How to Fix Latency Issues
Most of us cherish our ability to instantly connect to all the news that make our lives tick. In fact, many of us likely feel that we couldn’t live without it. The internet allows us to work from home, access the important news in our worlds, watch the shows we love, and stay connected with loved ones. It’s become a lifeline like no other. But if you’ve ever experienced latency issues, that slowdown can cause a lot of headaches. A latency fix may be necessary to regain the joy we expect.
What is latency?
First, let’s define the issue to better know what is latency. Sometimes called lag or ping, latency is basically just a natural time delay in sending and receiving data. Specifically, it refers to the amount of time it takes for data packets to pass between a sender and receiver and back again. That travel cycle is known as round-trip time (RTT). If your RTT isn’t up to par, it can lead to latency issues that can sour your internet experience.
Since few things happen instantaneously in this world, you will always experience latency to some degree. When we have low latency, it means the RTT is very fast. This is what we’re after. On the other hand, high latency means the RTT is taking longer than it should. With high latency, some online activities will suffer without a latency fix to improve your experience.
We’re not dealing with the internet of the nineties here. We’re no longer clicking on a link and making dinner while we wait for the site to load. Internet speeds have gotten much faster, but any slowdown is still noticeable. High latency is one of those slowdowns.
What is Acceptable Latency?
In order to determine whether or not you need a latency fix, you should know what levels are acceptable. Here’s a brief overview.
The first thing to know is that latency is measured in milliseconds (ms). That’s one-thousandth of a second. If it sounds like a small measurement, now you know how fast internet processing has become. As we’ve become accustomed to this hyper-fast internet, very high latency will become noticeably cumbersome very quickly.
As a general rule of thumb, latency below 100 ms is considered acceptable. At that rate, you’ll be able to stream videos and play online games with almost no noticeable delay. The higher you go above 100 ms, the more likely you are to notice the slowdown. By the time we reach 200 ms, online gaming will get glitchy. You may notice stuttering or rubber banding, both of which will affect the seamless play you’re used to.
Not all slowdowns are related to latency, however. You may be experiencing a bandwidth issue that resembles latency, or even one that creates higher latency than you’d expect. So, how do you know if your slow internet speeds are caused by a latency issue or a bandwidth issue?
The Difference Between Latency and Bandwidth
These two factors affecting the quality of our internet connections have similarities, so they are often conflated. While the two may appear similar and intertwined in some ways, there is an easy way to differentiate the two. Very simply, latency measures the amount of time data takes to pass back and forth along the pathway, and bandwidth measures the total amount of data the pathway can handle. Latency is a measure of time, and bandwidth is a measure of capacity for carrying data.
Sometimes when our internet runs slow, it’s caused by a bandwidth issue. For example, when we try to stream a movie and it keeps buffering. That often indicates a bottleneck. Think of it like water flowing through a hose. If you pinch the hose slightly, the volume of water coming out the end is decreased. The bigger the pipeline, the more water can flow through.
When we send and receive emails, very little bandwidth is required to handle that small amount of data. We can get by with very little bandwidth. When we stream movies or games, however, the amount of data that must be passed back and forth is much larger. It requires a bigger pipeline. If you’ve got a whole family streaming at the same time, you’ll need much more bandwidth to accommodate that usage.
The easy solution to increasing your bandwidth is to upgrade your internet plan. When you upgrade to higher bandwidth, it’s similar to opening the floodgates to allow much more data to flow through. This often involves utilizing a different set of wires or cables that can handle that much data flow. How do you know if you need to increase your bandwidth?
If you notice your internet speeds decreasing during peak usage hours, it is often caused by low bandwidth. Everyone in your area is sharing the same bandwidth, and that additional drain results in slower speeds. In the same way, water pressure will drop when the neighborhood is using a lot of water, internet speeds can slow in the evenings when people are more likely to have their internet taps turned wide open.
If you are noticing more of an ongoing stutter, no matter what time of day, it may be caused by internet latency issues. You can run a test to determine the exact round trip time you’re getting. That will help you begin to diagnose the problem. If the test returns a high latency reading, you’ll want to identify the cause so you can identify a latency fix.
Causes of High Latency
If you’re experiencing latency problems, they could be caused by one of any number of different issues. Identifying that issue will be key to identifying the best latency fix. First, it’s important to note that high latency issues can be caused on either the server end or the user end. Let’s look at some common causes that you may encounter.
One major culprit that can cause high latency is distance. The farther your information packets must travel from your home or office to the server, the longer that round trip will take. Imagine the difference in travel time when you compare your daily work commute to a cross country trip. That difference is measured in much smaller amounts of time, but it can still be impactful in the world of high speed internet.
Poorly Formatted or Optimized Website
One server side latency issue that’s fairly common is caused by poor formatting or optimization of the website itself. With all the different devices and operating systems we use, websites must be properly optimized to work with each of them. If the website owner hasn’t done everything necessary, users on some devices may notice slow internet speeds when they visit that site. If you have issues on one particular site, the site may be at fault.
Here’s another way websites can create unintended increased latency for their visitors. We’re not talking so much about popularity here, but more about how much is happening on the page itself. If the site you’re visiting has all kinds of ads and videos and gifs trying to load in the background, it can significantly slow your experience. Simpler sites load more quickly.
Sometimes, something as simple as inclement weather can slow your internet connection, and you don’t need to fix latency problems at all. Anyone who ever had satellite television in the late nineties and early aughts understands this concept well. Depending upon the type of connection you have, electromagnetic disturbances can interfere with the electrical signals passing your data back and forth. If weather causes you issues, it may be time to upgrade your service.
Your Connection Type
Weather aside, the data carrying capacity of your connection itself could be the main cause of your high latency issues. There are a number of different connection types on the market, so the one you’re using may simply sit in a higher average latency range. Here’s what you can expect from each of the major technologies on the market today:
- Satellite – Satellite averages the highest latency, clocking in at around 594-612 milliseconds.
- DSL – A DSL connection comes in second, and usually averages between 24 and 42 milliseconds.
- Cable – The standard over the past couple decades, cable can deliver an average latency of 15-27 milliseconds.
- Fiber – The future of the internet is built on fiber, and it can reduce average latency to the 10-15 millisecond range.
If you feel that your latency is too high, but falls within the average range for your equipment, an upgrade could fix network latency issues quickly.
Sometimes that old device just isn’t up to par anymore. Sure, it still works, but if you aren’t getting the speeds you expect, it may be time for an upgrade. This equipment could involve your router or the device itself, so identifying the link that’s most likely to be outdated will save you money in troubleshooting.
Simple Latency Fixes
If you’ve identified high latency as an issue, there are some simple latency fixes that can help regain your lost speeds. You won’t be able to fix any issues that happen to be on the server end, but there are things you can do to eliminate user side latency problems. Here’s how to reduce latency and regain the seamless streaming and gaming performance you’re after.
Stop Background Downloads
One activity that can increase your latency is downloading content in the background. Stopping those downloads may deliver a significant improvement with very little effort. The less traffic your data has to compete with, the faster it can get where it’s going. Rescheduling downloads to occur while you’re sleeping will allow you to get that content without disturbing your daily activities.
Close Browser Windows
Just like background downloads, open browser windows can create passive data transfer that may affect your device’s performance. As those tabs continually refresh in the background, your searches are competing with excess data traffic. Reducing the number of browser windows you have open can help fix internet latency issues.
Utilize a Hard Wired Connection
If your modem or router is in the same room as your computer, consider connecting the two with an ethernet cable. The ability to connect wirelessly is a great benefit, but when you don’t require it, a hard wired connection is going to work much better. This is a fast acting latency fix that will deliver the speeds you need.
Add a WiFi Mesh System
If you prefer to keep your devices mobile, you can utilize a mesh system instead of hooking up via an ethernet cable. It works like a signal extender, but they are much more efficient and allow data to transfer at higher speeds. With a mesh system, you can get nearly the same speeds in the corner of the basement as you’d expect to get right next to the router.
Keep Your Computer Up To Date
Check for updates. Outdated applications and firmware can be prone to bugs that lead to higher latency. They can open you up to malware as well, which can drain your bandwidth and open you up to fraud. Secure your connection by keeping your computer up to date. This simple latency fix can be set to take care of itself by opting in to automatic updates.
Scan for Malware
If you find your device is already infected with malware, you’ll want to take care of it as soon as possible. As mentioned before, it can open you up to security threats, but can also lead to those high latency problems. If an unknown program is continually uploading or downloading information on your internet connection, you may notice a significant slowdown.
Upgrade Your Service
When we talk about how to improve network latency, one of the most surefire ways is to upgrade your internet service. Upgrading to fiber will not only increase the amount of bandwidth you have available, but it will deliver other benefits as well.
For instance, distance is a far lesser issue when it comes to fiber optics. Signals can travel incredibly long distances on fiber connections with next to no loss. Also, they send signals using light rather than electricity, meaning those electromagnetic disturbances are less likely to cause you issues. This is a huge plus on a stormy night when all you want to do is stay in and play your games. No matter how you use the internet, you’ll be set up for a future of frustration free use.
Upgrade Your Provider
If your current provider doesn’t offer high bandwidth connections, it may be time for an upgrade there too. A great provider will have the infrastructure to connect you to the most up-to-date equipment. This will keep your connection modern for the foreseeable future. We can also provide the service you need to avoid interruptions.
A great provider should know how to fix network latency issues as they arise, and help deliver the latency fix you need. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help improve your internet experience, reach out to see how affordable an upgrade can be.