You move into a new office space and implement a swank new unified communications suite, with all the bells and whistles. All of your users get headsets that are intended to give them plenty of freedom to move about and maintain a quality audio experience – both essential to acceptance of UC applications.
But things don’t go as planned. Users are complaining about static on the line and dropped calls, even when they’re not straying far from their base. If the situation isn’t fixed fast, it could torpedo the entire UC rollout.
What this situation may well represent is a failure to adequately plan for the environment in which your headsets will live. It’s likely they’re experiencing interference, either with each other or with Wi-Fi devices that are sharing the office space.
It’s a situation that can be avoided with some advance planning. To learn what goes into it, I talked with Amy Brown, a technical consultant who works primarily in pre-sales for the support team at Jabra.
A Detailed Questionnaire Helps Avoid Headset Interference
Jabra starts with a questionnaire that enables the company to get a handle on the environment in which its headsets will be used. Among the questions it tackles:
- What devices will the headsets be connected to, including desk phones, computers, mobile phones, video conference phones and the like?
- How many users?
- Is Wi-Fi in use and, if so, which frequencies?
- What percentage of users will be using the Wi-Fi?
- What other wireless devices will be in use, such as keyboards, mice, cordless phones?
The idea is to get a sense for what kind of obstacles may stand in the way of good headset reception and which technology – DECT or Bluetooth – will prove most suitable. As we’ve covered previously, among the considerations is the distance that users will want to roam from their audio device (DECT has far greater range) and whether the same device will be used with office phones as well as mobile phones (in which case you’ll want Bluetooth).
For Best Wireless Headset Results, Beware Many Users and Heavy Wi-Fi
When looking at the answers on the questionnaire, Brown says one red flag is simply numbers.
“For Bluetooth, when we get into triple digit numbers of users, we do due diligence about other devices that may cause interference,” she says. Bluetooth can easily handle two or three connections per user, such as to a cell phone, keyboard and mouse. But when you multiple that by hundreds of users, now you have to dig deeper.
Among the first criteria to look at is the floor plan. Increasingly, it’ll be an open plan, with lots of shared spaces and few offices. That makes wireless configuration more challenging because barriers including cubicle walls, offices and elevator shafts help keep wireless signals confined to a specific area, Brown says.
Another concern is the frequency of the Wi-Fi network. Bluetooth operates in the 2.4gHz spectrum while Wi-Fi is either in 2.4 or 5.0gHz. While Bluetooth should offer 120 channels in a given area, if it’s sharing the spectrum with lots of Wi-Fi users that number could drop dramatically.
DECT operates at 1.9gHz and offers about 60 channels (at least in North America; elsewhere it’s double that). So you won’t have to worry about Wi-Fi interference so much but you’ll have far fewer channels to work with.
Addressing Wireless Headset Interference Issues
When a questionnaire indicates that users will run into interference problems there are remedies. First, as indicated above, is to create barriers that keep wireless signals confined.
“A clear line of sight between the headset and the base station gives the best audio experience,” Brown notes. That means breaking up that line of sight with even a moderately high cubicle wall or glass panes can help keep wireless signals from straying too far and causing interference.
Another solution is to shrink down the wireless range of the headsets. Imagine there’s an umbrella around each base station which represents the reach of each wireless headset, Brown says. If you shrink the size of the umbrella, you can squeeze more umbrellas – and more users – into the same space.
Also be careful about giving certain users far more range than others. You may be tempted to give a small number of managers greater range than their direct reports, figuring they’ll be roaming around more.
“Depending on the layout, location of the base station and where they need to roam, those high-powered managers could trample the wireless signals for their direct reports,” Brown says. A better solution is to use a mix of products at that point – with the managers on DECT, for example, and the others on Bluetooth.
What’s is hopefully clear from all this is that it pays to get started early on planning your wireless headset deployment. Some customers get Jabra involved when they’re in the office design phase, during which the company can make recommendations on everything from the office layout to furniture.
“The earlier the better,” she says. “Even if it’s just having a conversation. We can learn a lot just by chatting.”