What Is Latency and How Does It Affect My Internet?

Hey there! As a cloud data security expert with over a decade of experience, I know the ins and outs of internet performance. If you’ve ever needed to set up or upgrade your internet package, you’ve likely seen terms like upload and download speed. While those are important, I want to talk to you about a lesser known metric – latency.

Latency is a huge factor in internet speed that most people overlook. Trust me, understanding latency will help you optimize your internet performance, especially if you use a VPN. Read on and I’ll break down everything you need to know about latency!

What is Network Latency?

Network latency is the time it takes for data to travel back and forth to fulfill a request. Let‘s say you click a link to see a picture of a cute puppy. Clicking the link is the request, and the picture loading is the response. When you click, data travels to a server and then bounces back to you. This round trip time (RTT) is latency, measured in milliseconds (ms).

With low latency, pages load instantly when you click links. Videos stream smoothly without freezing. In competitive online games, your actions sync perfectly with your button presses.

High latency does the opposite – pages lag when loading, videos buffer constantly, and your game character‘s actions happen seconds after you hit the buttons. Latency determines how "snappy" your internet feels.

What Causes High Latency?

Four main factors impact your latency, for better or worse:

1. Distance

The further data travels, the higher the latency. If the server is across the country, your latency increases versus a local server. Using a VPN to access international servers also increases latency.

For example, pinging a server in India from the US leads to 180ms latency versus 30ms pinging a US server.

2. Transmission Medium

The cables transmitting data affect speed. Fiber optic cables offer the fastest travel time, while old copper cables are much slower.

Upgrading old infrastructure provides huge latency improvements. Fiber optic latency can be 100ms for copper.

3. Routing and Processing

As data travels between networks, routers must process and direct it. Efficient routers minimize latency, while overloaded routers create a bottleneck.

Optimized routers add <1ms of latency, while congested routers contribute over 15ms of delays.

4. Data Retrieval Time

When a server retrieves requested data from storage, even small millisecond delays add up. This retrieval time is called storage latency.

Flash storage offers <10ms retrieval latency versus 50-100ms for mechanical hard drives.

In summary, distance, medium, routing, and data retrieval all contribute to your total latency. Optimizing each piece improves overall latency.

How Can I Reduce Latency?

Both users and internet providers can reduce latency for faster internet:

User Optimization Tips:

  • Upgrade your router – Newer routers have better processing to handle data faster.

  • Use ethernet for demanding devices – Gaming PCs, streaming boxes – anything high bandwidth should use wired over wireless.

  • Contact your ISP about bandwidth upgrades – More bandwidth means more data can transfer simultaneously.

Upgrading from 50 to 100 mbps cuts latency in half, from 40ms to 20ms

  • Connect your VPN to closer servers – Connecting to New York vs Australia makes a huge latency difference if you live on the US East Coast.

Internet Provider Optimizations:

  • Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) – CDNs have local servers worldwide to reduce distances.

  • Caching – CDNs also cache popular content locally so it doesn‘t have to be retrieved repeatedly.

  • Peering agreements – Agreements between network providers to directly interconnect improves routing.

  • Infrastructure upgrades – Swapping old copper for fiber optic cables increases transmission speed.

Both users and internet providers can tweak these optimizations to reduce latency. But what‘s considered a "good" latency?

What is a Good Latency Level?

Lower latency is better, with measurements in milliseconds. However, acceptable latency ranges based on your use case:

  • Web browsing: Up to 100ms latency is fine for most browsing. Pages might load slightly slower.

  • Streaming video: Ideally keep latency under 50ms. Over 100ms you may experience buffering.

  • Online gaming: For competitive gaming, sub 30ms latency is ideal. Between 50-100ms input lag will be very noticeable.

  • Voice calls: 150ms or lower is preferred for smooth voice conversations. Higher latency leads to choppy audio.

Of course, lower is always better, with sub 20ms being excellent for all uses. In general, upgrade your internet plan if latency consistently exceeds 100ms.

Latency vs Bandwidth – What‘s the Difference?

Latency, measured in ms, is the travel time for data. Bandwidth, measured in Mbps or KB/s, is the maximum amount of data that can transfer per second.

Think of latency as the speed limit and bandwidth as lanes on a highway. Low latency is a high speed limit – data arrives faster. More bandwidth means more lanes – more data traveling simultaneously.

High latency and low bandwidth is like a one-lane road with a 30 mph speed limit. Upgrading your bandwidth adds more lanes to allow more simultaneous transfers. Reducing latency is like increasing the speed limit to 70 mph so the transfers finish quicker.

Which Internet Types Offer the Lowest Latency?

Your internet technology significantly impacts latency. Higher speeds generally mean lower latency:

Fiber Optic Internet

Speeds: Up to 1 Gbps
Latency: 10-20ms

Pros: Fastest speeds, lowest latency.

Cons: Limited availability, expensive.

Cable Internet

Speeds: 50-500 Mbps
Latency: 15-35ms

Pros: Widely available, good value.

Cons: Slower than fiber, still shared connection.

DSL Internet

Speeds: 10-100Mbps
Latency: 30-60ms

Pros: Available where cable/fiber aren‘t; inexpensive.

Cons: Slower speeds than cable/fiber.

Satellite and dial-up offer high latency of 600ms+ but are rare these days. Overall fiber optic provides the best latency but cable internet still offers decent speeds. DSL works but will have slower response times.

Key Latency Questions and Answers

Still have questions? Here are answers to some common latency FAQs:

Q: Why is my internet slow even though my speeds are high?

A: You can have fast bandwidth but still experience lag if latency is high. Check your latency (see next question) and contact your provider if it‘s consistently over 100ms.

Q: How do I check my internet latency?

A: Search "internet speed test" and run a test that measures latency like Speedtest.net. Run tests to multiple locations for comparison.

Q: What does "ping" mean related to internet latency?

A: Ping is another term for latency. When you "ping" a server, you‘re measuring the round trip time for data which is latency. Ping and latency can be used interchangeably.

Q: Does my router impact internet latency?

A: Yes, an old or low-end router can contribute to high latency due to limited processing capabilities. Upgrade your router every 3-5 years for the best Wi-Fi performance.

Q: Will switching ISPs reduce my latency?

A: Possibly – compare plans using speed tests. If another provider offers lower latency that likely means their network is less congested. Just be sure to factor in costs.

The Bottom Line

Now you know all about the invisible force that shapes internet experiences – latency! While everyone focuses on bandwidth speed, don’t forget this underlying factor. Review your current latency, and tweak the optimizations mentioned earlier to improve performance, especially for gaming and streaming.

With your newfound knowledge, go forth and enjoy the internet with new appreciation of the journey your data takes to bring you cute puppy pics and dank memes! Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions. I’m always happy to chat more about optimizing internet connections.

Luis Masters

Written by Luis Masters

Luis Masters is a highly skilled expert in cybersecurity and data security. He possesses extensive experience and profound knowledge of the latest trends and technologies in these rapidly evolving fields. Masters is particularly renowned for his ability to develop robust security strategies and innovative solutions to protect against sophisticated cyber threats.

His expertise extends to areas such as risk management, network security, and the implementation of effective data protection measures. As a sought-after speaker and author, Masters regularly contributes valuable insights into the evolving landscape of digital security. His work plays a crucial role in helping organizations navigate the complex world of online threats and data privacy.