VoIP utilizes packet transmission to break down voice calls and send them over the internet. When you send information over the internet, there is always a small chance that these packets of data can be lost or become degraded. These data packets may not be lost permanently; the signal could have been interrupted via several performance issues.
Minimizing this loss is crucial so that the business does not suffer because reduced quality means a degraded customer experience during voice calls. Unified communications also require low packet loss because a lack of data integrity can mean reduced security, faulty file transfers, and jittering on calls and conferences. To minimize loss, let’s start by talking about what causes packet loss.
- What is Packet Loss?
- What Causes Packet Loss?
- How Can Packet Loss Impact Business?
- How to Detect Packet Loss
- The First Step to Fix Packet Loss is Careful Diagnosis
What is Packet Loss?
Everything that you send over the internet is considered an information packet. This can include emails, voice communication, and videos. When the information is sent, it will take the most efficient path, but sometimes the information does not make it successfully to the intended destination. The further the data has to travel, the more chance there will be errors during the transmittal.
Packet loss is when data over a VoIP system fails to be transmitted. When a person receives a call from a VoIP system, it starts as recorded sound that is then transmitted over the internet as packets. The packets are usually encrypted and reduced in size to ensure easier faster transfers. If these packets are lost during transit, your communication will be delayed and sometimes garbled.
So, what are some potential reasons for experiencing a high level of packet loss?
What Causes Packet Loss?
1. Bandwidth Congestion
During the busiest time of the day, congestion happens, and just like with traffic congestion, your data will experience delays getting to the intended destination. When link congestion or heavy traffic occurs, the packets that carry the information are left behind so that the network can catch up. Typically, they will automatically be present when the network congestion decreases, but sometimes the packets can be lost in the shuffle.
How to Detect It: A network that has a high amount of congestion will experience high latency, jitter increases, and higher than normal loss rates. Measuring the congestion is done through network monitoring looking at these factors and seeing how they vary throughout the day. Congestion can last a few minutes at a time or longer, but anything less than the speeds that the ISP promises for their service is considered bandwidth congestion.
How to Fix It: Fixing bandwidth connection issues can begin by tracking your network’s performance If the cause of the congestion in your network infrastructure is because of the time of day that the data is being sent, this can easily be fixed by sending information out during a time of the day that is less congested. For VoIP communications, this may not be as easy, but scheduling calls and conferences for non-peak times is an option.
Prioritizing traffic to make sure the most essential information is sent along with the network first will optimize the flow of data and reduce congestion. Talk to your internet service provider to see what options are available that provide more bandwidth during various parts of the day.
2. Faulty Networking Wires
When working on a wired network, the Ethernet cables can be the reason that you are experiencing packet loss. These wires handle a lot of traffic, so if they have deteriorated, packet loss issues will occur and data will be sent inefficiently. Any cable that is damaged or not connected properly will increase the electrical signals that travel along with the data that you’re sending.
Dirty fiber connectors are also a significant source of packet loss.
How to Detect It: If you suspect that faulty wires are the cause of your packet loss, then check your cables thoroughly to make sure that there is no visible exterior damage. Make sure that you also check the network connection points to confirm that they are secure.
How to Fix It: If faulty wires are to blame, the simplest solution is to replace the wires to get a better connection path. To avoid situations with faulty wires in the future, follow these tips when purchasing Ethernet cables:
- Choose the proper category of wire. A Cat 5 is typically strong enough for a small business, but if you have more than a 1 Mbps internet connection, a higher category speeds things up.
- Check the jacket on the wire to make sure that it is durable that has a lot of physical integrity and won’t abrade easily.
- If several cables are run together, they need to have a shield to prevent signal interference.
3. Faulty or Insufficient Hardware
Hardware is a major part of sending information across the net, so if any of your network devices are not up-to-date or working properly, it could be the reason for packet loss. This could be a router that you are using, a firewall, or another piece of hardware on your network. Packet loss can occur when a company expands, but its network is not upgraded to manage the extra information that’s being sent.
Duplex mismatches are a frequent cause of packet loss. In an internet connection, duplex communication allows for the connected devices to send and receive data. When two connected devices are operating in different duplex modes, the link isn’t as efficient.
This usually means that one device is working at a half-duplex setting and the other is functioning in a full-duplex mode. When a device is half-duplex, it means that signals travel both ways, but they can only travel in one direction at a time. When one device is experiencing full-duplex functionality and the other is experiencing half efficiency, packet loss occurs.
How to Detect It: When you have an issue with a specific piece of hardware, some computers are likely to give you an error message that will let you know that the device is not working as intended. Make sure to monitor any piece of hardware that could be outdated to see if it is performing properly. Any malfunctions should easily be noted in the hardware logs for the device.
How to Fix It: When hardware is causing packet loss, the best way to combat this is to upgrade and replace the hardware that is not up to date. This is especially true when the hardware is malfunctioning and not working as it should. Having a dedicated IT team to keep up with server and VoIP hardware minimizes packet loss.
4. Software Issues
Software is an integral part of transferring data, but when it is not working correctly, it can also cause packet loss. When the software hesitates because of an error in the programming, unexpected behavior could occur on your network. This could be because of software bugs or because the software was not updated when it should have been.
How to Detect It: If your connection seems slow, you can check to see if specific software or an application is using a lot of bandwidth when it is not being used. You can use Task Manager in your computer to see how the apps are communicating with the network. There is even a tab that will show you the history of the last 30 days so that you can compare the usage with the latency that you are experiencing.
How to Fix It: If the software is taking up too much of the network’s bandwidth, you can try to restart the application or reboot your hardware. The software can be difficult to adjust, but most of the time, there will be an update that will increase performance speed. If the software still has known bugs, you may have to wait for the development team to release a solution to the issue. Conversely, if there’s no immediate fix, consider an alternative software solution that doesn’t cause packet loss.
5. Wi-Fi Networks
When you are working off of the Wi-Fi on your network, the packets of information that you send across the network can be affected. This can be caused by a weak Wi-Fi signal, interference over the radio frequency, or the signal traveling through thick walls. Wireless networks and Wi-Fi tend to suffer more setbacks and interference than wired connections, so this may be where your latency and packet loss originates, especially if you are far away from the source of the Wi-Fi signal.
How to Detect It: To check the status of your Wi-Fi, you will need to check the internet access tab on your device. This has several lines that will determine the Wi-Fi strength. If you detect weaker Wi-Fi signal strength, the network may be overloaded. This means that you may have an issue with the strength of the signal being enough to accommodate all of your devices.
How to Fix It: If your signal is lacking, you can easily reset the router to see if it improves. If it is only one device that is lacking a signal, the device should be restarted to see if it can get a stronger signal. Use a Wi-Fi analyzer to see if the issue that is causing packet loss is in the Wi-Fi settings. Set your device to access another Wi-Fi network or use a wired connection instead.
6. Network Attack
Network attacks, such as Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, can be the cause of packet loss on your network. This type of attack is designed to overload your network so that you see packet drops, files are more difficult to access, and the network becomes more vulnerable. All companies must make cybersecurity a priority. Businesses of any size can be vulnerable, especially if there are packet loss issues on the network.
How to Detect It: When network attacks occur, you will notice that the network is much slower than normal. Files and websites will be slow to open, and VoIP calls will experience jitter and stuttering. It is vital to monitor your network traffic and determine if there is additional activity on the network.
How to Fix It: If you are a victim of a network attack, you will need to investigate to see if there is a specific IP address flooding traffic to the network. This IP address can be blocked, which will stop the attack and allow the traffic on the network to return to normal.
How Can Packet Loss Impact Business?
It’s critical to understand that packet loss affects different businesses differently based on their protocol. For example, if a business uses the TCP protocol, then it may deal with a loss of packets more efficiently.
Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is designed to negate packet loss because it constantly retransmits the data. When a packet gets lost, the second transmission of the data will pick up the lost packets and reconstruct the data stream. Still, it’s noteworthy that retransmission takes extra time, and when multiple VoIP calls and connections are made simultaneously, your system will experience some slowdown.
User Datagram Protocol (UDP), which is another protocol used by some network architectures, isn’t quite as versatile when handling packets. UDP doesn’t retransmit the data after it’s sent, so if there is a packet loss on this connection, the data will have to be re-sent manually.
This is caused because UDP connections may terminate the connection when there’s packet loss, which can result in corrupted, duplicate, or incomplete data. UDP connections utilize a socket send buffer that houses the packets, and slower connections will cause the packets to not be able to be sent as efficiently. This is a major cause of lost packets with this protocol.
VoIP is a communications system that doesn’t handle packet loss particularly well. We have an entire guide dedicated to understanding packet loss and defeating it, but losing call quality and missing out on pertinent information due to call distortion is a real threat to business processes. Technologies like packet loss concealment (PLC) can make calls sound better, but finding one of the previously mentioned underlying causes of packet loss can help improve call quality.
In addition to causing problems with VoIP calling and conferencing, other unified communications processes can be impacted by packet loss. When the signal is incomplete, file transfers can be interrupted and slowed.
Communication is less secure when it’s prone to packet loss. VoIP hacks happen through a low priority backdoor, which is the hole created by packet loss. These will allow the unscrupulous user to completely circumvent security measures that can lead to DoS attacks or loss of encrypted data. This is because they can sneak in malicious code that can affect an entire network.
In VoIP, a certain percentage of packet loss can be considered an “acceptable rate.” Most IT organizations consider a loss rate of one or two percent within reasonable limits, and such low levels shouldn’t affect the quality of a SIP voice call or a call made via a hosted PBX solution. Both TCP and UDP protocols consider this loss rate within acceptable tolerances so that voice calls or file-sharing won’t be affected.
How to Detect Packet Loss
By now, you understand some of the root causes of packet loss as well as the effects it can have on business, but it’s helpful to know how to use your system’s OS to detect it. Here are a few methodologies that you can use to find out if you’re experiencing packet loss on Mac, Linux, and Windows systems.
In the Utilities folder under Applications, you’ll find the Terminal app. Open this app and use this command prompt:
The same command can be used in Linux. This time around, simply press Ctrl + T to start the terminal. Here’s that command again:
Windows has a relatively easy way to reach the terminal. First, hit the Start Menu and type in the Run command. This will bring up the Run app. In the field, type in cmd to bring up the terminal. For Windows, the command is slightly different:
|Ping 127.0.0.1 -t|
For all operating systems, this will cause the system to run a ping command. Once it’s processed at least 10 packets, hold command or Ctrl + C, which will stop the process.
The system will give you a report on how many packets were transmitted, how many were received, and the percentage of packet loss experienced during the test.
The First Step to Fix Packet Loss is Careful Diagnosis
Packet loss can be fixed by updating hardware and software, ensure the cables are up to par, reduce RF interference, and check periodically to see if there are problems using software that’s designed to detect issues. Providers like Netfortis Networks have QoS metrics in their analytical data that will tell you if there has been a significant slowdown in network performance.
Quality of service issues is thankfully easy to diagnose and fix. When packet loss persists, the security of customer data will be at risk, call and conference quality will suffer, and file or data transfers will be slowed/interrupted. In VoIP, you really can’t afford to have poor sound quality when dealing with customer needs because it will damage a brand’s image.
It takes due diligence and watchfulness, so always:
- Check cables
- Use wired connections
- Reduce opposing radio signals and reduce obstructions that may interfere with Wi-Fi in the office
VoIP is a superior calling solution to PSTN networks, but maintaining your internet resources and reducing the impact of packet loss is critical. There are acceptable levels of jitter and latency for VoIP. Still, a business should minimize packet loss so that VoIP calls are clear, file transfers are quick, and conferences experience as little disruption as possible.