Kevin Kieller
Kevin Kieller is a partner with enableUC, a company that helps measure, monitor and improve UC and collaboration usage and...
Read Full Bio >>

Kevin Kieller | January 01, 2013 |


Do You Hear What I Hear?

Do You Hear What I Hear? Hearing properly and the quality of audio are very important in UC implementations, especially when deploying softphones, PC applications, or tablets

Hearing properly and the quality of audio are very important in UC implementations, especially when deploying softphones, PC applications, or tablets

Even in biblical times, it was important that people correctly get the message, as illustrated by the night wind asking the little lamb for confirmation in the classic Christmas song "Do You Hear What I Hear?".

Hearing properly and the quality of audio are very important in UC implementations, especially when business requirements call for the deployment of softphones, software applications running on multipurpose PCs or tablets serving as communication endpoints (as opposed to purpose-built hardware phones).

The challenge becomes monitoring and measuring audio quality. In the Christmas song, the night wind simply asks the little lamb a yes or no question. However for business communications, hearing and hearing well or clearly are often two very different things.

For a very long period of time, the MOS or mean opinion score has been used by telecom personnel to obtain a person's subjective opinion on the quality of a voice connection. The MOS score ranges from a low value of 1, indicating a very annoying audio experience, to a high value of 5, which represents virtually no audio "flaws". As you gather scores from multiple people, you compute the MOS score by averaging the individual scores. A typical Voice over IP (VoIP) implementation scores between 3.5 and 4.2.

Polling multiple people has shown that different codecs (compression and decompression algorithms) yield slightly better or slightly worse MOS scores. For instance, the G.711 codec typically yields a higher MOS score than does the G.729 codec. Of course, the G.729 codec can take 1/8 of the bandwidth G.711 does. As is typical in life, you need to understand and make the right trade-offs.

Beyond deriving a numeric audio quality score, I would suggest--based on several projects where softphones have been deployed to thousands of people--the following rules to ensure that your end users remain happy:

1. Set expectations correctly.
In almost all work environments, wireless connections are subject to many factors that may diminish the overall audio quality. Even with well-planned and configured wireless access points, interference from other devices, including employee personal devices, microwaves and other office equipment can temporarily disrupt audio quality. A large concentration of users connecting to wireless in a single spot, for instance a large meeting room, can overwhelm standard access point configurations, leading to audio degradation. Unless you have tested, re-tested and stress-tested your wireless network, you may want to let users know that for the "best experience," a wired connection should be used.

When working from home, a local coffee shop or a hotel, users should understand that the network will impact the overall sound quality. Where possible, users should be aware of network quality indicators (for example the "signal strength bars" in the Lync client), and potentially may want to make a test call before joining an important meeting remotely.

2. Implement QoS where you can.
All VoIP solutions require networks that expedite voice packets on both the WAN and LAN in order to provide great audio quality. Even though a variety of codecs attempt to deal with less-than-ideal network conditions, you should always implement and test (!) QoS (quality of service) and CoS (class of service) on all the network segments you control.

3. Use approved headsets and devices.
Each softphone client is designed to work with specific headsets. Make sure you buy the right headsets for your users. Not only will the audio quality be better, but the overall user experience will improve, as all the "special" buttons on the device will likely work as expected (e.g. volume, mute, disconnect, etc.).

If your users plan to purchase devices themselves (e.g., Bluetooth headsets) you should provide a list of devices that will work well (and that you have tested) in your environment. Your support desk should also have access to sample devices so they can better assist end users who are having difficulties.

4. Provide headset-specific training materials
Don't assume your users know how to properly use a provided headset. For the current project I am leading, headset-related issues remain the largest single category for support calls. Make sure your training materials address issues such as:

a. How to select which device is used for audio.
b. How to control the call volume; how to mute a call, etc. using buttons on the headset.
c. Can I plug in a headset halfway through a call?
d. Can I set my laptop speakers to ring, so I don't need to be wearing my headset to hear incoming calls?
e. What is the expected range for Bluetooth headsets? What other devices may cause interference?
f. Can I pair my Bluetooth headset with both my laptop and my mobile phone?

5. Provide a feedback mechanism.
Even when you implement, test and measure an excellent audio quality solution, some users, sometimes, will perceive audio quality issues.

These issues may be self-imposed; the user may not have "followed the rules" or may not have used an approved headset, but in any event, in order to maintain and support the perception of a strong solution, I would suggest you provide your users with a direct and simple method to report problems. And then, I would strongly recommend that you implement a process that investigates and follows up with all audio issue complaints, especially in the early stages of a UC deployment. I have found that actual or perceived audio quality issues, left unchecked, can develop into rumors and innuendo that can derail a UC project.

I would like to close on a philosophical note and suggest that regardless of how we measure the quality of audio, listening and working to understand each other will always remain more important than simply hearing.


Check out this recap of Enterprise Connect Orlando 2017, and register now to join us in 2018 and save $200 off or get a Free Expo Plus Pass.

Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018
March 12-15 | Orlando, FL

Connect with the Entire Enterprise Communications & Collaboration Ecosystem

Stay Up-to-Date: Hear industry visionaries in Keynotes and General Sessions delivering the latest insight on UC, mobility, collaboration and cloud

Grow Your Network: Connect with the largest gathering of enterprise IT and business leaders and influencers

Learn From Industry Leaders: Attend a full range of Conference Sessions, Free Programs and Special Events

Evaluate All Your Options: Engage with 190+ of the leading equipment, software and service providers

Have Fun! Mingle with sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, guest speakers and industry players during evening receptions

Register now with code NOJITTEREB to save $200 Off Advance Rates or get a FREE Expo Pass!

March 7, 2018

Video collaboration is experiencing significant change and innovation-how can your enterprise take advantage? In this webinar, leading industry analyst Ira Weinstein will present detailed analysis

February 21, 2018

Business agility has become the strongest driver for enterprises to begin migrating their communications to the cloud-and its a benefit that enterprises are already realizing. To gain this benefit

February 7, 2018

Enterprises are starting to grasp the critical importance of security and compliance in their team collaboration deployments. And once the risks are mitigated, your enterprise can integrate these n

February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.