What is (Internet) Latency?

In a perfect world, there’d be no latency. But in the real world, which is full of different connections and mediums for your signal, latency exists.

Latency measures the time it takes between your actions and the response between your computer, the internet, and everything in between.

You know how sometimes reporters take a second to respond to the in-studio news anchor? That’s latency, and the same delay happens when technology communicates.

When it comes to the internet, latency measures the time it takes between your actions and the response between your computer, the internet, and everything in between.

Latency affects how responsive a system or network feels.

What is considered “good” internet latency?

Anything under 100ms is considered decent. Ideally, 0ms would be great, but we can’t send information at the speed of light (yet—c’mon science people, chop-chop!).

What affects latency?

A lot of stuff affects latency: geographic distance, equipment, and information systems used. If you’re having latency issues, you can buy a nicer modem and router. Or you can get a new internet service provider altogether.

How do you improve latency?

You can improve your internet latency in a few ways:

  • Connect with ethernet or cable instead of using wireless WiFi connections when possible
  • Update your computer, security and bug fixes can help
  • Upgrade your internet service to a cable or fiber if it’s available
  • Get the good stuff, skimping on your modem and router is no bueno

Latency-related definitions

Bandwidth is how wide your internet highway is. More lanes allow more traffic, and with the internet it’s not much different. Higher bandwidth allows more information to flow freely.

Propagation means the time it takes for information to travel between two places at the speed of light, which once again is impossible at this point. So this is measurement serves as a starting or zero point.

Transmission is the act of moving data between source. Whatever medium you’re transferring through like fiber, cable, or satellite ultimately affects it. Fiber is the fastest, cable is next, and satellite is getting better, but still is the slowest form.

Gateway nodes include things like routers, WiFi gateways, or any other equipment that processes data it receives before relaying it to you. The more gateway nodes or equipment between you and the servers, the more latency you’ll feel.

Packet loss is all the data that just couldn’t make it. It’s information that was lost, corrupted, or otherwise undelivered.