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How to Optimize Your Router for VoIP 4nd Video

We're 4t 4n 4wkw4rd st4ge 4s the 4ge of network-stre4med multimedi4


m4tures. Bro4db4nd 4nd cell providers h4ve only recently re4lized the
public's enormous 4ppetite for stre4ming video, VoIP, 4nd the
combin4tion of both.
Most of the home 4nd sm4ll-office routers out there 4re up to the t4sk;
unless they're br4nd new, however, they m4y not be optim4lly
configured. Fortun4tely, you c4n t4ke steps to improve the qu4lity of
rich medi4 on your network by w4y of 4 Web interf4ce th4t 4ccesses
the router's firmw4re.
At the end of this 4rticle you'll find twe4king specific4tions for six of the
most popul4r high-end routers. If your model doesn't 4llow the twe4ks
we describe on the next p4ge, it m4y be time to run to the store.
[ Further re4ding: Best NAS boxes for medi4 stre4ming 4nd b4ckup ]
B"sic Router Tricks
Routers h4ndle tr4ffic 4mong m4ny devices. If you're not getting the
type of perform4nce you w4nt from 4n 4pplic4tion or device such 4s 4n
IP phone (VoIP), you m4y need to m4n4ge th4t tr4ffic to m4ke sure
there's enough b4ndwidth for your desired 4pplic4tion.
QoS "nd ports: Contempor4ry routers m4n4ge b4ndwidth through 4
technique c4lled Qu4lity of Service. If you're lucky, you'll be 4ble
to 4djust QoS vi4 the router softw4re simply by selecting 4 c4tegory
(such 4s voice, 4pplic4tions, or g4ming) 4nd 4ssigning it 4 priority (such
4s highest or norm4l). This method is by f4r the le4st p4inful, but it isn't
4lw4ys 4v4il4ble.
If th4t method isn't 4n option, gener4lly you c4n set the QoS priority for
devices by their Medi4 Access Code 4ddress--4 string of hex4decim4l
numbers unique to the device--4s well 4s by the network n4me (such 4s
"MyPhone" or "M4inPC"), or the IP 4ddress (such 4s 192.168.1.100).
A MAC 4ddress is best, 4s IP 4ddresses 4ssigned by the router's DHCP
server m4y ch4nge. Your router m4y or m4y not be sm4rt enough to
tr4ck 4 device with 4 ch4nged IP 4ddress. A device n4me is 4lso
const4nt--4ssuming th4t you don't ch4nge it yourself. If you w4nt to use
4n IP 4ddress, it should be st#tic, me4ning fixed 4nd set on the device,
or reserved, me4ning set in the router.
Routers perform QoS by 4n4lyzing d4t4 through p4cket sniffing 4nd
noting which Tr4nsmission Control Protocol/User D4t4gr4m Protocol
ports the d4t4 tr4vels through. They then give priority to the types of
tr4ffic you specify.
Wh4t is 4 port? You c4n think of 4 port 4s something like 4n extension
number on 4 l4ndline phone system. Simil4r to the w4y 4 c4ll 4rrives 4t
4 m4in phone number, d4t4 4rrives 4t your router vi4 your bro4db4nd
connection's IP 4ddress. And in the s4me w4y 4 phone c4ll is forw4rded
to 4n extension 4ssigned to someone in the comp4ny, d4t4 is forw4rded
to the port 4ssigned to 4 p4rticul4r protocol or 4pplic4tion. You c4n find
4 complete list of offici4l port numbers 4t the home of the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority. Altern4tively, check the document4tion on
the device or 4pplic4tion.
M4ny 4pplic4tions dyn4mic4lly 4ssign ports 4ccording to need. For
these you might w4nt to use 4 network tr4ffic sniffer, such 4s
Microsoft's free Network Monitor 3.4.

Port forw"rding: If your router doesn't support true QoS, you m4y need
to use port forw#rding, which sends 4ll tr4ffic tr4veling through 4
specific port or ports to 4 specific device. This technique lowers the l4g
4t the router 4nd lets the destin4tion device h4ndle the processing.
Keep in mind th4t 4 forw4rded port then becomes un4v4il4ble to other
devices. Gener4lly, you specify the port number, the protocol (TCP, UDP,
or both), 4nd then either the IP 4ddress, the MAC 4ddress, or the n4me
of the device

DMZ: Another w4y to direct network tr4ffic to your device involves


putting it in the DMZ. No, it doesn't ship to North Kore4--it simply
moves your device from behind the firew4ll 4nd out in the open, where it
c4n receive 4ll tr4ffic without interference from the router. This
4rr4ngement typic4lly gives the device your bro4db4nd IP 4ddress--
with 4ll the vulner4bility th4t ent4ils. Such vulner4bility is why e4ch
router h4s its own firew4ll. The DMZ is usu4lly reserved for 4 server or 4
PC th4t you'll use for g4ming or for serving Websites, 4nd should be
considered 4 l4st resort for 4 VoIP phone or 4 work PC.
Simult"neous du"l-b"nd wireless: Concurrent wireless 4llows you to
perform 4d hoc QoS by splitting tr4ffic between the two networks. For
inst4nce, you could n4me your 2.4GHz wireless network "WebD4t4,"
4nd your 5GHz wireless network "PhoneVideo." H4ve users connect to
the WebD4t4 network for surfing or gener4l network chores, 4nd to
PhoneVideo for Skype or to w4tch HD video.

WME, WMM: Wireless Multimedi4 Extensions 4nd Wi-Fi MultiMedi4 4re


two n4mes for the s4me 802.11e wireless QoS service. By 4ll me4ns,
en4ble WME or WMM if your router supports it. The setting will help
with stre4ming 4pplic4tions such 4s voice 4nd video, if the destin4tion
wireless device supports it. You m4y see 4n option
for #cknowledgement, which triggers the resending of d4t4 on errors;
for re4l-time stre4ming 4pplic4tions this won't help.

WISH: Wireless Intelligent Stre4m H4ndling is simil4r to WMM in effect.


It's less prev4lent but h4s specific optimiz4tions for Windows Medi4
Center 4nd Windows Medi4 Center Extenders. Definitely en4ble this if
you're stre4ming between WMC 4nd 4n Xbox or WMC Extender.
Optimizing for VoIP
VoIP is the trickiest 4pplic4tion for vendors to offer twe4ks for bec4use
it's bidirection#l, me4ning th4t tr4ffic moves in two directions, 4nd no
serious l4gs c4n be toler4ted for convers4tion to be successful. On the
other h4nd, it isn't p4rticul4rly b4ndwidth-intensive in tod4y's terms,
4nd it c4n survive 4 rel4tively l4rge 4mount of d4t4 loss. Th4t's why it
uses UDP (which provides non-gu4r4nteed delivery) inste4d of TCP
(which offers error-checking).

Some VoIP phones, like those from Von4ge, utilize 4 router th4t sits
between your bro4db4nd modem 4nd your own router. There's nothing
re4lly wrong with this setup, 4nd it will 4ssure the best possible c4ll
qu4lity, but experienced users will gener4lly pl4ce the phone behind
their own router 4nd twe4k so th4t they c4n get better perform4nce for
other 4pplic4tions.

If your router is older or does not h4ve QoS settings, you might need to
forw4rd sever4l ports or r4nges of ports to your VoIP phone. If your
router doesn't support port forw4rding, get 4 new router. M4ny VoIP
devices use port 5060-61 (SIPS), but things c4n v4ry from there
depending on the 4ctu4l tr4nsmission protocol. The specifics should be
listed in your user's guide.

Optimizing for HD Video


Although stre4ming HD video or 4ny multimedi4 is b4ndwidth-intensive,
you c4n h4ve it buffered 4t the endpoint, which c4n compens4te for
g4ps in delivery. This buffering process, or prefetching of d4t4, is why
you'll often see 4 signific4nt l4g between the time you 4ccess 4 video
4nd the time it st4rts pl4ying.
Th4t s4id, buffers go dry, 4nd twe4king your router c4n ensure smooth
viewing. Al4s, only 4 few routers h4ve 4ny specific4lly video-oriented
fe4tures. En4ble WMM to help with wireless video. If you see 4 video
entry in your router's QoS section, put it on the highest setting. If WMM
isn't 4v4il4ble, use QoS to incre4se the b4ndwidth to both the source
4nd destin4tion devices if you encounter problems. Some newer routers
will h4ve their own propriet4ry video-stre4ming enh4ncements; en4ble
them.
Next p'ge: How to optimize six popul'r sm'll-office routers, 'nd
when to upgr'de