Your VoIP sucks, but nothing looks wrong

Going with a new VoIP solution – especially if it’s remotely hosted like RingCentral can be a very stressful project for all those involved.  Since the phone system infrastructure has left the building, phone system admins, datacenter admins and system admins can breath a sigh of relief.  Your network administrator is however in for a world of hurt.  And and all problems will suddenly become a battle between the network administrator and the service provider both of whom are claiming it’s not their network.

Things to look for:

  1. Get back to basics, check your cables:  Are your network cables from the users to the patch panels testing ok?  Call someone in to test them out with an expensive Fluke.  It’s easy, cheap and nothing will work right if your cables are junk or run up against a source of EM interference.  Do you have CAT5 or CAT5E running at gigabit speeds when it shouldn’t?
  2. Swap out your patch cables everywhere:  Once again, you need to make sure your cables are good.  Change cables from the desktop/docking port to the wall plug, from the patch panel to the switch and in between switches.  Got some fiber cables or SPFs?  Change them too, it’s easy and cheap.
  3. Update your switches:  Are your switches performing like they should?  Do you have a old known defective software version on your switches that should be updated?  Do you even know?  Find out.
  4. Replace a switch:  Put your most problematic users on a known good switch, maybe even a new one with the latest version.  Have a troublesome floor and a floor without troubles?  Swap their switches.
  5. Does your wifi suck?:  Wifi doesn’t get a lot of attention in most companies.  It might suck.  Are your users using your crappy wifi when they think they’re on the LAN?  Check if their docking ports are actually connected to something.  Make sure that your operating system is switching to LAN when LAN is present.  (there’s often a BIOS setting or a driver configuration for this).
  6. Are your drivers old?:   Try the latest drivers from your laptop/desktop vendor for your NICs.   Still have trouble?   Go directly to Intel or whomever and get the very latest drivers since we all know that your vendor doesn’t bother to keep things updated.
  7. How’s your edge devices?:  Is your edge switch or router really rated  for the kind of traffic you’re pushing?  VoIP is lots of little packets, these consume a lot more ASIC power then big packets.  Do you have access control lists?  VPNs?  Other processor intensive things on your edge devices?  Maybe you do not have as much bandwidth as you think.
  8. How’s your firewall?:  Check with your firewall vendor for the most ideal configuration.  Don’t just look at the tech articles; they might not point out something that and experienced tier 2 support agent sees every single day.  Update your firewall as well, you know you’ve been meaning to do so all year anyways.
  9. How’s your core switch?:  Your core switch probably cost more then your house, but it’s also older then some of the new hires.  How’s it performing?  Any errors in the logs?  Can you bypass it and go strait to the firewall with some users on a known good switch?  Can you plug some problematic users directly into the core switch or firewall?
  10. Call your VoIP vendor:  They see nothing but VoIP complaints all day long.  They probably have some very complicated enterprise configuration documents for your firewalls/routers/switches etc…  Use them.  They probably have specific tools for testing, run them.  Work really hard to get to tier 3 or 4 technical support – those guys really know what they are doing.
  11. Are you running softphones?:  Softphones greatly depend on the computer’s performance.  Do you have enough RAM?  Fast enough processor?  Do you have too much open?  Do you have poorly performing software running?
  12. Are you running SIP phones?:  These are probably your best bet, but do make sure you’ve got them on their own VLAN if possible.  Don’t both connecting your computer to the switchport on the phone, it won’t help things.  Make sure you’ve got the latest firmware.
  13. QoS:  This is a whole blog post on itself, but make sure you’ve got end-to-end QoS.  This means every switch, router and firewall in your network needs to know to preserve the QoS flags on the packets.
  14. Contact your internet provider:  What are they seeing?  Are they dropping packets for over utilization?  Do they have QoS configured for your data beyond your edge device?
  15. How’s your bandwidth?:  Is your link running at capacity?  Maybe it’s time for an upgrade.
  16. How do your users feel about this project?:  This is a biggie.  Are your users being FORCED to switch phone systems?  Are you taking away their handsets and giving them headsets?  Are you FORCING them into something new and different?  Do they have to use their computer now instead of their physical phone?  Are you failing to move speed dials and contacts over?  If so, your users might be sinking your ship!  Why?  Because maybe if they complain enough, they’ll be able to keep the legacy phone system and won’t have to learn, won’t have to adapt and won’t have to make any concessions.

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