What are VoIP Codecs, and Why Do They Matter?

VoIP codecs, and the important role they play in your VoIP system.

When it comes to VoIP, there is often much buzz around features, benefits and how to upgrade to a newer, stronger system. However, the knowledge of certain technicalities surrounding VoIP can offer discerning business leaders the kind of perspective that only IT specialists otherwise have. In turn, this can enable you (whether you are a key decision maker when it comes to making new investments in software, or simply an influencer to the very same) to resonate better with VoIP vendors, when it comes to purchasing a new VoIP system, or upgrading an existing one.

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One such technicality is the VoIP codec. Short for coder-decoder, VoIP codecs are pivotal to the overall quality and efficiency provided by your VoIP solution. If you’ve ever wondered how audio is carried across VoIP networks, or what causes problems with call audio, the VoIP codecs in use can shed much light on these questions. While the topic of VoIP codecs involve a significant amount of technical knowledge, simply having a foundational understanding of the very same can give you all the leverage you need, when you compare VoIP providers in the market.

What is a VoIP codec?

A VoIP codec is a program that helps convert analog voice signals into digital packets, to be sent over VoIP networks. While VoIP providers facilitate the transfer, codecs are found in sending and receiving devices - which determine the conversion of signals from one form to the other. Codecs come in multiple forms, so the speed and quality in which these signals are converted depend on the unique capabilities of each codec. 

Quality of Service (QoS) settings are another crucial factor which contribute to signal conversion; when enabled, priority will be given to certain audio signals, even bypassing security thresholds such as firewalls. For this, it is common to ask if a special router for VoIP is needed in order to facilitate better QoS; while modern routers are definitely smoother in performance, most other routers (including ones you may already have) should still be compatible. 

For example, some codecs convert signals at record speed, but lack in quality as vast amounts of compression may have eliminated a lot of data during the process. On the other hand, some codecs are able to retain the original quality of the audio file following compression - but need more bandwidth in order to do so. 

What are the benefits of a VoIP codec?

1. Save bandwidth - and subsequently, costs.

This is the greatest benefit of VoIP codecs so far. With bandwidth always being a constraint, compressing files that are sent via the internet is crucial. This ensures faster transmission, while minimizing costs.

2. Consistently maintain superior call quality.

The type of codec being used in your VoIP phones and other equipment will determine how great the overall quality of your calls are bound to be. If call quality is great and bandwidth usage is within limit, you are less likely to worry about codecs in your VoIP infrastructure. 

However, problems with call quality may require intervention from your VoIP provider, who can advise you on what you can do when it comes to upgrading your system.

3. Optimize capacity planning.

The key aim of capacity planning is to ensure that networks are available and reliable enough to transmit signals when needed, while also delivering optimal call quality. Capacity planning can be carried out by monitoring network traffic, usage trends and other patterns which can help system administrators gauge fluctuations in resources, so relevant arrangements can be made to facilitate uptime as best as possible.

How do you choose the best VoIP codec for your business?

With so many VoIP codecs out there and every business presenting a unique set of needs, determining the most suitable VoIP codecs for your organization ultimately boils down to striking the right balance between adequate call quality, and bandwidth usage. Of course, what is defined as ‘adequate’ for one organization may be different for another. Which is why it is imperative to discuss your needs as clearly as possible, with your VoIP vendor. 

If you are embarking on the purchase of a brand new VoIP system, you need to have a business assessment done beforehand, which shall serve as a point of reference for prospective vendors. Vendors of existing systems need to constantly be on par with the changing needs of your business, and subsequently be quick to suggest relevant solutions in order to keep performance at an optimum level.