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Using UDP for VoIP instead of TCP

Updated on September 27, 2012
Using UDP for VoIP
Using UDP for VoIP

How VoIP Is Different from Regular Internet Traffic

While it is certainly ideal for all Internet traffic to be treated in the same way regardless of which application is using it or where it's going to, in reality the technical nature of different types of traffic necessitate various strategies for handling them. Some might argue that this goes against the principle of net neutrality – but net neutrality has more to do with restrictions on traffic imposed by the Internet service provider or the ISP. VoIP however requires a management strategy that is implemented based on the protocol that is being used – namely SIP.

The Internet is widely based on the TCP/IP protocol which proves extremely reliable for data transfer. Most Internet applications have very little tolerance for error rates. For example, if you have a webpage, erroneous data will mean that you receive junk and that results in a very poor user experience. Far better to spend a few additional milliseconds requeriying the data and making sure that it arrives intact rather than provide the user with bad packets. This works well for most areas of web content.

VoIP however is a very different beast compared to traditional Internet traffic. It needs a different set of rules and the TCP/IP protocol isn't well-suited for VoIP.

Problems with the TCP/IP Protocol

The process of re-querying data when bad packets are received or when a timeout occurs is great for receiving quality data but introduces a certain time lag that is unacceptable in cases of real-time communication like VoIP. Experience as well as research has shown that there is a certain tolerance for delay when talking over the phone beyond which, it becomes very difficult for proper two-way communication. VoIP applications cannot afford to spend tens of milliseconds on requesting old data because they need to reduce latency and lag as much as possible.

Because of this, the TCP/IP protocol is insufficient for VoIP and we need something else that is known as The User Datagram Protocol or UDP for short. UDP is a technique that requires very little setup as compared to TCP/IP and consists of sending a stream of messages as soon as they're available and the receiver accepts them and processes them regardless of whether or not they received correctly. While this may introduce a few glitches during talk time, the human brain is more than capable of making sense of what is coming in even with a bit of faulty data thrown in. As a result, UDP has significantly less latency unlike TCP/IP when it comes to VoIP – and this is something that customers notice very quickly.

If you know what you're doing, you can use certain configuration options in your VoIP client that will force it to use the TCP/IP protocol instead of UDP. Contact a Philadelphia phone services VoIP provider to ask them about it if you have any doubts. SIP is one of the most flexible VoIP protocols and depending on your needs, anything can be configured to suit them.

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