How to Reduce VoIP Jitter in Calls in 2024

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We know there’s nothing more frustrating than being on an important call only to find that you can barely understand the person you’re talking to. Their voice sounds garbled or it’s patchy, making it difficult to have a natural conversation.

This is known as VoIP jitter, and it can be a problem with some Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems. The good news is that you don’t have to just accept jitter. In this guide, we’ll explain what causes jitter and offer 7 tips you can use to fix it.

Key Takeaways

  • VoIP jitter results from delays in data transmission during phone calls. It manifests as choppy, garbled, or dropped audio.
  • Common causes of VoIP jitter include network congestion, bad packet prioritization settings, network interference, outdated VoIP hardware, and wireless signal degradation.
  • You can fix VoIP jitter by upgrading your network or VoIP hardware, switching to a wired connection, reconfiguring your router, or changing VoIP providers. If all else fails, you can use a jitter buffer to improve call quality.

What is Network Jitter?

You’ve probably experienced VoIP jitter as a communication breakdown during a call. This poor call quality is known as “jitter,” and it results from delays in data transmission.

Maybe the other person’s voice came in and out, and you only caught every other word. Or, you could hear the entire conversation, but the words were blurred together and hard to comprehend.

VoIP jitter is one of the main disadvantages in the VoIP vs landline debate. To understand it, you need to know a bit about how VoIP calls work.

  1. During a VoIP call, your voice is translated into electronic data packets that can be sent over the Internet. It’s similar to how a website transmits data to your computer, except that, in this case, the data being sent is your voice.
  2. These data packets are transmitted through your network, onto the public internet, and then onto your call recipient’s network.
  3. They’re then converted back from data packets into voice on the recipient’s phone.

In an ideal VoIP conversation, data packets are transmitted back and forth continuously. There’s no delay in the audio on either end of the call, making real-time communication completely seamless.

In practice, however, there may be a delay in transmission. This delay, which can be measured in milliseconds, is what causes jitter. The longer the delay, the more jittery your call will be.

In extreme cases, data packets can even be lost and never make it to their destination. This is what causes someone’s voice to drop out entirely for a word or two at a time.

7 Tips on How to Reduce VoIP Jitter

Let’s take a look at 7 approaches for fixing jitter in your VoIP calls:

  1. Check Your Hardware

    One of the first things you should do is check your VoIP hardware. If it’s old, it could be the source of your jitter. Try replacing just one device first to see if the new equipment experiences less jitter during calls.
  2. Switch to a Wired Connection

    Poor Wi-Fi signal quality is often a cause of bad VoIP call quality. Instead of connecting to the internet over Wi-Fi, plug an ethernet cable into your computer or VoIP hardware. You’ll likely experience faster connection speeds and reduced jitter.
  3. Configure Your Router's QoS Scheme

    You can configure your router’s QoS scheme to prioritize data packets from your VoIP setup over other data types. This is a good way to solve jitter if your network is congested.

    The process for modifying your router’s QoS scheme varies by device, so check your router’s manual on how to access the QoS scheme settings. VoIP data packets are designated as “Differentiated Services Code Point (DSCP) number 46,” so set this data type to receive the highest priority.

  4. Upgrade Your Router

    If prioritizing VoIP call data packets in your router’s QoS scheme doesn’t eliminate jitter, you may need to upgrade to a router with more bandwidth. Your router should support at least the connection speed you pay for from your internet service provider and, ideally, even higher speeds.
  5. Upgrade Your Internet Service

    If your internet connectivity is causing issues not only with VoIP calls but also browsing the web, streaming videos, and downloading files, it could be a sign you need to upgrade your internet service. You can either purchase a higher-bandwidth plan from your current provider or switch to an alternative internet service provider that offers faster service plans.
  6. Change VoIP Providers

    Most reputable VoIP providers offer ultra-fast servers that won’t slow down your calls. But if you’re using a cut-rate VoIP service, your provider’s server may be causing delays in data transmission. The only way to solve this is by switching to a new VoIP provider. Check out our guide to the best VoIP services to use today.
  7. Use a Jitter Buffer

    A jitter buffer is a piece of hardware you can install on your VoIP devices. Many modern VoIP devices come with built-in jitter buffers that you can configure in your hardware settings.

    This device stores data packets before releasing them for transmission. For example, it can hold 30 milliseconds worth of VoIP data packets and then release them together, ensuring there’s no delay in the audio sequence.

    The process is similar to how streaming services buffer a video before it begins playing. Importantly, using a jitter buffer won’t solve the root cause of your VoIP jitter. It’s more of a band-aid than a permanent solution.

    So, this fix is best if you can’t figure out why your network is experiencing jitter, and you need to improve your call quality right away.

Why Does Network Jitter Matter?

If you’ve ever experienced high levels of jitter on a VoIP call, you know how frustrating it can be. Audio that should be easy to hear suddenly becomes garbled or inaudible.

You’re left asking the other person to repeat themselves or, even worse, misunderstanding what they said. For businesses, VoIP jitter can be a huge problem.

Customers can find it irritating not being heard correctly or not understanding what the call handler is saying. A negative experience could even result in them leaving your business for a competitor.

The chance that jitter could lead to misunderstandings is even more frightening. Your business could commit to a huge project and get the details wrong, resulting in massive costs.

What Causes Jitter During VoIP Calls?

If jitter is the result of slow data packet transmission during your call, then what causes data packets to be delayed or lost in the first place? There are 5 common causes behind network jitter, including:

1. Network Congestion2. Packet Prioritization3. Interference4. Dated Hardware5. Signal Degradation

Network Congestion

High levels of activity on your internet network are frequently the root cause of jitter. Your internet router is responsible for directing data traffic to and from your VoIP devices, including the data packets from your VoIP call.

However, routers only have so much bandwidth available, and your VoIP call is one of many activities that transmit data. Employees browsing the internet, hosting video calls, or downloading documents from your cloud server all need to transmit data, too.

If your router becomes overwhelmed with data packets going back and forth, it can suffer delays or data losses.

Packet Prioritization

Routers have a way to decide which data packets should be prioritized when the network is busy. You can set up a Quality of Service (QoS) scheme for your router so that it transmits data packets from certain devices or applications first.

If you haven’t configured your router’s QoS scheme, it may be deprioritizing data packets from your VoIP phone system. This means jitter is more likely to occur, especially if the network is busy.

Interference

Electromagnetic signals, radio waves, and bad wiring can all interfere with your internet connection. Interference impacts not only VoIP call quality but also your connection speed when browsing the web or downloading files.

Dated or Inferior Hardware

Modern VoIP hardware and software are designed to handle large volumes of data for higher call quality. However, older VoIP hardware was built with lower expectations of how much data a VoIP call would involve.

So, if you’re using outdated hardware with modern software, your hardware could be a choke point for data packets, thus the source of your call jitter.

Wireless Signal Degradation

If your VoIP hardware is connected to the internet by Wi-Fi or a cellular network, the wireless signal itself may be of poor quality. Wireless signals are more prone to interference, so signal quality can vary if you’re moving around while on a call.

Wireless signal degradation is usually associated with lost data packets as the signal drops and returns. This manifests as someone’s voice dropping out during a call.

What is an Acceptable Level of Jitter?

If the delay in data packets is small enough, you might not even notice jitter in your call. Typically, delays shorter than 30 milliseconds result in acceptable jitter for VoIP.

Delays of over 30 milliseconds is when it becomes difficult to understand what someone is saying. This means your connection doesn’t need to be 100% perfect to achieve high-quality VoIP calls.

Simply reducing data packet delays and losses can make a big difference in your call quality.

How to Measure Jitter

Before you start troubleshooting jitter, it’s important to measure how bad the problem is so you can see if your solutions are having an effect. There are a few different ways to measure jitter, including:

  1. Online Jitter Tests

    The simplest way to measure jitter is to use an online connectivity test. Cloudflare has an instantaneous speed test that displays your network jitter in milliseconds.
  2. Terminal-Based VoIP Test

    While using an online test is easy, it’s not perfectly accurate at measuring VoIP jitter. That’s because when you make a VoIP call, you have to connect to a specific server—your VoIP provider’s server—rather than to the server the online test uses.

    You can run your own jitter test using your computer’s command line terminal.

    • On Windows: Enter “ping -n 20 [your VoIP server address]”
    • On macOS or Linux: Enter “ping -c 20 [your VoIP server address]”

    The results will look like this: “20 packets transmitted, 20 packets received, 0.0% packet loss round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 22.864/29.643/37.224/3.846 ms”

    The final number output from the results is your jitter in milliseconds—in this case, 3.846 milliseconds.

  3. Network Monitoring Tools

    If you’re running a large VoIP phone system, such as for a business with hundreds or thousands of employees, it may be helpful to monitor jitter using a dedicated network monitoring platform.

    Examples include the SolarWinds VoIP & Network Quality Manager, Cisco DNA, and Dynatrace. These monitoring tools display your network jitter and provide detailed information about your network to help you identify what’s causing jitter in your VoIP calls.

Related: VoIP Advantages and Disadvantages to Know

Conclusion

VoIP jitter is choppiness, noise, or garbled audio that occurs during a VoIP call. It’s caused by delays in VoIP data packet transmission, which typically results from a congested network, poor connection, or old VoIP hardware.

Jitter is relatively easy to fix by replacing outdated VoIP hardware, modifying your internet network settings, or upgrading your router or internet service. If you can’t pinpoint the cause of jitter, you can use a jitter buffer as a short-term fix to improve your call quality.

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Michael Graw
Technology Expert
Michael Graw
Technology Expert

Michael Graw is an experienced writer in the business and B2B tech fields. His articles can be found on Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Tom’s Guide, and TechRadar, and cover everything from corporate finance to crypto and international tech regulation. A prolific copywriter and entrepreneur, Michael has worked with a wide range of SaaS and tech companies and has his finger firmly on the pulse of B2B tech and finance.