Network latency: what is it and how to improve your connection?

Anyone who deals with the internet certainly knows what latency is in networks. Even those who are not professionals in the subject deal with this problem daily. However, if you work in a company’s IT department, you certainly want to find fast and stable service.

So, if that’s your goal, keep reading this post. Understand everything about network latency and how to have the best connection possible.

What is latency in networks?

Basically, latency means delay, causing servers to slow down . In a network, this delay is the time it takes for a request to be sent from one point to another. The most common example of latency is the time it takes for a website to receive a user request, whether to access it, open a menu or anything else.

In any online task there is latency, and in certain contexts this is even more important, while in others it is practically imperceptible. A simple example is in online multiplayer games, where delays in inputting commands can harm players.

For a company, latency can be very problematic. If you have a website or blog, you only have two seconds of user patience before they abandon the content if it doesn’t load. It’s a very short time. For programs and software hosted in the cloud, latency can also cause considerable delays, which harms performance and user capacity.

Therefore, having as close to zero latency as possible is great for improving the customer experience in any organization.

What can cause latency in networks?

The first step to reducing latency is knowing the factors that can lead to it. The most important and most common is the distance between the user and the servers . For example, imagine that a client in local market is trying to access an international website, whose closest server is located in the United States. Naturally, it takes some time for the information to get there.

In practice, this difference is only a few milliseconds, but this can have a real impact considering all the complexity of sending and receiving information on the internet. And the more complex the action, the more the potential for latency exists.

This is considering that the information goes directly from the server to the client’s computer, which practically never happens. Data naturally needs to pass through Internet Exchange Points.

You can imagine the internet as a city’s road network. When you need to go from a nearby street or in the same neighborhood, this is very easy. However, when you need to go a little further, you may need to take the tunnels or main streets, which are the IEPs. When they are bottled up it is a big problem.

Finally, there is the nature of the content itself. If it is a page with 4K videos, for example, the content is very heavy, which further affects processing. Even if the server is close to the client, if you want to transfer a lot of things at the same time, you will certainly have difficulties.

What to do on the user side?

In certain cases, the problem is on the user’s side and there are also solutions that can help optimize latency. One of the most common is to increase internet bandwidth, although this does not always guarantee a reduction in latency.

Returning to the analogy of a city’s road network, bandwidth is the size of the streets along which information travels. So, it could be that the system has low latency, but the bandwidth is so small that the information still has difficulty getting through.

It’s as if you wanted to visit someone in the same neighborhood as you, but there is only one street that allows one car to pass at a time. If there are many cars passing by, it is impossible for this to happen quickly.

Another potential way to optimize latency is by switching from Wi-Fi to a network cable. This suffers much less interference, making the connection more stable and limiting packet loss.

How to reduce latency in networks?

Based on the problems above, it is simple to think of solutions that help reduce latency. One of the most common is the use of CDNs or Content Delivery Networks. This is the most common way to solve the distance problem.

With this solution, servers are closer to clients, which means data doesn’t have to travel as far.

Another way to reduce latency is to optimize website content. Developers can work on content to make it as small as possible. One of the ways to do this is to optimize pages for faster loading.

You can also be smart with what is rendered. For example, imagine a website. Developers can program the browser to load what is at the top of the site first, so that the user can browse while the rest loads.

There are solutions that can help reduce latency within your organization’s own infrastructure. Ensure that routers, cables and bandwidth coverage are sufficient to ensure that information is processed as quickly as possible.

A very smart solution is automatic scaling. The idea is that the system can adapt to the volume of accesses in order to improve performance. For example, e-commerces on Black Friday deal with a very high volume of visits. Returning once again to our analogy, it is as if the roads were able to build more lanes during rush hour.

The most important thing to optimize latency is to know what is causing it to be higher than desired. Perform an infrastructure and network diagnosis to recognize what may be causing delays.

Latency in networks is a crucial concern for any company that communicates with customers over the internet. This is a way to optimize your experience, whether it’s something simple like accessing a website or complex, like using software in the cloud.

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