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What is jitter? Causes and remedies for VoIP phone use

What is jitter?

Have you ever had a phone call interrupted by a dropped connection or shaky audio? It’s never a pleasant experience, especially if you’re trying to make a good impression with a client or host an important business meeting. With video calls, this interruption can feel even more disruptive.

You’re probably left feeling helpless and a little embarrassed, but the problem doesn’t lie with you. In this article, we’ll explore key questions that can help you get to the root of the problem: What is jitter? And what is a good jitter speed? You’ll then be well on your way to fixing your jitter problems and enjoying clear, uninterrupted phone calls.

What is jitter?

Jitter is the result of delays in transporting data packets via the internet. Whether you send audio, text, or images, data packets carry your information from sender to receiver. Each bit of information breaks up into thousands of tiny data packets, then reassembles on the receiver’s end.

In theory, devices send and receive data packets at regular time intervals. But any disruptions in this process can result in lags. The information may end up jumbled or dropped. Even though these delays are often only milliseconds, you’ll experience them as lagging video, slow processing speed, and other technical difficulties. This is jitter.

As you probably know, jitter can be especially problematic when it interferes with real-time communication methods like video and phone calls. Read on to learn more about what jitter is, what causes jitter in phone calls, and how to remedy the issue once and for all.

What is jitter in VoIP voice calls?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows users the flexibility to place and receive calls with only an internet connection, no cellular network required. This method of voice calling (WiFi calling) saves you money.

The best VoIP apps also give you access to powerful features not available with standard telephony, including the ability to set business hours and better collaborate with your teammates. 

Plus, VoIP providers like OpenPhone offer more attentive and personalized customer service than you’d get with a traditional phone carrier. We even host weekly live demos to explain our constantly improving service. While the pros of VoIP phone services are undeniable, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the top VoIP advantages and disadvantages

One of those drawbacks is jitter. Jitter is also the reason you may come across some implementation snags when making the switch. Fortunately, jitter is usually due to inadequate internet bandwidth and isn’t hard to fix.

Why is jitter common for VoIP users with poor network connections? Well, VoIP sends your voice data across the internet as data packets. That means if the quality of your internet connection doesn’t hold up, your call quality is likely to suffer. Switching to VoIP requires you to invest in a strong internet service and up-to-date hardware systems for your business.

Symptoms of jitter

You’re experiencing jitter in your voice calls if they’re breaking up or lagging in your daily use. Here’s a more detailed list of the symptoms of jitter.

  • Call echo: One possible symptom of jitter is call echo, when voices repeat on a call. You might hear your own words repeated back to you or accidentally speak over the other person.
  • Static: Bad service can also lead to static as a result of electrical interference. Static can affect dial and ringtones in addition to your voice data. Certain kinds of headsets can exacerbate it as well.
  • Delayed or choppy audio: Perhaps the most widely known symptom of jitter is a delay in audio or choppy audio, which occurs as the result of packet delays. You’re likely to experience audio gaps or delays because of this processing error.
  • Video problems: If you happen to be on a joint audio-video call, you’re extra likely to experience issues. Video conferencing platforms and video quality are among the first things impacted by jitter problems.
  • General audio distortion: Audio that is generally unclear or distorted is also a sign of jitter-based call disruptions.

What causes jitter?

There are several reasons your phone calls could be susceptible to jitter. Some of the top causes of jitter are:

1. Unreliable wireless network connection

The most common reason for jitter occurs due to an unstable wireless network connection. A rise in remote work and dispersed communications means you might not always have access to strong, protected WiFi. If you’re working from a coffee shop or airport, for instance, you’re vulnerable to the whims of the public network you’ve tapped into.

Consider making use of wired connections if you struggle to achieve clear audio quality over WiFi alone. For important calls and meetings, it’s best not to take any chances. Park yourself near a wired connection or, at the very least, near a reliable router or modem.

2. Malfunctioning hardware

When you sign up for a VoIP phone system, you can probably do away with your outdated hardware systems and equipment. That’s good news for business. In one survey of almost 1,000 office workers, over 66% of workers said outdated technology has a moderate to major effect on their productivity. 

But most business VoIP users still maintain basic wireless internet access on-premises. Modern cables, routers, and modems are key to maintaining reliable VoIP phone service. Keeping this equipment clean and up-to-date can make a world of difference in avoiding jitter.

3. Insufficient network bandwidth

Network congestion and overcrowding contribute to packet delays, making low network bandwidth one of the primary jitter culprits. When too many devices attempt to use the same internet connection at once, the connection is simply unable to handle all of the requests. The result is dropped or jumbled packets.

4. Packet prioritization failures

A common mistake when it comes to VoIP phone systems is failing to implement packet prioritization. You can change your router’s quality-of-service settings to give priority to certain kinds of traffic, like audio data. When you prioritize audio data, you ensure it delivers before other traffic types, reducing your risk of incurring jitter or other connection issues.

5. Poor functionality from your VoIP provider

Choosing a VoIP app for your business is a big deal. Many people overlook the role their VoIP provider plays in their phone service, including mitigating jitter levels. If your wireless network is functioning seamlessly and all of your calling software is up-to-date, consider the possibility your communications platform or VoIP provider could be at fault.

OpenPhone is a modern VoIP app rated the #1 business phone platform on G2. If you do experience jitter while using our service, you can rest assured knowing the problem doesn’t lie with your VoIP service.

What is latency?

Latency covers the amount of time required for a data packet to travel from its point of origin to its final destination. Latency differs from jitter, which is a term used to describe the difference in latency between packet flow. In other words, latency is a measure of speed, while jitter is a measure of latency inconsistency.

Usually, the entire audio message arrives on a delay with latency, instead of splitting into small bits as is the case with jitter. Latency also tends to be most noticeable when it comes to streaming services and live audio. Both latency and jitter are undesirable side effects of poor network connections. Luckily, you can measure and fix them in due course.

What jitter levels should you expect?

Not all jitter is the same. Low levels of jitter are unlikely to cause noticeable interruptions to the user experience, which is why some jitter is considered “acceptable jitter.” At these levels, you probably won’t notice any impact at all on your experience.

So, what’s classified as “acceptable jitter”? First, you should know that professionals measure jitter in milliseconds. In general, delay time should be below 30 milliseconds for best results. Additionally, network latency should be below 150 milliseconds and packet loss should remain under 1%. If any of your numbers deviate too far from these standards, you may notice declines in call quality and possible interruptions.

It’s also worth noting that some applications and communications software are better equipped to handle jitter than others. Regularly monitor your VoIP calls to ensure call quality is up to your standards and all network jitter is at acceptable levels.

Measuring jitter levels

How do you know whether or not you have high jitter levels? Measuring and monitoring jitter metrics can help you find a solution to your jitter problem. There are simple and more complex ways you can go about this task. 

Bandwidth testing is one of the easiest and fastest ways to gain an idea of your network capacity. Another way is performing single or double endpoint measurements.

Single endpoint measurements are useful in understanding the mean round-trip time for voice packets. Meanwhile, double endpoint measurements can help you measure the variations in packet send timing. The method(s) you use to measure jitter levels will vary depending on your business needs.

Here are a few best practices we recommend following when measuring jitter levels.

1. Run a speed test

The first step in the process is to run a speed test to determine the strength of your network connection. Ideally, most connected devices should have an upload and download speed of 0.3 Mbps. VoIP phones can run off of a 0.1 Mbps upload and download speed, but the higher, the better. 

It’s a good idea to run multiple tests as well. Fluctuation in jitter can cause uneven results across speed tests. Test when your jitter levels are both high and low to gain a more accurate understanding of the issue.

2. Download a network monitoring tool

Network administrators can use a network monitoring tool to gain insight into their jitter issues. This software can tell you how pervasive your jitter problem is and how it’s affected by your network performance.

3. Calculate jitter measurement manually

This is a complicated and mostly unnecessary task if you have access to online jitter tests. Calculating jitter measurement through round-trip times could be useful for your IT department or if problems persist. But we recommend taking advantage of online resources to solve your jitter problems more quickly.

How to fix jitter issues on calls? 

Voice packet disruption can lead to countless dropped calls and misunderstandings. Get ahead of the problem and learn how to fix jitter issues on calls.

1. Use an Ethernet cable

You’re not always out and about when answering phone calls. If you do happen to be sitting down at your desktop, try a good old-fashioned Ethernet cable. It can help stabilize your connection and make your internet faster.

2. Double-check device frequency

The standard frequency for internet phones is 2.4GHz. If your phone is operating at a higher frequency, it could be causing jitter troubles. Running tests can help you determine if your device frequency is the culprit.

3. Try a jitter buffer

A jitter buffer is a kind of Band-Aid for the issue of network jitter. You can install this effective device with a VoIP system. It holds back and stores incoming voice packets before sending them to their final destination, ensuring the packets arrive in order and on time. Its queued storage area reduces the likelihood that you’ll experience poor, unreliable audio.

While a jitter buffer doesn’t address the core issue at hand, it does help resolve the more severe effects of jitter. If nothing else, it’s an excellent temporary patch while you attempt to identify the underlying issue.

4. Buy a powerful router

As we mentioned earlier, failure to implement packet prioritization protocols can hold your business back. Not all routers allow you to prioritize packets, so consider upgrading your router. 

Check out reviews from your internet service provider (ISP) to learn whether other clients are having similar issues. You can also contact your ISP to ask about bandwidth upgrades. As your internet usage increases, you should raise your high-speed internet capacity accordingly.

A team is only as strong as its weakest link. The same holds true for your VoIP hardware system, minimalistic as it might be. Old phones or Ethernet cables will make your system more susceptible to jitter. Follow the transmission route and inspect each individual piece of hardware to determine whether or not you need to upgrade. 

6. Restrict bandwidth usage

If you’re in the middle of an important voice or conference call, consider temporarily restricting unnecessary internet usage for the duration of your call. With today’s remote working arrangements, that may include asking other members of your household to do the same. 

Certain tasks like online gaming and video streaming are particularly resource intensive when it comes to bandwidth consumption. Reducing bandwidth usage can significantly improve download speeds and reduce the level of jitter you experience. 

7. Explore Quality of Services (QoS) solutions

Quality of Services (QoS) is the technology responsible for managing network resources and data traffic. Besides prioritizing packets through a queuing process, QoS offers additional tools to help remedy jitter. 

Traffic shaping is one example. In this procedure, delays are intentionally increased in order to reduce drops and allow for a smoother calling experience. Compression is another; reducing delay is easier when certain information takes up less bandwidth. Link fragmentation and interleaving can also be useful, by breaking down large packets into smaller ones before transmitting them.

8. Miscellaneous tips

Some extra tips for troubleshooting your VoIP service and one-way audio call issues include:

  • Schedule software updates to occur outside of business hours.
  • Try using a different device (e.g., mobile instead of desktop).
  • Switch wireless network source.
  • Restart your device.
  • Reset your router.

Reduce jitter with OpenPhone’s VoIP phone service

What is jitter: OpenPhone mobile and desktop apps

What is jitter? And what is a good jitter speed? After reading over our jitter guide, hopefully you have a better understanding of how to reduce jitter and even avoid it in the first place. Jitter can be a business pain point, even at the best of times. 

Your internet bandwidth and equipment are your first line of defense against jitter. But when push comes to shove, your VoIP service is also an important factor in determining call quality. With OpenPhone, you can have confidence that call quality and software updates are always prioritized. Sign up for your free OpenPhone trial today and experience our crystal-clear call quality for yourself.

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