Hawking Broadband Booster – Improving VOIP Quality
July 15, 2005
I abandoned my local telco about a year and a half ago, and went with VOIP from Vonage. It’s saved me a pile of cash over that time, and I seriously like the features and the call quality — most of the time.
The fly in the ointment is the “asymmetrical” bandwidth provided by most broadband — the whole “1 meg down / 256K up” thing.
Most of the time, this is fine — most of us consume far more inbound bandwidth than we send back, and never notice the difference.
But you’re -always- sending data “up” — most traffic you receive from the Internet involves handshaking — the other end sends you a “packet”, your end sends an “acknowledgement” and the other end knows to send you the next “packet”.
The problem comes if you saturate your “upload” pipeline — the “small” number in your split bandwidth. When you do this, those acknowledgement packets get delayed (or even dropped), and your download speed drops because your end isn’t sending out the “keep ’em coming” packets as fast as it should.
(If you’ve ever wondered why your bittorent downloads don’t work as well as they should, this is probably why — tweak your settings so your “upload” speed is well under your maximum upload bandwidth, and watch the downloads start running much faster.)
Where this really bites you, however, is with Voice Over IP. If you saturate your upload bandwidth, your VOIP call is going to break up into random chunks of noise, frustrating both you and your callers.
I work online; sometimes that requires me to upload a ton of stuff when building a site or configuring a server. When this happens, inevitably, my VOIP service goes to hell.
Enter the Hawking Broadband Booster.
The Broadband Booster is a fairly simple “black box” affair that plugs between your router and your cable or DSL modem, and manages Quality of Service (QoS) on your upload traffic.
The magic happens by the use of a specialized “StreamEngine” processor from Ubicom. This little chip identifies “real time” traffic, such as VOIP calls and online gaming data, and shunts those packets ahead of the “bulk” traffic.
The test methodology in the Tom’s Hardware review exactly mirrors my issue — they run a heavy FTP upload and check call quality both with and without the Broadband Booster in place. Without the box, they have a lot of dropped packets, and voice quality goes to hell. With the box, no dropped packets, and voice quality stays rock solid.
This sounds like exactly what I need.
I’ve played around with various “traffic shaping” or QoS technologies (imbeded in consumer routers, various linux distros, etc.) over the last 18 months attempting to solve this problem, but none of them have ever really worked well for my specific problem — at least nowhere near as well as the test above seems to have gone. I really like the idea of a simple black-box device that is aimed at solving exactly this problem.