What Quality of Service?

Psytechnics CEO Anthony Finbow says quality of service in IP telephone systems was never enough to deliver outstanding call quality

“IP telephony, more commonly known as VoIP, has been a buzzword for years. In the past two years, the technology has made a major impact on the consumer telephony market with the introduction of services such as Skype. The perception, especially in businesses, is that IPT is now an established, fully functioning service.

To try and gauge the uptake of IP telephony (IPT) in businesses and understand experiences with call quality, we commissioned a survey that was carried out by Vanson Bourne, questioning over 100 IT managers in large UK companies. It showed a significant two out of three large UK companies, employing over 1000 people, now use IPT in some capacity. Half of those use the technology throughout the company. So IPT is certainly an established technology, particularly in the financial services sector, where four out of five survey respondents indicated that they now use an IPT system. The implication here is that you may already have spoken with your bank or credit card provider using an IP telephony system.

The boom in enterprise IP telephony deployments has been propelled by potential cost savings. However, acceptable call quality, reliability and network performance are often overlooked. Within the analyst community at least, there is an acknowledgement that quality of service is important, with Frost & Sullivan citing this as an important factor to consider in a recent report. It is also the word on every IT manager’s lips at the moment. Companies and resellers deploying IP telephony systems also provide quality of service (QoS) tools to check that the network which is carrying calls is working properly. But is this enough? We don’t think so.

To put this in perspective, Royal Mail’s online tracking system for special delivery items is comparable to an IPT QoS tool. You can check that your parcel has left the depot to go out for delivery. The status is updated again when the parcel actually arrives with the recipient. Applied to an IPT network, you can make sure all voice data is being carried across the network correctly.

We believe that it is necessary to take the process one step further, checking that the contents of the parcel arrive in good condition. A parcel delivered on time is useless if the contents are broken.

If an IPT system is working correctly but there are still call quality problems, it becomes necessary to check the quality of the voice being carried. This becomes particularly important when an enterprise chooses to move their phone systems from regular fixed line to IPT. Using a quality of service tool, this simply isn’t possible.

Using traditional QoS tools to check that the system is working properly may give a “green light” that the network is working fine, but it isn’t possible to actually check on the conversation and listening quality, leaving customers, clients and colleagues exasperated and with a poor opinion of the service.

The importance of call quality is greater than you may think. Customer-service focused companies can win and lose customers through poor call quality and experience. For example, it may not be possible to hear what a customer service representative is saying because of poor volume levels or call interference. This may be down to a company’s IPT system.

This experience is not unusual. Our survey revealed that in industry there is a low appreciation of how poor voice quality can impact on a business; 43 per cent of the IT managers we surveyed did not think that IPT call quality would make an impact on the business. On the flip side, 53 per cent of respondents were worried about, or have experienced, quality problems.

We believe that measuring the quality of experience is integral to a consistent and acceptable call centre user experience. Without such software monitoring, the technical contents of all voice traffic IP telephony equipment can be deemed to be operating correctly using standard quality assurance tools, yet voice quality can be poor and the user experience can suffer.

It is imperative to be able to pinpoint call quality issues affecting user experience in real time, wherever they are in the system, ensuring problems are resolved quickly and efficiently. This approach can reduce network and support costs, as well as enable the management of the IP telephony system to be done internally.

As IPT becomes commonplace, ensuring that telephone call data is correctly transported from one point to another is only part of the picture, especially as businesses rely on IPT to interact with customers and clients alike. It’s time for a different approach to diagnostic tools; the human approach where conversational and listening quality are king. Without taking quality of experience into account, consumers will continue to experience frustration with the technology. And with unified communications about to bring video into the mix, quality of experience will come even closer to the fore.”