What is latency?

Users expect a fast response time to their commands when gaming online, but also when doing simple tasks on the computer. But low latency doesn’t always work — long distances and other hardware and software problems can slow down the flow of data. There are, however, concrete measures you can take to reduce latency.

Latency: Definition

Latency, also known as response time, describes the time between a command and the expected response. There is always a delay caused by a wide variety of factors. Basically, a low latency or delay is desirable — a high latency should be avoided.

Meaning of latency

What sounds abstract at first has a concrete meaning for most of us, especially in telecommunications: When working on the computer, a program should start quickly after a double-click, when surfing a website should load immediately, or when cloud gaming the decisive blow against the opponent should occur as close to real time as possible.

Especially when using VR goggles, too much latency is also physically noticeable: The digital environment does not reload fast enough, the realistic experience and immersion is destroyed. In the future, low latency will play a much more decisive role in autonomous driving. Here, latency should be as close to 0 as possible so that cars can safely react to accidents and other surprising events in road traffic.

In addition to Internet latency and computer or operating system latency, fiber optic latency — how long a signal takes to travel through the fiber optic cable — is also often important for everyday users. But there is also latency in other contexts, such as operational or mechanical.

What causes latency?

Even though the goal is to produce low latency as close to 0 as possible, in most cases this is not realistic. For example, Internet or computer latency is affected by the following factors:

  • Distance between sender and receiver: For example, if you retrieve data packets from a server in Europe, the latency is significantly higher than if you retrieve data from US-based servers.
  • Transmission media: For example, there are different types of cable with different transmission speeds. But also the type and number of interconnected hardware (server, hard disks, switch, ...) increases the latency.
  • Packet size: The larger the data, the longer the transmission takes.
  • Type of data processing: Different components handle the processing of the data differently.
  • Available bandwidth: The bandwidth available to you can slow down the transmission. The signal strength can also have an impact, for example if it is particularly weak and/or needs to be amplified by a repeater.
  • Queues at individual stations, such as when an unusually large number of requests are made to a server simultaneously.

To find out how high your Internet latency is, there are so-called ping tests. Here the test website sends data packets to your computer and measures the time for sending them back and forth. Which value is interpreted as a good ping or latency value depends on your Internet connection.

Reduce / improve latency

One of the most important factors for a good latency is a short distance between sender and receiver. At a higher level, this factor is processed via so-called edge computing, in which an IT architecture is set up that processes data as close to its source as possible. Beyond that, you can also make other optimizations to your hardware and software to improve latency:

  1. When streaming or online gaming, make sure to select a server from the USA or at least one from North America in the settings of the gaming or streaming platform.
  2. Use a cable instead of WIFI for particularly data-intensive applications.
  3. Reduce the so-called packet loss via your firewall. The firewall checks incoming packets and even blocks some — this costs time and sometimes data is lost. To prevent both, you can configure the firewall to specify which pages or applications do not require such a check.
  4. Reduce the load on your connection to have more bandwidth for the current application: Close programs running in the background on your computer, temporarily put other devices (smartphone or tablet) in flight mode, and prioritize your computer on the router. Unnecessary programs are best completely uninstalled.
  5. Add more RAM to your computer.
  6. Defragment your hard disk.

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