Active Voice Quality Monitoring

A large part of determining whether a voice mobility network is successful is in monitoring the voice quality for devices on the network. When the network has the capability tomeasure this for the administrator on an ongoing basis, the administrator is able to devote attention to other, more pressing matters.
Active voice quality monitoring comes in a few flavors. SIP-based schemes are capable of determining when there is a voice call. This is often used in conjunction with SIP-based admission control. With SIP calls, RTP is generally used as the bearer protocol to carry the actual voice, SIP-based call monitoring schemes can measure the loss and delay rates for the RTP traffic that makes up the call, and report back on whether there are phones with suffering quality. In these monitoring tools, call quality is measured using the standard MOS or R-value metrics.
SIP-based schemes can be found in a number of different manifestations. Wireline protocol analyzers are capable of listening in on a mirror port, entirely independent of the wireless network, and can report on upstream loss. Downstream loss, however, cannot be detected by these wireline mechanisms. Wireless networks themselves may offer built-in voice monitoring tools. These leverage the SIP-tracking functions already used for firewalling and admission control, and report on the quality both measured by uplink and downlink loss. Purely wireless monitoring tools that monitor voice quality can also be employed. Either located as software on a laptop, or integrated into overlay wireless monitoring systems, these detect the voice quality using over-the-air packet analysis. They infer the uplink and downlink loss rates of the clients, and use this to build out the expected voice quality. Depending on the particular vendor, these tools can be thrown off when presented with WPA- and WPA2-encrypted voice traffic, although that can sometimes be worked around.
Voice call quality may also be monitored by measurements reported by the client or other endpoint. RTCP, the RTP Control Protocol, may be transmitted by the endpoints. RTCP is able to encode statistics about the receiver, and these statistics can be used to infer the expected quality of the call. RTCP may or may not be available in a network, based on the SIP implementation used at the endpoints. Where available, RTCP encodes the percentage of packets lost, the cumulative number of packets lost, and interarrivai packet jitter, all of which are useful for inferring call quality. At a lower layer, 802.11k, where it is supported, provides for the notion of traffic stream metrics. These metrics also provide for loss and delay, and may also be used to determine call quality. However, 802.11k requires upgrades to the client and access point firmware, and so is not as prevalent as RTCP, and nowhere near as simple to set up as overlay or traffic-based quality measurements.

[*]Of course, there had to be a catch. Some devices can carry two calls simultaneously, if they renegotiate their one admitted traffic stream to take the capacity of both. Because WMM Admission Control views flows as being only between clients and access points, the ultimate other endpoint of the call does not matter. However, this is not something you would expect to see in practice.


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