Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has not always been as simple or accessible a process as we know today. The transition from legacy phone systems to the telecommunications platforms of today is a technological journey paved with digital deaths and forgotten fixes since its inception in 1995.
How does it do its thing?
VoIP is the means by which voice signals transfer between IP addresses, meaning audio signals have to be sampled, broken down into small ‘packets’ of data small enough in order to travel one by one from A to B. For general users of audio technology out there, this might sound ‘cool’, but all you audio buffs are no doubt cringing at the thought of all that compression and the inevitable packet loss determined to ruin the quality of the sound produced at the end of transmission.
To help matters of understanding, let us turn our attention to the music industry, and specifically that of the recording process. The digital era brought forth new ways of working that saw music production time frames greatly reduced, along with the cost to do so. But the old-school purely analogue management of audio production added an ‘analogue warmth’ to recordings that created a smoother brightness and roundness of sound that cannot be found in digital recordings today. The initial digital recordings from the 1990s were met with scepticism by those that knew better, and for a time, the success of digital as a replacement to the ‘art of analogue’ was greatly questioned.
Although we now know this was not the case, many saw the rise of digital production as the beginning of the demise of the industry itself. As access to music became limitless, so too did the focus on the recording process itself. If distributing audio signal in a digital world would degrade its quality at every step of the cycle, then the recording process would need to capture the highest quality recording possible.
The Boardroom Nightmare
And this problem of the music industry has also haunted audio developments in the workplace. Audio capturing is tricky, no doubt about it, but never more so in the boardroom. The hard reflective surfaces loved by architects only seek to make the room sound like the Albert Hall, as reverberation dominates the discussion. Microphone placement is often compromised, table positions get in the way of documents, and open laptops impede the ability of microphones to pick up the voice at all.
Yet trailblazing advancements in solutions have been made, such as Shure’s beam forming technology which seeks to change all the problems of old generation technology. It presents the world of virtually unseen, flush-mounted ceiling microphones with many capsules through which an engineer can fine tune a room like never before. The ability to now shape the pick up pattern of a microphone solution based on the acoustics of a room provides the best possible means of tailoring and maximising the efficacy of voice capture.
The Workstation of your Dreams
With VoIP now occurring within collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, voice capturing options are also more diverse than ever. The handset is all but dead, with the latest generation of headset alternatives being without equal in the pursuit of perfect audio collection as well as providing functions beyond simply transmitting and receiving audio.
In particular, we’ve seen Plantronics leading this world with its complete enterprise solution stack including wired and wireless headsets that can pair to both laptop and smart phones at the same time. This allows you to manage the calls on each device when they arrive. Talking to your partner on your mobile, and the boss is trying to reach you on Webex Teams? No problem, Plantronics negotiates this automatically to reject the Webex Teams call. Furthermore, their product range caters for pretty much every worker in your organisation from Executive and mobile music loving worker to the office bound and call centres. They even have a headset designed specifically for the trucker!
That said, as headsets have become smarter, so too have their firmware. But having various headsets on various firmware platforms is a recipe for disaster. Technology solutions have also recognised this issue, such as with the Plantronics Manager Pro which puts the responsibility of end user headset management back into the hands of the IT team who can manage analytics and firmware states via the cloud.
Quality and quantity, hand in hand
While the existence of VoIP is generally accepted, unfolding within the world of voice transmission over the past 10 years has been the shift towards increasingly focussing on finding the best possible means of capturing the human voice to best ensure its quality at the other end. And with major advancements in audio transmission over the past 5 years, the corporate Boardroom and the office Workstation can look forward to streamlined device and firmware that makes virtual communications as alternatives to restrictive face-to-face meetings in the workplace more accessible than ever.