Quality of Service
Communication on the IP network is inherently less reliable in contrast to the circuit-switched public telephone network, as it does not provide a network-based mechanism to ensure that data packets are not lost, and are delivered in sequential order. It is a best-effort network without fundamental Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees. Therefore, VoIP implementations may face problems mitigating latency and jitter.
By default, network routers handle traffic on a first-come, first-served basis. Network routers on high volume traffic links may introduce latency that exceeds permissible thresholds for VoIP. Fixed delays cannot be controlled, as they are caused by the physical distance the packets travel; however, latency can be minimized by marking voice packets as being delay-sensitive with methods such as DiffServ.
A VoIP packet usually has to wait for the current packet to finish transmission. Although it is possible to preempt (abort) a less important packet in mid-transmission, this is not commonly done, especially on high-speed links where transmission times are short even for maximum-sized packets. An alternative to preemption on slower links, such as dialup and digital subscriber line (DSL), is to reduce the maximum transmission time by reducing the maximum transmission unit. But every packet must contain protocol headers, so this increases relative header overhead on every link traversed, not just the bottleneck (usually Internet access) link.
DSL modems provide Ethernet (or Ethernet over USB) connections to local equipment, but inside they are actually Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) modems. They use ATM Adaptation Layer 5 (AAL5) to segment each Ethernet packet into a series of 53-byte ATM cells for transmission and reassemble them back into Ethernet packets at the receiver. A virtual circuit identifier (VCI) is part of the 5-byte header on every ATM cell, so the transmitter can multiplex the active virtual circuits (VCs) in any arbitrary order. Cells from the same VC are always sent sequentially.
However, the great majority of DSL providers use only one VC for each customer, even those with bundled VoIP service. Every Ethernet packet must be completely transmitted before another can begin. If a second VC were established, given high priority and reserved for VoIP, then a low priority data packet could be suspended in mid-transmission and a VoIP packet sent right away on the high priority VC. Then the link would pick up the low priority VC where it left off. Because ATM links are multiplexed on a cell-by-cell basis, a high priority packet would have to wait at most 53 byte times to begin transmission. There would be no need to reduce the interface MTU and accept the resulting increase in higher layer protocol overhead, and no need to abort a low priority packet and resend it later.
ATM has substantial header overhead: 5/53 = 9.4%, roughly twice the total header overhead of a 1500 byte Ethernet packet. This "ATM tax" is incurred by every DSL user whether or not he takes advantage of multiple virtual circuits - and few can.
ATM's potential for latency reduction is greatest on slow links, because worst-case latency decreases with increasing link speed. A full-size (1500 byte) Ethernet frame takes 94 ms to transmit at 128 kbit/s but only 8 ms at 1.5 Mbit/s. If this is the bottleneck link, this latency is probably small enough to ensure good VoIP performance without MTU reductions or multiple ATM VCs. The latest generations of DSL, VDSL and VDSL2, carry Ethernet without intermediate ATM/AAL5 layers, and they generally support IEEE 802.1p priority tagging so that VoIP can be queued ahead of less time-critical traffic.
Voice, and all other data, travels in packets over IP networks with fixed maximum capacity. This system may be more prone to congestion and DoS attacks than traditional circuit switched systems; a circuit switched system of insufficient capacity will refuse new connections while carrying the remainder without impairment, while the quality of real-time data such as telephone conversations on packet-switched networks degrades dramatically.
Fixed delays cannot be controlled as they are caused by the physical distance the packets travel. They are especially problematic when satellite circuits are involved because of the long distance to a geostationary satellite and back; delays of 400–600 ms are typical.
When the load on a link grows so quickly that its switches experience queue overflows, congestion results and data packets are lost. This signals a transport protocol like TCP to reduce its transmission rate to alleviate the congestion. But VoIP usually uses UDP not TCP because recovering from congestion through retransmission usually entails too much latency. So QoS mechanisms can avoid the undesirable loss of VoIP packets by immediately transmitting them ahead of any queued bulk traffic on the same link, even when that bulk traffic queue is overflowing.
The receiver must resequence IP packets that arrive out of order and recover gracefully when packets arrive too late or not at all. Jitter results from the rapid and random (i.e., unpredictable) changes in queue lengths along a given Internet path due to competition from other users for the same transmission links. VoIP receivers counter jitter by storing incoming packets briefly in a "de-jitter" or "playout" buffer, deliberately increasing latency to improve the chance that each packet will be on hand when it is time for the voice engine to play it. The added delay is thus a compromise between excessive latency and excessive dropout, i.e., momentary audio interruptions.
Although jitter is a random variable, it is the sum of several other random variables that are at least somewhat independent: the individual queuing delays of the routers along the Internet path in question. Thus according to the central limit theorem, we can model jitter as a gaussian random variable. This suggests continually estimating the mean delay and its standard deviation and setting the playout delay so that only packets delayed more than several standard deviations above the mean will arrive too late to be useful. In practice, however, the variance in latency of many Internet paths is dominated by a small number (often one) of relatively slow and congested "bottleneck" links. Most Internet backbone links are now so fast (e.g. 10 Gbit/s) that their delays are dominated by the transmission medium (e.g., optical fiber) and the routers driving them do not have enough buffering for queuing delays to be significant.
It has been suggested to rely on the packetized nature of media in VoIP communications and transmit the stream of packets from the source phone to the destination phone simultaneously across different routes (multi-path routing). In such a way, temporary failures have less impact on the communication quality. In capillary routing it has been suggested to use at the packet level Fountain codes or particularly raptor codes for transmitting extra redundant packets making the communication more reliable.
A number of protocols have been defined to support the reporting of quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) for VoIP calls. These include RTCP Extended Report (RFC 3611), SIP RTCP Summary Reports, H.460.9 Annex B (for H.323), H.248.30 and MGCP extensions. The RFC 3611 VoIP Metrics block is generated by an IP phone or gateway during a live call and contains information on packet loss rate, packet discard rate (because of jitter), packet loss/discard burst metrics (burst length/density, gap length/density), network delay, end system delay, signal / noise / echo level, Mean Opinion Scores (MOS) and R factors and configuration information related to the jitter buffer.
RFC 3611 VoIP metrics reports are exchanged between IP endpoints on an occasional basis during a call, and an end of call message sent via SIP RTCP Summary Report or one of the other signaling protocol extensions. RFC 3611 VoIP metrics reports are intended to support real time feedback related to QoS problems, the exchange of information between the endpoints for improved call quality calculation and a variety of other applications.
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