Question: My internet carrier says I should upgrade my bandwidth to improve the quality of my VoIP phone service. Should I do this?

Answer: The problem that affects voice and video on the internet is latency — the delay in transmission of data between the source and destination. This data must be delivered quickly, otherwise some data is considered to be expired and is discarded, resulting in poor quality voice and video. Voice may sound choppy due to missing fragments of the audio. Video may be jumpy or may freeze.

Increasing your bandwidth may or may not improve latency. It depends upon whether the cause of the latency is related to the traffic on your internet connection, or if it is due to the accumulation of Internet traffic in your area (on the carrier’s “node”). If your own traffic is exceeding the bandwidth of your connection, resulting in congestion, then increasing your bandwidth will help. However, if the congestion is not caused by your own traffic, but instead the overall internet traffic in your area or node is heavy and causing latency, then increasing your bandwidth won’t help the situation, and may actually worsen it for all users on your node.

If you think of the internet as a freeway, and your connection to the internet like an on-ramp to that freeway, the diagram below will help visualize how more bandwidth on an Internet connection may or may not help:

In a situation where the carrier has congestion in their network in an area or on a node, the only solution is for that carrier to upgrade their network. Typically, they will split the traffic up in to multiple nodes, decreasing the traffic on each individual node, clearing the congestion, and improving latency. Node splits take planning and time to perform and thus are not a quick solution. Often, the only solution is to route the voice and/or video traffic to a different carrier’s network, one that is not experiencing congestion and latency.