What is latency and how does it affect your Internet connection?

Latency and ping.
Latency (Ping) is the time it takes for data to travel from source to destination.

When you connect to the Internet, the first thing you ask of this connection is that it be as fast as possible and never be interrupted. If all goes well, this is not a problem. But if there are disconnections or data packets that don’t arrive, it’s good to know what’s going on in the network.

Another factor that affects the quality of your Internet connection is latency, an element that we do not always keep in mind. And this can have a major impact on our use of the Internet. In addition to the stability and speed of your Internet access, latency is a parameter to consider, especially if you are playing online or want to communicate over a video call.

The latency affects all kinds of connections. Whether you access via WiFi or Ethernet cable. There is also latency for mobile connections through all known technologies like 3G or 4G. Let’s see what it is, how to measure it and how to deal with it.

Networking and latency

What we know as latency is the time it takes for a packet to be transmitted within a network. It can be internal or external, like the Internet. Information is transmitted over networks using data packets. Whether these packets reach their destination on time can make all the difference, whether your video call is seen and heard correctly or whether it is constantly delayed or interrupted.

A high latency is bad, while a low latency means that your connection is good. It is measured in milliseconds, a unit of time that seems tiny but can have consequences. And to measure the latency of a network, we use software or the ping command. Also, we usually call ping latency because of its familiarity.

Do not confuse the speed of your Internet connection with the latency.

Latency is measured in megabits per second or gigabits per second and refers to the amount of information sent and/or received. In most speed tests you will find on the Internet, both speed data and ping are displayed.

What affects the latency of your network

There are several factors that increase or decrease the latency of your Internet connection. Some of these are situations that also affect the speed of your network, such as the technology used to connect, or the distance between your device and the other device you are trying to connect to. In this sense, the shorter the distance, the lower the latency.

As far as the technology used is concerned, the fiber offers lower latency rates than previous technologies such as ADSL and similar. The same applies to mobile wireless connections. The 3G connection offers higher latency than a 4G connection. And the same happens when we compare 4G to 5G, as we will see later.

There are other factors, such as the size of the packets sent or the ability of your router to process these packets. In particular, the capacity of your buffer can influence the positive or negative latency.

How high the latency is for you

I have already mentioned the two main areas where high latency is harmful. The best known one may not concern you and concerns the world of video games. Playing online against other human opponents can be an impossible mission. Especially if your latency is higher than that of your opponents. The result, called latency, can lead to strange situations, such as seeing images with delay.

The second area is that of video calls. Today video calls have become an important tool for professionals around the world. Thanks to them we avoid unnecessary travel and can communicate with a high quality of image and sound. That is, when the latency is low.

But there are even more situations where latency is a factor: connectivity between smart devices, cars and connected cities. Some of these elements still sound like something from the future. But networks that connect vehicles and street furniture are already in use.

In this type of network you work with a large amount of data. And they are important because it depends on them, for example, whether the street lights are switched on in the dark or whether an intelligent car knows where to stop or turn in an urban network.

How to improve latency

There are certain guidelines and tips that we can apply to sufficiently reduce the latency of your home connection. All of this in order to enjoy services such as online gaming or high quality video calls.

The solutions are similar to the ones we use to increase the connection speed. That is, to get the maximum possible bandwidth.

For example, it is better to use an Ethernet cable than a WiFi connection. It also helps to limit the number of devices connected simultaneously. The same applies to the number of applications that use the Internet intensively.

5G and latency

We said that the latency in fiber optic networks is lower than in ADSL networks. But it is also present in wireless networks. It is the most common one when it comes to connecting networks of devices, sensors and other elements that are connected without the need for cabling.

5G and low latency.
Image: 5G and low latency.

And when it comes to mobile connectivity, it is inevitable to talk about 5G. A technology that is already available to us and that promises great improvements in everything that has to do with connection devices. Outside our home or office.

Today we are used to 3G and 4G connections.

We use them in smartphones and other wireless devices like watches and bracelets. But more and more mobile connectivity is being integrated into vehicles or devices of all kinds. It is also used in areas such as smart cities, automated hospitals, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), etc.

Its successor, 5G technology, not only improves connection speed and access to services such as video or music streaming, high-definition video calls or online games. Another advantage is that it makes it easier to connect additional devices without affecting the network. And to get back to the subject: 5G offers very low latency rates.

Telefonica announced the implementation  de su propia red 5G en Españalast September. Its goal is that 75% of the population will have 5G coverage from now on. To this end, Telefonica has implemented its 5G network with 3.5 GHz bandwidths, operating in parallel to the current 4G networks.

At home, 5G offers more speed and less latency. That means enjoying movies or games with the best picture quality. On the other hand, businesses find in 5G an ally to create private networks with very low latency and applications like network virtualization or interconnected devices.


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