Ping is measuring the latency on your connection. In voice terms, latency is the amount of time it takes the caller’s voice to reach your ear. Anything less than 70ms here is acceptable and your ear will interpret that as real-time. Anything above 70ms, or significantly low download or upload speeds will need to be raised to your ISP. If everything looks tickety-boo, move on to the next step.
5. Wear a wire
The next thing to determine is whether the way you’re accessing the internet could be causing you problems. Are you connected via WiFi or plugged directly into your router? If you’re using WiFi, try switching to a wired connection if at all possible. If the issue goes away, it could be the router’s WiFi or your computer’s WiFi network adaptor causing your call quality headache. Try rebooting your router and if the issue persists, you’ll need to get in touch with IT about your network adaptor. If call quality doesn’t improve over a wired connection – you guessed it – there are still a few more things to check to fix your call quality issues.
6. SIP ALG, yeah you know me
Now we’re getting really technical. We need to determine if there are any other settings on your internet connection or router which could be playing havoc with calls. Probably the biggest culprit here is a service called SIP ALG. When enabled on your router, SIP ALG inspects all of the packets of data travelling over your network connection and potentially changes what it finds. When that comes to voice packets, it changes the header which makes the router receiving that packet unable to decipher it. That router effectively says “I have no idea what you want me to do with this” and will drop that voice packet. Dropped packets = silence. Or put another way, you don’t hear that word or phrase. Too many dropped packets = poor call quality. Give your ISP a call and ask if SIP ALG is enabled on your router, and if so, can they do anything about it. Heads up, Virgin Media Routers are the most notorious offenders for having ALG turned on. If SIP ALG is disabled, back to the drawing board.
7. Spot the difference
If you’ve gone through all of the above and you’re still having call quality issues, time to rule out your internet connection completely. Are you able to try a different connection? This could include tethering to your mobile phone if possible, or monitoring for quality issues when you’re using your telephony service in a different location, like the office. Some home working telephony services also have a mobile client available. If yours does, try removing your mobile from your WiFi and using the client on the mobile network. If quality improves, it’s definitely your internet and you should raise a ticket with your ISP. If quality issues persist on the different network, we can effectively rule out your internet as the cause of your issues.
8. You get what you pay for
This is especially true with headsets. Before you raise a ticket, if you are a headset user, you’ll need to do a quick assessment. Is your headset fit for purpose – is it a business-grade device? These tend to be from trusted manufacturers such as Poly, EPOS or Jabra. If you’re using the earbuds that came with your mobile, or something you paid a tenner for on Amazon, that could be the cause of your problem. Try using the computer’s built-in microphone and speakers if possible. If the quality improves, you have a pretty good business case for a new device. Sometimes the high-quality devices fail too, so if your headset is decent and you’re still having an issue that doesn’t happen with the built in audio hardware on your computer, time to get into the really techy stuff.
9. The IT crowd
Ok, now it’s probably time to get your IT department involved if you have one. Ask them to check your firewall settings – is there anything there that could be blocking those voice packets? If you need to use a VPN to use your telephony solution at home, ask IT if split tunneling is enabled. This is another feature that will not play nicely with voice calls. If the issue STILL hasn’t gone away, it sounds like you have a genuine problem with your service. Only one more thing to do…
10. Examples, examples, examples
Time to log a ticket with your communications provider. Before you do though, remember you are not the only person who uses your telephony solution. Your company is not the only company that does either. The engineer dealing with your ticket will have hundreds of thousands of calls to sift through while trying to find yours. To make this job easier for them (that means a faster resolution for you), be sure to provide three examples of poor-quality calls within the last 48 hours when you log the ticket. Your call examples need to include:
- The date and time of the call
- The direction – inbound or outbound
- The telephone number you were dialling / of the person who called
- Was it an internal/external call
Even if going through all of those steps to fix your call quality issues at home did not work, if you can log a ticket with your comms provider and submit all of that information, and your three examples, they are going to think you’re a superhero. You’ve given them a lot of useful information to work with and will save them time in their troubleshooting, meaning you should see a faster resolution.