How can I get the latency/delay out of my phone calls?
September 12, 2011 11:22 AM   Subscribe

How can I get the delay/latency out of my cell-via-network-extender calls or Skype calls or both? Verizon says it's Comcast and Comcast says everything's fine. Could it be my router? Is this just par for the course? I don't want to go back to landline but have to have a good phone line for my home business.

I use a Verizon network extender (a.k.a femtocell) to be able to get cell reception in my home. But when I make or receive calls, there is a delay/latency between when I start/finish speaking and when the other person hears that start/finish. Same thing in the other direction. So we trip over each other's sentences and it's easy to think the other person is interrupting you or that it's your turn to speak when it's not yet. The same thing happens when I try Skype as an alternative.

I route calls to my cell number via Google Voice, but the issue is the same if someone calls my Verizon cell number directly or if I call out from my cell, so that doesn't appear to be a contributing factor. It never created a delay back when I had it route to my T-Mobile cell (when I could get a signal).

I've recently started a home business, so I can't be playing around with this problem. I have to have a reliable phone connection. It's surprising how this small delay can mess up a call and give a bad impression but it really can. I really don't want to go back to landline after so long but it's looking like my only hope unless you Obi-Wans can help.

Is there anything I can do to the network extender, the router, or the internet signal to cut the latency down to acceptable levels?

Deeper detail/history below, but that's the gist of it.


Here's what I've tried so far:

Verizon: It's Comcast's Problem: I called Verizon for help. They ran me through tests on several different sites to measure not just connection speed but connection quality (measured several things like "jitter" and other readings). They said my connection is not consistent enough to properly support voice calls. They said sometimes it was good enough and sometimes not, based on those test results. I thought that didn't sound right because there's always latency in the calls, not just sometimes. They said talk to Comcast because it's a connection problem.

Comcast: Made Some Tweaks - Everything's Great: I called Comcast and told them what was up. They sent someone out. He did tests with his meter and found that there was in fact trouble - some kind of signal noise/interference. He found that my drop (the cable from the pole) had been worn through up by the pole due to rubbing against something in the wind and that the guts of the cable at that point were starting to corrode. Replaced it. Also replaced the various small cables and connectors in the little cable box outside (I live in a salty environment that corrodes everything quickly). Then he came back in and did his tests with his meter and it was fine. He ran me through some online tests too and I was great. Quick ping, few or zero dropped packets.

Problem Still There: So I tried some phone calls while he was still there and the problem was still there, cell and Skype. He said my service was running great and that was everything they could do on their end. He suggested connecting my computer to my router via ethernet instead of going wifi because it would be faster than my circa 2008 Linksys WRT54GL router could do via its Wireless G signal. I tested that and he's right that it's slightly faster, but there's still enough latency for some conversational stubbed toes. And that doesn't help me on incoming cell calls anyway.

Could It Be The Router?
The 3G network extender is wired to the router via ethernet. The computer is connected to the router via wifi or ethernet. It would seem that the problem is upstream of both the computer and the network extender since both experience the same delay. Comcast says I'm good. So could it be the router? It doesn't have wireless N but it would seem the issue is in the wired connection if it's anywhere in the router, not so much the wireless since the problem is the same through the network extender, which is hard wired to the router. I'm pinching every penny as I try to keep my business afloat, but I'll buy a new router if that's the problem. I just don't want to buy it if it's probably not the problem.

What could the root of this problem be and how can I beat it?

Is this simply a fact of VOIP and VOIP-esque communications at this point? Do I have to get a landline? If so I'll route Google voice to ring both cell and home and just pick up the home phone when I'm home. But then I also have to call out with it, which gives people a third number for me after the Google Voice number on my business cards and the cell number they'll have if I've ever called them by cell. And plus I'll have to get separate voicemail or answering machine for the home line in case people call it directly. Do not want. Halp.
posted by Askr to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
I think increased latency is simply a fact of life in the VoIP environment. My parents use Ooma (a popular VoIP service) for their home phone, and there is a noticeable lag when talking to them.

Cell phones have always had a slightly higher latency than landlines, and VoIP has been higher still. When you use a femtocell, you're basically combining the two technologies and likely exacerbating the latency problem.

If you decide to go the landline route with Google Voice, you can always use the Google Voice web interface to initiate outbound calls. GV will call your landline, and when you answer it will initiate the outbound call. The recipient will see your GV number on their caller ID.
posted by Nothlit at 11:48 AM on September 12, 2011

Did verizon give you an ip to ping to to test your latency to them? And if so, what is the latency? And what does a tracert to that ip look like?

Delays are kind of a fact of life in voip, but it shouldn't be enough to seriously impact communication -- it should be more like a long distance call.

How much jitter were you seeing when they had you test that?

Basically, you want your ping time to be less than 100ms (that's your latency), and you want less than 40ms of jitter (which is the variation in ping times, basically). Anything more than that, and you are going to have problems.
posted by empath at 12:36 PM on September 12, 2011

There was one think missing from your detailed breakdown: having Verizon retest everything now that the Comcast work has been done. It is possible they got as far as detecting the line's very real inconsistencies, and stopped there, but now that you've fixed 'em, there's more troubleshooting to be done. Call them back.
posted by davejay at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er, one thing. Not think. Gah.
posted by davejay at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2011

Yeah, as someone who use to work for a voip company doing tech support, I will stop looking at the issue if I run into an ISP problem. That doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't our stuff, but that it wasn't worth troubleshooting our end of the problem until the ISP issue was taken care of. About half the time it ended up being our stuff, but until your home internet connection is sorted out, there's no way of really figuring that out.
posted by empath at 1:05 PM on September 12, 2011

Did verizon give you an ip to ping to to test your latency to them? And if so, what is the latency? And what does a tracert to that ip look like?

Empath, I don't think Verizon gave me an ip to ping. They just sent me to a few different (non-Verizon) testing sites and had me tell them the numbers. The Comcast tech, however tested my speed via here in person using a server about 45 miles from here. It displays ping time too. I don't remember what results he got then, but the speeds were crazy, way faster than I think I actually get (I bet they have a thumb on those scales). I just did it again and got amazing speeds again and a ping of 11ms. Their tool doesn't display jitter or other measurements.

I believe he also used my black command prompt screen to ping Google. I don't remember what the results were but he said they were good. I just did that again and got 0% packet loss at an average of 48ms. I don't know how far away that server is though. I'm in N. Florida. I did tracert on too but I don't know what I'm looking at. It took 14 steps to finish and the final line reads 61ms 45ms 57ms, but doesn't indicate whether that's ping time or jitter or what. It would be low for ping time and high for jitter according to what you wrote.

How much jitter were you seeing when they had you test that?

I don't remember what my numbers were when Comcast had me test my line quality but I just tested again myself. When i test it using using a server about five hours from here (closer ones aren't working right now for some reason), I got the following results over about five minutes - the first measure is packet loss, the second is ping speed, the third is jitter, and the fourth is their letter grade of my connection. Looks excellent:

0% 30ms 2ms A
0% 30ms 2ms A
0% 31ms 3ms A
0% 30ms 2ms A
0% 32ms 5ms A
0% 31ms 4ms A

And this is using wi-fi if that matters. When I turn off the radios on my computer and plug in ethernet, the results are pretty much the same. 11ms and crazy speeds at Comcast's site and 0% 33ms 4ms A on
posted by Askr at 3:59 PM on September 12, 2011

Yeah, that indicates that your local connection is perfect for voice -- but you need to test against your voip provider's servers to see if those numbers hold up, and if they don't you need to figure out where the problem is happening...
posted by empath at 4:06 PM on September 12, 2011

that is, you may have a perfectly good connection to that test server, but if there's a problem on the path to your voip provider, then you could still have internet problems causing audio issues. A tracert to one of their ips should should whether that's the case or not.
posted by empath at 4:09 PM on September 12, 2011

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