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What is latency and how do you fix it?
For most of us, latency isn't a big deal. But for gamers and satellite internet users, latency can make online activities a drag. Here's what you need to know about it, plus how to fix high latency.
Latency, also called ping, measures how much time it takes for your computer, the internet, and everything in between, to respond to an action you take (like clicking on a link).
For many Australians, latency isn't that you think about every day. It's not something that directly affects your ability o stream video content on Netflix, listen to music on Spotify, or surf Instagram and the web. However, if you regularly play games online or have a satellite NBN internet plan, latency can have a big impact on your overall experience with the internet.
Latency affects how responsive your internet connection, video, or game feels.
Imagine you're watching the news, and the host cuts away to a reporter on the scene of an epic ice cream truck meltdown (500 waffle cones were lost, but no one was injured). The anchor says “Over to you, Jerry,” but the reporter stands there, smiling blankly at the camera. An uncomfortable amount of time passes before they finally blurt out the words: “Thanks, Ben.”
On a technical level, this delay between an in-studio news anchor and a reporter is the same kind of latency that many Australians regularly experience. It's less about the speed of your connection and more to do with how fast your connection feels.
Ideally, your latency would be zero milliseconds. However, the chances of this happening are lower than chances of finding a secret alien base on the dark side of the moon. Luckily, there are a few ways to lower your latency.
When it comes to cutting down your ping and speeding your internet connection up, it's best to start by figuring out what might be adding latency in the first place.
You may have heard your fellow netizens mention lag, ping, or ms. All of those terms also refer to latency.
What causes latency?
Both in Australia and abroad, internet latency is affected by several factors: distance, propagation delay, connection type, website content, Wi-Fi, NBN provider and the specs of any routers involved.
Some of these factors are fixable, while others are just part of everyone’s online experience. If you’re wondering why your latency is so high, here are some likely culprits.
Distance is usually the main cause of latency—in this case, it refers to the distance between your computer and the servers your computer is requesting information from.
For example, if you live in Melbourne, and you visit a website hosted by a server located in Sydney, the response time of the website should be pretty quick. That’s because your request has to travel a relatively short distance.
But if you live in Perth, and try to access that same website hosted by a Sydney-based server, the response time will be slower. This is because your request has to travel a greater distance.
Round-trip time (or RTT), is the amount of time it takes for your request (like hitting enter on a Google search) to reach a server, and then have that server’s response get back to your computer.
Your request → the server’s response → your computer
2. Propagation delay
Real quick, let’s talk about propagation. In physics, propagation is “the sending out or spreading of light or sound waves, movement, etc.”1 When we’re talking internet, propagation is the action of sending out your data packets to a server.
Your data packet → the server
This brings us to propagation delay: this is how long it takes for your data packets to reach that. (But it doesn’t include the time it takes to cross the full distance back to your computer. That’s round-trip time.) Like distance, propagation delay is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to how much latency you experience.
3. Internet connection type
Your internet connection type can also play a role in how high or low your latency is. For the most part, NBN and ADSL internet connections tend to have lower latency, while satellite internet tends to suffer from higher latency.
Latency by connection type2,3
- DSL: 24–42 ms
- Cable: 15–27 ms
- Fiber: 10–15 ms
- Satellite: 594–612 ms
4. What’s on a website
Ever clicked on a link and waited several minutes for the website to load far too many GIFs, ads, or large images? Yup, you just experienced latency thanks to someone plastering The Office memes all over their Angelfire page.
If a website is home to lots of large files, like HD images or videos, or multiple third-party ads (the horror), your web browser has to download all of those files and ads to show them to you. And if those files or ads are hosted on a server that’s far away from you, there’s going to be a little latency thanks to distance.
5. Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet cable
If you want to reduce your latency as much as humanly possible, you’ll want to use an Ethernet cable to connect to the internet.
Does Wi-Fi affect latency?
Wi-Fi is great, yes, but your wireless signal is more susceptible to noise, meaning your data packets likely need to be re-sent, or retransmitted, if they become lost.
Wi-Fi also has to jump through a few more hoops, like encryption protocols, to travel back and forth from your computer. And usually, those wireless signals fade, or lose strength, over distance faster than an Ethernet connection.
6. NBN provider
Not all NBN providers provide the same level of latency, even if their services are structured the same way.
Each quarter, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission releases in-depth data on how each NBN provider compares when it comes to download speeds, upload speeds, outages, and latency. Check out the table below to see how each of Australia's NBN providers ranked lowest when it came to latency (just don't forget that lower latency is better).
Webpage loading time Q4
Webpage loading time Q3
Webpage loading time Q2
Webpage loading time Q1
|Aussie Broadband||3.1 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||3.6 seconds (down 0.1 seconds)||3.7 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||4.2 seconds|
|Dodo & iPrimus||3.1 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||3.6 seconds (down 0.3 seconds)||3.9 seconds (down 0.4 seconds)||4.3 seconds|
|Exetel||3 seconds (down 0.6 seconds)||3.6 seconds (down 0.1 seconds)||3.7 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||4.2 seconds|
|iiNet||3.1 seconds (down 0.6 seconds)||3.7 seconds (no change)||3.7 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||4.2 seconds|
|MyRepublic||3.2 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||3.7 seconds (down 0.3 seconds)||4 seconds (down 0.4 seconds)||4.4 seconds|
|Optus||3 seconds (down 0.7 seconds)||3.7 seconds (down 0.2 seconds)||3.9 seconds (down 0.3 seconds)||4.2 seconds|
|Superloop||3 seconds (down 0.6 seconds)||3.6 seconds (down 0.3 seconds)||3.8 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||4.3 seconds|
|Telstra||2.9 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||3.4 seconds (down 0.1 seconds)||3.5 seconds (down 0.4 seconds)||3.9 seconds|
|TPG||3.2 seconds (down 0.5 seconds)||3.7 seconds (down 0.2 seconds)||3.9 seconds (down 0.3 seconds)||4.2 seconds|
|Vodafone||3.1 seconds (down 0.6 seconds)||3.7 seconds (down 0.4 seconds)||4.1 seconds (down 0.3 seconds)||4.4 seconds|
7. Your router
An old, slow router can bog down your computer’s connection to your internet provider’s modem, whether you use Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. This is especially true if your router doesn’t support the internet speed you’re paying for or if you have a lot of people and devices connected to your router at the same time.
Upgrading to a new router may decrease your latency, but, unfortunately, it likely won’t have too huge of an impact.
Some modern routers come with a feature called Quality of Service (QoS). By enabling QoS, you can tell your router to prioritize certain traffic over others.
For example, you can tell your router to prioritize your desktop computer over your kiddo’s tablet. This means that your computer gets the best possible online performance, possibly at the cost of your child’s tablet getting a slower internet connection. (Shh, we won’t tell.)
What’s the difference between latency and bandwidth?
Latency is a measure of how much time it takes for your computer to send signals to a server and then receive a response back. Because it’s a measure of time delay, you want your latency to be as low as possible.
Bandwidth measures how much data your internet connection can download or upload at a time. Sometimes bandwidth gets confused with download speed, but internet speed and bandwidth aren’t exactly the same.
You can think of bandwidth like a straw. Let’s say you order up a tasty chocolate shake from McDonald’s, but the server gave you a regular straw by mistake. The regular straw is like low bandwidth. You can’t slurp up much chocolate shake through that small straw, just like you can’t download a lot of data with low bandwidth.
But if you ask your server for a larger straw, now you’re able to enjoy all that chocolatey goodness with no problems. Just like a plan with higher bandwidth lets you download a whole lotta internet goodness with no (er, few) problems.
Does more bandwidth reduce latency?
Yes, more bandwidth can reduce latency since there’s a wider pipeline for more data to travel through, which reduces the chance data packets will get delayed. And, on the other hand, high latency can also create a bottleneck that reduces your effective bandwidth—at least until those delayed data packets get through.
How do I get more bandwidth?
The simplest way to increase your connection bandwidth is to sign up for an NBN plan that offers more.
For example, an NBN50 plan offers download speeds of up to 50Mbps while an NBN100 plan gets you double that. If you're looking to choose between the two, signing up for the faster of the two means getting more bandwidth (in turn which means lower latency).
Check out the widget below for a round-up of popular NBN100 plans.
If NBN100 isn't fast enough for you and you want the absolute lowest latency connection available, then NBN250 and NBN1000 (AKA gigabit internet) are going to be your best bet. Check out the widget below for a round-up of popular ultra-fast internet plans.
What is a good latency in Australia?
These days, any latency at 100 ms or lower is considered decent.
Even at 100 ms, you can play most online games without much frustration. However, that's not a universal rule.
Many online games demand or benefit from a faster connection. Low latency is especially critical if you’re playing a first-person shooter (FPS) game like Call of Duty or any other games where timing is critical (like League of Legends or Need for Speed). If you're looking to stream games via the cloud, then latency becomes even more important.
If a low-latency internet connection is important to you, you might want to consider the gamer-specific NBN add-ons that Telstra and Optus have launched in recent years.
Both the the Optus Game Path and Telstra Game Optimiser cost an additional $10 per month on top of your existing NBN plan, and promise to reduce latency by locking in the shortest possible route between your connection and the server your game requires.
Another NBN option that gamers might want to consider is MyRepublic. Their plans tend to cost around $10 more than their competitiors, but are said to be optimised for gaming usage.
If that sounds like it might suit your needs, check out the widget below for a round-up of the provider's NBN plans.
How to fix high latency in Australia
There are some things you can do to fix high latency (besides cursing your internet connection). Take a look:
- Turn off any downloads, and be sure to check for anything that’s downloading in the background.
- Close any unused applications or browser tabs.
- Check for malware. We once had a bug on our computer that was using up most of our bandwidth. Not fun!
- Use an Ethernet cable to connect your device to your router or modem, if at all possible.
- If you can’t use an Ethernet cable, you may want to invest in a mesh Wi-Fi system, like the Google Nest Wi-Fi.
- Update your router’s and modem’s firmware—outdated firmware can even cause slow internet speeds.
- Turn on your router’s QoS feature and set it to prioritize your device or activity.
P.S. If you’re stuck with satellite internet, high latency is sadly a fact of life. But there are some things you can do to speed up your satellite connection.
Jitter can affect your experience when using apps like Zoom, Skype, or other VoIP services.
Zoom recommends a latency of 150 ms and jitter of 40 ms or less. Anything past that will likely make your video conference extremely choppy and unbearable.
While Starlink is still undergoing a public beta, Starlink advertised download speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps for beta users. In early 2021 the median range the speeds hit was between 40 to 93 Mbps, according to Ookla, a speed test company.2 Want to know more? Check out guide to all things Starlink in Australia.
A latency of 4 ms is excellent. We’re jealous if you’ve got this kind of ping.
Yup, 20 ms is considered great latency. As long as your latency is under 100 ms, you shouldn’t notice any lag.
A latency of 200 ms will make certain online games or activities frustrating. Even in games where timing isn’t critical, you may experience rubber-banding or stuttering.
Rubber-banding is where your in-game character runs toward a location, then seems to jump backward a few seconds later, almost as if they’re stuck to a giant rubber band that snapped back.
Stuttering is similar to rubber-banding, but instead of snapping back to a position they were in several seconds ago, your character will freeze in place and skip ahead to the location you were aiming for. It almost looks like you’re teleporting a few steps every few seconds.
How to test internet latency
Testing your latency is as easy as giving our free speed test a go. Click “Test Your Speed” and within a few moments, you’ll know your current download speed, upload speed, and ping.
To find your ping (latency), click “Show More Info" on your speed test results. This will display your latency, alongside the upload and download speeds achieved by your current connection.