A router is an essential part of your office's Local Area Network (LAN). It can prioritize different types of data, improve network security, provide additional storage, allow remote network access, and more.
It also offers settings that help to optimize business VoIP traffic. In this blog, we'll outline the features you should look for when you're purchasing a router for your business cloud phone system, as well as present a free guide that lists a few recommended devices.
A Quick Look: Routers & Business VoIP
A typical office network includes many hardware devices, cables, and software programs to ensure that each user on the LAN can communicate with each other and access the Internet in an efficient and secure manner. These can include modems, routers, switches, firewalls, wireless access points, computers, phones, and printers.
Routers are devices that direct Internet traffic by passing data packets between computer networks in the quickest and safest way possible. A router connects your devices, including your VoIP phones, to the Internet and can impact your VoIP call quality and connectivity. How?
VoIP traffic is sent in data packets, just like any other Internet traffic. If your router is not primed to receive VoIP data packets, it can mismanage or lose those packets. This leads to jitter, latency, dropped calls, and other service disruptions.
You may already have a router that's suited for business VoIP, but you might not have it configured properly. Become familiar with these router features and settings so you can use them as part of your cloud phone system:
Router Features to Look For
Quality of Service
Quality of Service (QoS), or traffic shaping, is router technology that allows you to control how much bandwidth certain kinds of traffic get. QoS lets you give the "highest" priority to your VoIP traffic, while giving lower priorities to video, data, and other packets.
That way, if you're downloading a big file and on a VoIP call at the same time, the router can allocate more bandwidth to the VoIP traffic. This targeted allocation avoids call quality disruptions, including jitter and latency.
When you're shopping for a VoIP router, make sure to keep an eye out for QoS capabilities. They are often advertised prominently. If a router lacks QoS, it's bad not just for the missing feature, but probably speaks poorly about the device overall, since these control features are standard.
- How to Optimize Any Router for VoIP Systems
- How to Use Quality of Service (QoS) to Get Faster Internet When You Need It
- VoIP QoS Settings - Linksys
- Reliability and Quality of Service - Jitter, Latency, Packet Loss
A Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) allows you to partition specific devices or users in your network into subgroups. For instance, you might use a VLAN to pair all the VoIP users in your office, and then set bandwidth allocation limits amongst this group that are favorable to VoIP traffic. This also helps you keep voice and data traffic separate.
You can optimize business VoIP traffic with dual-band routers that transmit radio frequencies at 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously.
The 5GHz band transfers data faster than the 2.4GHz band. You can assign your VoIP traffic exclusively to the 5GHz band for quicker speeds. Traffic from videos, IM, and other sources can pass through the 2.4Ghz band. This segmentation gives priority to VoIP packets. These days, most commercial routers come with dual-band technology.
Or better yet, get a tri-band router with transmitters at 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz, and 5Ghz. That way, you won't lose any of your other downloads, and VoIP traffic will still get its own 5Ghz band.
- Manually configuring the wireless network of your Linksys Dual-Band router
- What Are Dual-Band and Tri-Band Routers?
802.11ac and MU-MIMO
Routers come with a Wi-Fi standard, known as 802.11. The letter (a, b, g, n, or ac) indicates the speed and range of your router over the wireless network.
For business VoIP, you'll need a router with at least 802.11n. Routers that broadcast in 802.11ac are ideal for most traffic, including VoIP. The protocol is three times faster than the industry benchmark, the 802.11n.
Of course, you'll also need devices that are compatible with 802.11ac to get the full speed capabilities of the protocol. But even without this compatibility, your device will still see faster speeds.
Another feature that can speed along VoIP packets over wireless is MU-MIMO, or Multi-User, Multi-Input, Multi-Output. MU-MIMO allows the router to engage each device on the network with its own data stream, as if each device had its own personal router.
In other words, the streams between your VoIP device and your co-workers' frequent file downloading will never get mushed together with a MU-MIMO router. This is a huge plus for VoIP traffic. Right now, MU-MIMO is a relatively new feature, but many of the VoIP routers in the buying guide below do have it.
H.323 and SIP Support
H.323 is a VoIP protocol that enables multimedia capabilities such as voice, video, and data transfer. SIP is another protocol used to power VoIP communications, including voice and video. These protocols help ensure that call sessions between different parties are properly established, manipulated, and terminated.
Most commercial routers support these two protocols, but it can never hurt to double check or ask questions about Application Layer Gateways (ALGs) that could block these protocols.
Recommended Routers for Business VoIP
Now that you have an idea of some of the features that can help improve VoIP call quality, here are some trusted router brands that we recommend, along with their relative price range (if you want to start your search off with specific routers that we recommend, see our free Top Business VoIP Routers guide):
- Cisco ($$ - $$$) - Cisco has been the dominant name in networking for nearly as long as networking has existed. While their routers are higher priced, they also deliver an advanced feature set and sophisticated support. Cisco routers are best suited for companies with in-house IT professionals, as their configuration and management can be complicated.
- Juniper Networks ($$ - $$$) - Juniper is Cisco’s major competitor and provides competition for their business models. Juniper configuration is moderately easier and more forgiving than on a Cisco router, but is complicated enough that it’s ideal to have an IT professional around to configure and maintain the network.
- Linksys ($ - $$) - Linksys products are designed for home users and businesses, so Linksys routers are best for offices with fewer than 10 users and small home offices. Enterprise users will need something more powerful to support their operations.
- Cisco Meraki ($$ - $$$) - Meraki offers cloud-managed security devices with WAN (Wide Area Network) functionality and cloud-managed wireless access points. While setup and management is extremely easy, Meraki devices require an annual license, which drives up the total cost of ownership.
- Ubiquiti Networks ($ - $$) - Ubiquiti offers scaled down carrier-grade hardware at a lower price point. Their routers and WAPs have received great reviews for their speed, intuitive web interface, and configuration options, but are recommended for users with some networking knowledge.
- Netgear ($ - $$) - Netgear offers several models of routers for small and home offices that are dependable and configurable via a user-friendly web interface. These all-in-one devices provide cost savings at the expense of scalability, but are a good option for smaller businesses.
Routers: Business VoIP Gatekeepers
Routers are the gatekeepers of VoIP services. Those with the latest technology will fare better than those without, but much of a router's success comes in the way it's programmed to process traffic. Even simple QoS adjustments can lead to demonstrable changes in your VoIP call quality.
If you're just getting started with VoIP, this post should give you some idea of the features you'll need for your network. To test your network bandwidth, try our free VoIP test to see if your Internet connection is VoIP-ready.