Report Hisses at VOIP Quality
The overall reliability of VOIP service has improved over the past six months, a new study shows, but VOIP calls still feature much more jitter, hiss, and delay than circuit-switched calls.
The study, conducted by California-based research house Keynote Systems Inc. , focused on two main factors -- the reliability and the sound quality of VOIP calls. During the last six weeks of 2005, Keynote set up servers to place 190,000 VOIP calls in and between San Francisco and New York City using the top 11 U.S. consumer VOIP services. (See Yankee Points to VOIP QOS.)
While the sound quality of a few VOIP providers has improved over the past six months, most VOIP providers still offer services with less sound quality than both wireline and cellular service, Keynote says. Service from just three providers -- Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) -- now sound good enough to be called “toll quality.” Five of the 11 providers in the study -- Keynote wouldn’t name names -- aren’t even close to reaching that standard yet. (See Empirix Upgrades VOIP Tracker.)
To underline the importance of sound quality, Keynote points out that 52 percent of respondents in a recent Harris Interactive survey named call quality as a key reason not to use VOIP. Other reasons included lack of E911 service and security and privacy worries.
Keynote says delay on VOIP calls has proved a persistant problem for many providers. VOIP callers hear up to twice as much audio delay as callers using a traditional phone service. More troubling is Keynote's finding that the delay problem hasn't improved since the firm's last VOIP study back in June 2005. (See Survey: VOIP Quality Is Breaking Up.)
“I’m still surprised that six months later, when we look at audio data from VOIP providers, we still see the improvement in audio quality and delay as considerably poor," Keynote product manager Dharmesh Thakker told Light Reading this week.
In terms of reliability, or the likelihood that a call will connect successfully, VOIP calls from the 11 providers had an overall connection rate of 99.1 percent. That's up from 97 percent last June, but still far from the “five nines” of reliability consumers have gotten used to.
VOIP service from Vonage and Time Warner Cable were found to be most likely to connect, with the least amount of dial attempts and dropped calls.
The 11 VOIP services included in Keynote’s study were Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) division AOL’s TotalTalk, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) CallVantage, EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) trueVoice, 8x8 Inc. (Nasdaq: EGHT) Packet 8, Primus Telecommunications Inc. Lingo, SunRocket Inc. , Time Warner Digital Phone, Verizon VoiceWing (NYSE: VZ), via:talk, Vonage and Vonics Digital Data.
Keynote says Time Warner Digital Phone is the overall best VOIP service provider in both reliability and audio clarity. (See Cable Is the Voice of VOIP.) The cable product edged out Vonage and AT&T CallVantage, which ranked one and two in the June study. Keynote says it found a significant gap in both reliability and audio clarity between Time Warner Digital Phone and the lowest-ranking providers in the study. (See Cable Crowd Seeks VOIP Peers.)
The researchers also found that the broadband network underlying the VOIP service had a lot to do with the way the service performed. (See QOS Fees Could Change Everything .) The VOIP calls Keynote studied were placed over three different broadband networks in each city -- Time Warner Cable, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), and Verizon DSL in New York and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), SBC DSL and the Sprint business-class network in San Francisco.
Keynote says Verizon DSL proved to be the most reliable network for connecting VOIP calls, while the Time Warner Cable network promoted the best audio clarity.
By most accounts, VOIP usage rates are rising quickly in the U.S. Still, as the Keynote researchers suggest, the VOIP business is a low margin affair and customer retention is key to survival. (See Vonage Hearing Buy-Out Bids.) “The number one take away for the industry is that audio quality still needs to be improved significantly,” Thakker concludes. “[VOIP providers] have done a great job of improving reliability, but just keeping their service available doesn’t mean that consumers are going to be satisfied.”
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading