What is Network Latency and How to Improve It

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improve network latency
Network latency is key to understanding why your Internet network can suddenly go very slow, very laggy, and very annoying.

One of the main components in knowing how to boost Wi-Fi speeds by having the knowledge on how to optimize Wi-Fi networks lies in a good understanding of what is network latency and how to reduce network latency. This article will start you off on both of these facets, as well as introduce you to network latency tests and their importance.

What is Network Latency?

Before we can understand latency, what is latency, in simple terms?

Latency is essentially the time of delay between having sent a message and having that message received on the other end.

Everything undergoes some form of latency, even if in the millionth of a second, or, more realistically for the Internet, in particular, milliseconds. While this is speedier, of course, than the latency of a parcel that takes a week to arrive after you order something online, network latency is a problem in particular, which limits the Internet packets that come and go and affect our online messaging, video streaming and gaming.

Learning how to reduce network latency is knowing how to improve it. It also helps to know how to troubleshoot network latency issues since that ensures a consistent speed, as well as more effectively handles the sources of namely. Namely, the hardware and the software transmitting and directing Internet packets, as well as some technicalities on the receiving end of those packets are sources that introduce latency.

Latency is further increased by phenomena such as packet loss which could be through “burdened” hardware or insufficient bandwidth.

Using Network Latency Tests to Measure Your Ping

To measure latency on your network, network latency tests can be very useful.

If you are a gamer, then you will probably have access to a ‘server select’ screen when you are about to join a game. From here, you will be able to ping every server that the game has and select one that provides the lowest latency.

You can also use online ping testers to see what your latency is currently. They may not tell you your exact latency inside the game, but they will help you get a rough idea.

However, remember that some games may restrict you to certain regions or restrict you to a certain ping limit (e.g. 200). This is a highly controversial decision as it may sometimes prevent friends from playing with each other if they are in different regions. The decision by PUBG makers Bluehole to region-lock the game was met with a lot of criticism.

In most other things, the network latency will not matter. As long as you have a decent connection, network latency will not affect your video streaming experience (unless the latency is extremely high). As such, you should only care about latency if you can see that your connection has a decent download rate but videos online still seem to lag.

How to Reduce Latency on Satellite Internet

Before we begin, you must remember that satellite internet is by far the worst type of connection for gaming. Unless you live in an area where you have no other choice but to use a satellite connection, you should go for a wired connection.

Even 4G (or 5G), despite its tremendous speeds, is not as stable as wired broadband. Although your ping may be low on such connections, there will usually be a lot of packet loss and you may experience ‘jitters’ while gaming. For most other activities, wireless internet connections will suffice.

Reducing latency on a satellite connection is fairly similar to any other connection, and we discuss it in the next section. However, the one major change you can make to decrease latency on a satellite connection is by correctly positioning your satellite dish.

We would recommend that you hire a professional dish installer for the best online experience. However, there are online guides that can help you install the dishes in the correct manner if you want to do it yourself.

How to Reduce Latency on PC

Now we move back to the practical implications of how to improve network latency for yourself. Network latency can act up for virtually thousands of reasons, but four major categories can help us keep a check on it:

  • The medium of transmission
  • Delays in storage
  • Delays in payload
  • Router issues

Here is how to understand the interplay here better: data is sent between the client and server in hops where an information packet goes from router to router. Just the amount of data itself can increase network latency, as can each additional hop with the time the router takes to analyze or add to its header information, as well as through the very presence of switches, bridges, routing tables lookups, and MAC address. Lastly, the medium that data is being sent through, whether its copper cables or fiber optics, adds to worsened network latency; switching between mediums, in particular, is very tricky.

Use Ethernet Over Wifi

One of the first steps in our quest on understanding how to reduce network latency is going for a better medium of transmission. Even the best Wi-Fi cards are unable to make up for latency issues, especially when used straight out of the box.

Prefer Ethernet over Wi-Fi, which is inherently faster, with the currently-used Cat-6e standard. Cabled connections are faster, but if you can’t use them (meaning it’s impossible), make sure no obstacles exist between the router and you, and that the Wi-Fi router’s antennas are placed perpendicular to the router itself.

The latter is a second factor altogether, the element of interference. Physical objects are obvious points of interference, but there are invisible enemies too. This is why dual-band Wi-Fi receivers and routers are preferred since they give you the option of the less-crowded 5GHz band in addition to the more-popular 2.4GHz band. You can also change your router’s configuration settings to choose a Wi-Fi channel of your choice, which should, ideally, be the emptiest one.

Try Using QoS to Optimize Traffic

We also (fleetingly) mentioned QoS. These Quality of Services are the protocols that your router uses to work and your router also offers options and tools to play with these for your maximum benefit – let’s say, for example, the ability to give your gaming console maximum bandwidth as compared to your smartphone or your smart TV. You could limit traffic manually, too, but this is a far more efficient and elegant option.

Avoid VPNs and Proxies

Lastly, VPNs and proxies, while important in many cases for privacy and greater freedom, severely hamper network latency. Make sure you’re not using multiple proxies in your network or using a VPN where you might not need it to improve network latency.

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