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What is Network Latency and How to Reduce It

As a network engineer, you’re always looking to optimize network performance and provide the best user experience possible. One of the key metrics you need to understand and manage is network latency. High latency can be the villain that ruins video calls and other real-time applications like video gaming. In this post, we’ll explain what network latency is, what causes it, how to check it, and most importantly, how you can reduce it and keep your network running smoothly.

What is Network Latency?

In simple terms, network latency is the time it takes for data to travel from its source to its destination across a network. It’s like measuring how long it takes a car to drive between two cities – the journey time is the latency. The lower the latency, the faster data reaches its destination.

Every time you click a link, stream a video, or send an email, data packets are zipping across the network. Latency measures the round-trip time of this data. So, if latency is high, you’ll notice delays and unresponsiveness. But if latency is low, things feel snappy and responsive.

What Causes Network Latency?

Several factors contribute to network latency:

  1. Distance: The physical distance data has to travel between source and destination is a big factor. It’s simply faster to drive across town than across the country. Similarly, the further data has to travel, the higher the latency.
  2. Network hardware: Routers, switches, and other network devices data passes through can introduce latency, especially if they’re outdated or underpowered for the job. It’s like driving a race in an old, underperforming car.
  3. Network congestion: When a network is clogged with too much traffic, latency rises as data packets get stuck in traffic jams.
  4. Software inefficiencies: Poorly written application code or inefficient database queries can cause the software to take longer to process data, increasing latency.
  5. Transmission Medium: The type of transmission medium can impact latency. Wired connections generally have lower latency than wireless ones.

How to Check Network Latency

Monitoring latency regularly helps you spot issues before they impact users. Here are a couple ways to check latency:

  • Ping tests: A ping test measures the round-trip time for a small data packet sent from your device to a server and back. It’s a quick way to assess latency. You can run a ping test from the command prompt on most operating systems, or from a network tester.
  • Traceroute: Traceroute shows you the route data takes between your device and its destination, reporting the latency at each network node along the way. This can help pinpoint where latency issues are occurring in the network.
  • Path Analysis: Path Analysis traces the connection points, including intermediate routers and switches, between a tester and a destination. You can use Path Analysis to identify issues such as overloaded interfaces, overloaded device resources, and interface errors which increase network latency.

There also are various network test tools that can track latency over time and alert you if it crosses a threshold.

How to Reduce Network Latency

Now for the important part – how can you squash latency and speed things up? Here are some proven tactics:

  • Use a CDN: A Content Delivery Network (CDN) can drastically cut latency by caching content on servers close to end users. Instead of data traveling all the way from your origin server, it’s delivered rapidly from a nearby CDN server.
  • Optimize code: Streamline your application code and database queries to process data more efficiently. Faster processing means lower latency.
  • Compress data: Compressing data before sending it reduces the amount of data that needs to travel across the network, which can lower latency.
  • Upgrade hardware: Make sure your network hardware is up to the task. Newer, higher-performance routers and switches can process data faster.
  • Implement QoS: Quality of Service (QoS) tools let you prioritize time-sensitive traffic like VoIP or video conferencing. This can help keep latency low for priority traffic even when the network is congested.
  • Tweak network buffers: Configuring your router or switch buffers appropriately for your network conditions and applications can help strike the right balance between throughput and latency.

By understanding what network latency is, monitoring it regularly, and taking steps to minimize it, you can keep your network humming and your users happy. Implementing even a few of these best practices can go a long way in slaying the latency monster and delivering a better network experience.

Author Bio –
Product Manager – Wireless

Julio Petrovitch is a product manager at NetAlly, plus a certified CWNA/CWAP/CWDP/CWSP. He’s worked with network design, testing and validation for more than 15 years. Throughout he’s career he has had the opportunity to work with multiple networking technologies, including POTS, DSL, Copper/Fiber Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and BLE.

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