Latency and bandwidth determine how easily you can accomplish all your favorite activities on the internet or whether your business can create dynamic user experiences. So, what’s the difference?
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can transfer at any given time. Latency is the amount of time that transfer takes. If you experience high bandwidth and low latency, you’ll be able to take on processing and data-heavy activities such as gaming or multiple streaming actions with very little to no wait time. If you have low bandwidth and high latency, you’re probably struggling to accomplish even the most basic tasks. Here’s what you need to know about network bandwidth vs. latency and how to maximize your internet performance.
Why Do Bandwidth and Latency Matter?
Your internet speed depends on several different factors. At the beginning of the internet as we know it, high def video and images, gaming, and streaming were all practically non-existent on the networks. Today, billions of people are using these networks to stream realistic videos, high definition videos and images, and hyperrealistic games in mere milliseconds. Networks can strain under these conditions without improvements, causing data packet delays or even packet loss.
Bandwidth allows for greater and greater amounts of data at a time to flow through the network. Data packets for a simple word document are dwarfed by those required to play the latest Call of Duty. 4K video requires up to 65 Mbps for a high frame rate, literally thousands of bits at a time. The wider your network, the more of these data packs can stream at a time.
Latency is also an important consideration. Where bandwidth depends on nothing but the established “data highway,” latency is affected by several different factors. How big is the data requirement? What is the bandwidth ability? How far apart is the source from the destination? How many people are trying to connect to the destination? All these questions help determine whether data transfer happens in real-time or if there’s a delay.
Achieving low latency requires great connections and improved bandwidth to allow for data to transfer efficiently and quickly. This gives you the ultimate internet speed you crave.
Which is Better: Latency or Bandwidth?
This is a tricky question. These two things are partners in your overall internet experience. However, it might depend on the type of activity that makes up the majority of your internet needs.
High bandwidth is excellent for streaming or gaming. It allows for larger data transfers, the types that high definition movies or processing-intensive gaming requires. If you prioritize a low latency, you might experience an initial buffering result or delay in starting. However, once it does start, you should have a smooth, high-quality experience with little lag.
If you watch a lot of live TV or do live gaming, latency becomes a bit more important. You don’t have time to wait for things to load, so bandwidth might take a slight backseat to low latency. In addition, if you go live through social media or YouTube, high latency could prevent your audience from seeing what you’re doing when you’re doing it.
Many work-from-home positions require a good balance of low latency and high bandwidth. Video calls need good bandwidth for quality purposes, but low latency ensures you can keep up with the conversation without embarrassing delays.
What to Do About Low Bandwidth or High Latency?
If you find you’re having trouble accomplishing the things you need to on the internet, it could be because of high latency, low bandwidth or both. It’s time to troubleshoot.
An online speed test is a quick and easy way to check your network capability. You don’t need to download anything; just navigate to a site such as fast.com from Netflix. You can often use one from your internet service provider (ISP) as well.
If bandwidth is low, you can try reducing the number of devices using the network at the same time. If it’s time for your big gaming campaign, you could request that others pause downloads or their own streaming for a certain period of time.
You might also change internet plans or even providers to achieve higher bandwidth than your current plan allows. Switching to an ethernet connection rather than using Wifi can also help strengthen the network connection and reduce bottlenecks.
If your bandwidth isn’t the issue, throughput might be throttling your performance. Throughput is the ability of your device or system to push data to its destination and receive it roundtrip. Upgrading to a device capable of leveraging the full potential of your available bandwidth could also improve speed and performance.
Network latency tools that monitor and track network performance can help you improve those latency times. In instances of higher latency, it can determine the culprit and offer suggestions for nudging towards lower latency.
Network mapping can help you pinpoint exactly where bottlenecks occur, something very important if you’re reducing latency for business purposes. It will help craft better user experiences by identifying the tasks, apps, and connections that aren’t performing well.
Developing metrics for different aspects that determine latency can help you maintain high performance whether you’re building webpages, live streaming, or on video calls with coworkers. You can also create alerts to let you know when your high-speed capabilities are slow and why.
Balancing bandwidth with latency ensures the best performance
Many high-speed internet choices such as broadband deliver lower latency and higher bandwidth—enough for the typical household media and internet activities. However, as a business getting a closer understanding of network bandwidth, the behavior of end-users, and how network traffic ebbs and flows can help you create dynamic user experiences.
Whether for business or personal use, it’s essential to understand these metrics to know how to maximize your internet connection and accomplish what you need to. While some performance factors are out of your hands, others can determine if you’re able to watch your favorite movie or get stuck buffering.