VoIP call quality relies on a stable internet connection. Even the most advanced VoIP phone services can become unusable due to poor connectivity. However, just knowing that your network is experiencing issues is not enough information to fix the problem.
To do that, you have to identify which part of the network is causing the issue. A ping test is a simple procedure that can help identify where your internet traffic is encountering issues. This, in turn, can help you troubleshoot your VoIP call issues.
What is a ping test?
VoIP is an internet-based technology. The quality of VoIP service is determined by how devices, such as computers, routers, SIP phones, and VoIP servers, relay internet traffic to and from each other. There are three primary factors that affect the way VoIP traffic flows.
- Network/router settings
- VoIP service provider
- ISP connection
A ping is a diagnostic tool for assessing where a network is experiencing delays or issues. Specifically, it provides data on how well an internet-enabled device, such as a router, communicates with another endpoint on the internet. It accomplishes this by sending an ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) packet, or 'ping', to the desired destination.
ICMP packets are specifically designed to test network performance. As such, they contain almost no information, and therefore take up very little bandwidth. If the ICMP packet reaches the receiving device, that device will recognize the ping request and reply back to the original device. The total time it took for the packet to be transmitted from and return to the original device is recorded as 'ping time' or 'round trip time'.
How to run a ping test
You can run a ping test on any major computer operating system, including Mac, Linux, and Windows. For example, here is how you would initiate a ping test on a computer running Mac OS X:
- Open a Terminal window on your computer.
- Type ping [hostname] into the terminal and hit Enter.
- Stop the ping test with Control C.
The [hostname] field is the destination that you wish to ping for the test. You can enter this in the form of an IP address (e.g. 192.168.1.7) or website URL (e.g. www.onsip.com).
If you are experiencing issues with your VoIP calls but not your regular internet activities, you should test the server that your VoIP provider uses. For example, OnSIP customers would run a ping test to sip.onsip.com. Contact your provider to find out how to test your VoIP connection with a ping test.
For a thorough test, we recommend testing at least 500 packets. This sample size will give you a large enough data set to work from. You also want to run the ping test when you're experiencing issues, not when your VoIP setup is working fine.
Understanding ping test results
If your ping test is successful, you should see a line for each ping being sent, as well as a summary of your ping statistics when you conclude the test.
The time it took for each ICMP packet to complete a round trip is displayed in the "time=" field. You should see some variance between how long each ping takes to return.
At the bottom of the screen, you will see a summary of results, including the total number of packets transmitted, total number of packets received, the percentage of packet loss experienced, and round trip time statistics in aggregate.
If the number of packets transmitted and the number of packets received are not equal, this means some packets did not make it to or from the destination. In terms of VoIP, this suggests some audio packets never make it to or from your phone, leading to call quality issues.
Packet loss essentially equates to lost voice data, which can lead to choppy voices, unintended silences, jumbled audio, and any number of corrosive effects on the call. You should have 0% packet loss, regardless of your internet provider.
Jitter and Latency
The round trip time statistics includes minimum, maximum, average, and standard deviation for all the ping packets in the test. Overall, the lower these four numbers are, the better your VoIP connection should be.
- minimum is the lowest round trip time in the data set
- maximum is the highest round trip time in the data set
- average is the numeric average of all the round trip times
- stddev is the standard deviation of the round trip times
These statistics indicate whether your network is experiencing high latency and/or jitter. Latency refers to the time it takes for a packet to reach its destination; jitter is the variation in packet latency. While both are bad news for VoIP, high jitter is a more serious issue.
Long round trip times suggest high latency. In general, it takes about 70 ms for a packet to go across the country. If you are experiencing ping times over 200 ms, this may result in noticeable delays in your calls.
Jitter is indicated by the "stddev" number. A higher standard deviation indicates that the round trip times are more dispersed in terms of the average time. In other words, packets are being transmitted and received at irregular intervals, which can manifest as jumbled audio on your calls. If one ping is 50 ms, and the next is 200 ms, and the third is 25 ms, you will likely have poor call quality.
Failed ping tests
Ping tests can fail for reasons that don't necessarily have to do with your ISP. On some routers, you'll need to make sure ICMP packets are enabled before running a ping test. Other routers block ICMP traffic in order to prioritize transit traffic. If you're having trouble performing a ping test, consult your router specifications for more information.
Another way to measure jitter, latency, and packet loss on your network is by performing a VoIP test, or internet speed test. There are several options available online, or you can use our free VoIP test by clicking on the button below:
Troubleshooting your VoIP connection
If your VoIP call quality is suffering, you should perform a ping test to get an overall sense of how your internet connection stands. Some support teams will also perform inbound ping tests to test your devices, including your phones, routers, computers, or other equipment you use in your hosted VoIP setup.
It's important to take screenshots or save copies of the ping tests you perform. If the issue lies with your ISP, you should revisit your Service Level Agreement (SLA) and see if it violates the terms of your service. The SLA will contain technical information on what quality of service you're entitled to, including guarantees against packet loss, jitter, and latency. When you reach out to your ISP, you can use your ping test results as evidence of ongoing network issues.
Sometimes, additional testing is needed to pinpoint the location of network latency. This might involve running a traceroute to see how your internet traffic is getting from your network to the destination.
Ping Test: Easy, Cheap, Efficient
A ping test is a simple and free way to test your VoIP connection and overall network performance. You can execute a ping test on most operating systems, and you don't have to download any software or plugins to run one. You can use your ping test results to force your ISP to take action, if the situation warrants it.
Before you can have a great hosted VoIP experience, you need to have a solid internet connection. The next time your VoIP call quality is suffering, run a quick ping test to see if your connection is harboring packet loss or slow speeds.