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Three steps to managing Skype for Business call quality

To manage Skype for Business voice traffic, be sure to optimize your network, prioritize voice signaling, and take advantage of third-party tools and service partners.

In my conversations with IT leaders responsible for implementing and operating Skype for Business call quality,...

I often hear concerns about voice performance.

In most cases, as they deploy Skype for Business call features, organizations are transitioning from digital or dedicated IP telephones to softphones. Thus, they no longer can follow the standard blueprint of ensuring voice over IP (VoIP) quality by isolating voice traffic onto its own virtual LAN and prioritizing it above other, non-latency-sensitive applications. 

The capabilities of the PC or mobile device running the Skype for Business client may negatively impact voice quality. In addition, IT often lacks end-to-end visibility to enable proactive or rapid reactive identification of voice quality issues. 

As a result, Nemertes Research total cost of ownership data shows that Skype for Business implementations have the highest operational cost -- $266 per endpoint or license versus an average cost of $108 for all IP telephony vendors.

The challenges of ensuring high voice quality in a softphone environment are not unique to Microsoft. But, in our research, companies using Skype for Business call features typically use softphones as the primary interface, shunning desktop phones to reduce cost and improve mobility.

So, what can IT leaders do to ensure the best experience as they transition to Skype for Business call features? Here are three key requirements for success:

1. Optimize the network

This is always step one in any VoIP deployment. This involves looking at the LAN, wireless LAN (WLAN) and WAN to identify any congestion points, and tuning quality-of-service (QoS) implementations to support voice.

Microsoft offers specific guidance via TechNet. But, as a general rule, most implementations involve creating a DiffServ Code Point to prioritize voice signaling, and assigning a specific set of ports to Skype for Business traffic to enable routers to prioritize based on identifying Skype for Business traffic and marking it accordingly.

QoS strategies can be supplemented by WAN optimization technologies, including packet shaping and emerging software-defined WAN products that enable IT shops to guarantee performance and availability over Internet-based WAN connections.

In the LAN and WLAN, newer technologies, such as 802.11ac, can prioritize applications like video and voice. Emerging software-defined networking services from Microsoft partners, such as Aruba and Extreme Networks, can enable real-time optimization of the network to support variable traffic flows and bandwidth demands.

At the SIP trunking edge, session border controllers from vendors such as AudioCodes, Oracle and Sonus can secure and manage inbound and outbound call flows.

2. Leverage third-party tools for voice quality management

Companies that invest in third-party tools for IP telephony quality and configuration management see lower operating costs than those who simply rely on existing network management tools and vendor-provided configuration management applications.

Several vendors -- including Integrated Research, Nectar, NetScout, Oracle, Unify Square, Unimax and VOSS -- can help enterprises tackle everything from configuration management and number provisioning to troubleshooting voice quality issues.

3. Leverage third-party services partners

Implementing Skype for Business requires piecing together platforms from both Microsoft and its partners. Businesses may also have to integrate Skype for Business with legacy systems during the transition, while also coming up to speed on managing a new environment.

Companies that leverage third parties for implementation and operational support generally rate their IP telephony success higher than those who attempt to go it alone.

Following these guidelines won't prevent performance problems, but they will serve to reduce risk and increase the likelihood that your Skype for Business call features will result in happy users, and lower-than-average operational costs.

Next Steps

A look at the Skype for Business essentials

Making the jump from consumer Skype to business Skype

When upgrading to Office 2016, users report Skype for Business problems

This was last published in January 2016

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