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How To Improve VoIP Call Audio Quality

The consumer market for VoIP grew by over 250 percent in 2005. This refers to people who actually subscribed to a VoIP service, which amounts to over 3 million people. That number is expected to nearly triple in 2006, and be nearly ten times in 2009. Call audio quality is going to be an issue sooner or later, if it has not become one already.

Besides hardware-based VoIP, many more people are using soft clients such as Skype, including some PDA users, without any subscription plan. Some may even be using the voice capabilities of IM (Instant Messaging) clients such as Google Talk or MSN Messenger. For Skype alone, there are an estimated 100 million users worldwide.

Up till now, people may be putting up with poor call quality, simple because for soft client users, VoIP calls are very cheap or even free. My own experience suggests poor audio quality is fairly common. If you're a VoIP soft client user, here are a few things to consider, to improve your audio quality:

(1) Don't use a $1 microphone if you intend to record VoIP calls, particularly for podcasts. You mic doesn't have to be expensive either. You're not recording vocal tracks for a music CD. For standard calls that will not be rebroadcast, you can probably use a sub-$30 mic or headphone + mic headset combo. (My $1 mic works just fine, if my laptop RAM is free.)

(2) Make sure the RAM on your computer isn't maxed out. For my daily work, my RAM is constantly topped out and it affects my audio (and especially my video when I use a WoIP soft client such as Sightspeed). If you notice poor audio quality, you could try closing some other programs on your computer. Sometimes it's the program itself. I noticed that the free Babble.net client is unfortunately a memory hog.

(3) Expect poor audio quality if you have a slow Internet connection. If you're using a Wi-Fi setup, it might be a matter of positioning. Try moving around.

If any of the above problems arise, you'll probably get audio artefacts including warbling, echo, or buzz. Electrical interference can cause your microphone to generate hum as well.

As for the audio quality of calls over VoIP hardware or networks, that's something manufacturers and providers have to work on. PSTN phones use dedicated networks, thus providing high quality calls. Early VoIP adopters are putting up with issues of poor audio quality and reliability. However, as VoIP usage spreads, newer customers are less likely to put up with poor service. Someone also has to come up with a reliable e911 emergency calling solution.

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