Absolute best VoIP quality service
January 26, 2014 10:14 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an app that provides the absolute best VoIP sound quality for calls from outside the US to the US. I don't mind paying. Snowflakes inside.

I'm so fed up with Skype! I'm looking for an app with the best voice quality possible for phone calls online. I am mostly calling to the US from outside the US.

- I have a US-locked iPhone
- I don't want to change my carrier/get a local SIM/etc.
- Google Voice seems to have overall better quality than Skype, but it's not perfect and I'm looking for other alternatives.
- I'm not super price sensitive. If there's a monthly fee I can pay not to have to worry about sound quality with every call, I'll pay it. (Costs per minute with my default carrier are really high, so it will probably be less expensive than that.)
- I currently have forwarding set up from Google Voice to my phone. I'd love to have it forward to whatever this app is so that I don't have to pay for inbound calls. But not strictly necessary as I can only call out if needed.
posted by 3491again to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't used it, but Line2 might fill the bill. I considered using it, but decided I'd trade the convenience of an all-and-one solution for a cheaper VoIP service + softphone app.
posted by Good Brain at 11:15 PM on January 26, 2014

3491again: "I currently have forwarding set up from Google Voice to my phone. I'd love to have it forward to whatever this app is so that I don't have to pay for inbound calls."

I'm confused by this part of the question. Are you saying you'll forward a call from Google Voice to the new app? So wouldn't the quality of Google Voice still be a limiting factor, since it will go through GV before the new app?
posted by bluecore at 4:50 AM on January 27, 2014

What device is the other party or parties using? Because i have yet to hear anything that sounded as good, or seemed to have as high of a bitrate/good compression/etc as facetime audio.

Obviously, that's iphone/ipad/ipod touch/mac only, and the mac client doesn't even support audio-only mode yet... but still, the quality of it has blown me away every time i've used it. It makes skype and such sound like a really crappy 90s cordless phone that's gotten wet a couple times.
posted by emptythought at 4:51 AM on January 27, 2014

Unless you pony up big bucks for private circuits or something with an SLA on an enterprise-agreement (think thousands per month), you are never going to get a guarantee on quality. Voice traffic over the internet is "best effort" and if that carrier is having a bad day (or one of the carriers they're leasing space from is having a bad day) you could get a bad call. Worse, you could be having a perfect day network-wise, but the person you're calling has a lousy ISP and the problem is on their end. Again, crappy call.

Folks will tell you anecdotally that they have used so-and-so service for years and it has been flawless with the ability to hear a pin drop on a glass table from 1000 paces on a 486-based PC soft phone. And they are likely telling the absolute truth. And they've been lucky, too. Like I said - no guarantees.

Services have gotten better over the years - it's 100% better today, in my opinion, than it was even 5 years ago. But it's never going to be perfect unless all the variables between you and the other party are perfect too.

I would stick to large-carrier/name-brand services as they tend to have access to the better networks/links. There are exceptions, but this is generally true.
posted by Thistledown at 5:38 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm using http://www.phone.com/ for work - based in germany and using a US number, it usually works quite well.
posted by ts;dr at 6:16 AM on January 27, 2014

What Thistledown said. With VoIP there are no guarantees, just best efforts.

We've been using Vonage for a long time, and their quality varies. Within the US, it's usually quite good; internationally it's hit or miss.

I've been using Skype for a long time, and the quality is *really* variable, especially internationally.

I've been using Facetime for a short while, and so far it's been rather good. Mostly I think it's because it is highly tuned to the specifics of the iPhone hardware.

Overall, mobile phones suck at voice quality because it's just not that important a part of the feature set, and compressing the heck out of voice lets carriers jam more stuff on a given amount of cellular bandwidth. If you're on a 4G or LTE network, you're effectively using VoIP anyway, or a close cousin, even when you make a "regular" phone call.

Good luck trying to recreate the pin drop ad with any mobile phone!
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:57 AM on January 27, 2014

I use Talktone and a Google voice number. Works great.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2014

VoIP isn't quite as hopeless as people are making it out to be.

There is, indeed, a lot of potential for variability in latency over the Internet, but there are providers that can provide some QoS over international links. In addition, while most cell phones use aggressive codecs to squeeze more bandwidth out of the mobile links, if you are using WiFi (which isn't stated by the OP, but seems implied), you can do VoIP with uLaw encoding, which is basically the same digital transmission standard as the digital backbone of the wired telephone network.
posted by Good Brain at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2014

With all due respect to Good Brain, unless you are paying for a private circuit or an SLA, you will not receive any degree of QoS over public internet. uLaw is the same as uncompressed G.711 and is not more efficient. In fact, it's less.
posted by Thistledown at 4:28 PM on January 28, 2014

With due respect, Thistledown, your reading comprehension is poor.

I didn't say that uLaw was more efficient, I said that it was the same digital transmission standard as the digital wired telephone network, which irregardless of efficiency, isn't compressed as heavily as mobile phone calls. In fact, I made the point of saying that it was only really appropriate in situations when access was over WiFi.

As to QoS, I didn't say that an individual could get QoS over the public Internet. I said that there were (VoIP) providers that could do QoS over international links.

I won't insult your intelligence by explaining why either would be relevant. For general audiences though, I'll be more explicit: Calls can be made through a local point of presence, then travel over congested international links with the benefit of quality of service due to the VoIP providers SLA, before being terminated to the public telephone network in the US. If the call is made using the uLaw codec, then call quality will be about as good as any land-line call. There will, of course, be possibility for latency problems and drop-outs in the network between the caller and the local POP, but chances are the problems with Skype, etc are on the international links.
posted by Good Brain at 7:35 PM on January 28, 2014

Response by poster: Just wanted to clarify: I am not looking for an absolute perfect guarantee. As good as domestic cell coverage or landline is fine. It just seems that even on a great wifi network (blazing fast streaming video and downloads, etc.), I get sound quality on Skype that sounds like I'm in a tunnel with every third word dropping out.

Most of the time. I wouldn't pay 1000s a month to improve it, but I'd probably pay $100 or even a bit more.
posted by 3491again at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2014

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