VoIP Troubleshooting for Beginners: 8 Fixes To Be the Hero

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Even in 2023, choppy phone calls and poor quality connections can sometimes feel like the rule rather than the exception.

One of the reasons for this is that any type of phone calling system comes with a very high natural bar—namely, instantaneous two-way communication.

For example, if you’re downloading a large file from the internet and there’s a two-second delay during the download process, you probably won’t even notice. However, if there’s a two-second lag on your next phone call, it might prevent you from having a successful conversation in the first place.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, it’s a good idea to know how to troubleshoot the most common Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling issues, from simple volume adjustments to more technical router modifications.

How To Recognize Common VoIP Issues

First of all, there are a lot of common problems that users of VoIP systems can experience.

  • Mic echo: This is when you hear your own voice through your speakers, reverberating over and over, potentially leading to loud feedback loops.
  • Buzzing: This is when there’s a constant noise that’s coming through your speakers and impeding conversation.
  • Dropped calls: This is when your calls terminate without anyone pressing the end-call button.
  • Poor call quality: If the other person’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an old-school record player, you’ve got a call quality problem.
  • Choppy calls: This is when your voice or the other person’s voice constantly cuts in and out, stunting conversation.
  • Audio delays: Self-explanatory, these can often lead to talking over each other, as your transmissions won’t reach the other person until long after you actually speak.
  • Speed problems: If your VoIP system as a whole feels sluggish, you might have an internet speed issue.

Keep in mind that sometimes an abundance of VoIP issues all at once can be a sign of a much larger problem, such as a security breach. Depending on the nature of your work, security breaches can range from being mildly annoying to totally devastating.

Graphic from Nextiva with a list of reasons VoIP could be not working well.

In any case, fixing your connectivity issues and optimizing your VoIP system should be a top priority. Here are eight ways of troubleshooting your setup so you can get back to calls that work:

1. Turn Down the Volume

Useful for: Mic echo, buzzing

If you’ve ever wondered why singers use headphones when they’re recording in a studio, it’s because they don’t want the sound of their backing tracks to bleed into the microphone they’re singing into.

That’s exactly what can happen on phone calls. If the person you’re talking to is talking extra loud, or your volume is too high, their voice can come out of the phone speakers and get picked up by the microphone a second time, a third time, and so on.

Similarly, annoying buzzing or humming sounds often result from feedback loops or external interference with your phone system.

Whether it’s microphone echo, feedback loops, or external interference, turning down your phone’s volume to a reasonable level is often all that’s needed to eliminate these issues.

Some people also find it helpful to mute their microphone periodically or cover it with their hand—but if you’re looking for a foolproof solution, try a pair of earbuds or headphones like the singer in the studio.

2. Reset Your Router and All Devices

Useful for: Buzzing, dropped calls, poor call quality, choppy calls, audio delays, and speed problems

This may sound like your grandma’s catchall solution to fixing tech issues, but it actually does work in a lot of cases.

Before you reset your router, however, we recommend running a diagnostic test by logging into a different device and seeing if the issue persists. If the issue is gone, that’s likely to mean it was only a problem with the original device you were using. If the problem persists, it’s probably a larger-scale internet issue.

Try giving your router, modems, and/or hotspots a simple restart. This helps to resolve minor glitches in the system without actually modifying your current settings. If this doesn’t help and you’ve exhausted all other options, you may even want to try a factory reset. It’s very important to note that a factory reset will restore your router, modems, and hotspots to their original conditions—or in other words, it will erase all of your data and revert to default settings like when you first bought it.

While it may take some time to reconfigure your router after a reset, the reconfiguration is the whole point—due to the complex nature of internet devices, sometimes finely tuned configurations get out of whack for no real reason at all. Resetting your devices will return these configurations to normal, giving you a fresh start.

3. Check for Software Updates

Useful for: Buzzing, dropped calls, poor call quality, choppy calls, audio delay, and speed problems

Not every internet technology issue has an associated fix. Random bugs are a real thing, and they cause more problems than they get credit and/or blame for. This is especially true when it comes to VoIP systems.

The good news is that VoIP systems and internet service providers (ISPs) have teams of dedicated software engineers whose job is to find and eliminate these random bugs. Once they find them and figure out how to get rid of them, they’ll share the secret with you by pushing out a new software update.

Sometimes you’ll get a notification telling you an update is ready and sometimes you won’t. If you’re having random VoIP phone call issues, it helps to get into your system’s settings and check for software updates. You should do this both for your VoIP provider and for your ISP.

If you’re continually dealing with random, intermittent problems, and none of the other solutions or updates seem to work for you, it may be time to look into getting an entirely new VoIP system or router.

4. Run a VoIP Speed Test

Useful for: Dropped calls, poor call quality, choppy calls, audio delays, and speed problems

In 2023, it’s pretty rare for slow internet or insufficient bandwidth to be the cause of poor VoIP performance. That said, it does happen.

Running a VoIP speed test is as simple as searching for one on Google, clicking a button, and waiting around 30 seconds for your results to come in. If you get an upload or download speed of less than 0.15 Mbps, inadequate bandwidth is very likely the culprit. If you’re having trouble with video calling, keep in mind that you’ll probably need at least 3 Mbps.

Assuming your internet speed is well above these benchmarks, what else can you do? Many VoIP speed tests will also give you a number for latency or jitter. High jitter is one of the most common causes of audio delays, choppy calls, and echo during phone calls. If your jitter exceeds 40 milliseconds, that’s your smoking gun.

Finally, a last-ditch solution is to run multiple speed tests from different areas of your office or home. Depending on a bunch of different factors, like how close you are to the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot, you may see vastly different results for each test. This could explain why sometimes your calls are crystal-clear, while other times they’re unsustainably choppy.

5. Double-Check Your Hardware

Useful for: Mic echo, buzzing, dropped calls, poor call quality, and choppy calls

You definitely don’t want to spend hours digging through your VoIP system settings when your problem could be solved by simply jiggling around some wires.

Whether your desk has a physical phone or a fully cloud-based phone system, almost every business makes use of physical headsets of some kind. Headsets serve to reduce mic echo, buzzing, and other problematic disturbances. That said, they’re also ticking time bombs when it comes to hardware malfunctions.

Most headsets come with attached microphones—and sometimes all it takes is one drop or one accidental foot-stomp to bust these microphones up. The same can also be said for VoIP phones in general. What’s even worse is that there’s often a delay between when the damage occurs and when the issues start popping up.

Problems like mic echo and buzzing are often caused by damaged microphones on your headset or VoIP phone. A great way to test this is to use a different headset or phone for a little while to see if the problems persist. If they go away, then you know you have a hardware problem.

Here are some other scenarios where hardware malfunctions can be the cause of your problems:

  • If you buy a new router, modem, hotspot, or VoIP system, then any incompatibilities between the old and new tech can cause poor call quality, delays, or total loss of function.
  • If you perform extensive software updates on some devices and not others, the resulting incompatibility can result in the same problems.
  • If any VoIP-related hardware is kept in a poorly ventilated or confined area, occasional overheating could cause major performance issues like slow internet and reduced call quality.

At the end of the day, sometimes it pays dividends just to tighten up all the wired connections you can find—though there won’t be many if you’re using VoIP.

6. Disable SIP ALG

Useful for: Dropped calls, poor call quality, choppy calls, and audio delays

SIP ALG stands for Session Initiation Protocol Application Layer Gateway, and it’s meant to solve the many problems caused by the firewalls built into routers. The problem is, what it’s meant to do and what it actually does are often two very different things.

In order to help VoIP data packets get through router firewalls, SIP ALG will modify them slightly. But if the process doesn’t work flawlessly, it can lead to corrupted or overly modified data packets, which in turn causes dropped calls, one-way audio, poor call quality, and more problems.

In general, SIP ALG tries to fix rare problems using very complicated solutions—and if anything goes wrong, these solutions can sometimes cause more harm than good.

Thankfully, SIP ALG is usually not needed for most VoIP systems. To turn it off, you’ll have to access your router’s settings through your ISP’s app or through a web browser. Once it’s off, your VoIP data packets should be able to get through uncorrupted, restoring clear audio quality and reducing audio delays.

7. Configure QoS Settings in Your Router

Useful for: Dropped calls, poor call quality, choppy calls, audio delays, and speed problems

QoS stands for Quality of Service, and it’s a subgroup in your router settings that allows you to choose which types of internet data you would like to prioritize. Since you’re dealing with VoIP issues, you’ll want to give VoIP traffic the preferential spot.

Your internet’s bandwidth is the maximum amount of data it can download or upload in a given amount of time. Most businesses and homes have tons of different devices connected to the same internet network.

The more devices like smartphones, smart TVs, printers, and even smart watches that you have, the more bandwidth will be gobbled up. This leaves less space for VoIP data and often causes poor call quality and general internet speed problems.

Every router is different, but here is a general outline of what you’ll need to do to configure your QoS settings to prioritize VoIP:

  1. Access your router’s settings: Log into your router’s settings through a web browser using the router’s IP address and your admin credentials.
  2. Find the QoS section: Look for a subsection related to traffic prioritization. It should be labeled as QoS, Traffic Control, or Bandwidth Management.
  3. Prioritize VoIP traffic: Set up rules that prioritize VoIP traffic by assigning it a higher priority or allocating a specific amount of bandwidth for VoIP devices.
  4. Save and apply settings: Once configured, save the settings to make sure you don’t lose your changes.

Be patient and don’t be afraid of some trial and error with these settings, as it may take some time to find the perfect balance between VoIP traffic and other data.

It’s important to note that not all routers have QoS capabilities. If you’re looking to buy a new router, make sure QoS modification is explicitly advertised before pulling the trigger. Your future self will also thank you if you make sure to buy a router that has a modern, user-friendly online interface for adjusting the settings in general.

8. Contact Your VoIP Service Provider

Useful for: Data breaches and any other problems you can’t solve on your own

This final solution may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but when your time is vital to your business, the best way to make the most of it is by knowing which problems you can solve and which ones you can’t.

While many hosted VoIP providers offer incredibly easy-to-use systems, don’t let yourself forget that you’re dealing with complex technology. Meanwhile, there’s always a chance that your VoIP problems are caused by security issues like data breaches, and those can be incredibly difficult to identify on your own.

If the first seven actions we mentioned above fail to fix your issues, or if you suspect there could be a security issue, try contacting your VoIP service provider. There should be a dedicated tech support team whose job is to help you and people like you troubleshoot your VoIP issues.

Also, while you’re at it, you may want to reset all of your passwords as well—because password516 just isn’t cutting it anymore.

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