What Is Network Latency? (Plus Tips for Reducing It)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Network latency affects the efficiency and performance of technology connected to the internet. From gaming to professional correspondence, network latency can affect efficiency and effectiveness. If you regularly use a device connected to the internet for personal or professional reasons, you may want to learn more about what network latency is and how you can decrease it. In this article, we discuss what network latency is, why it's important, common reasons for network latency and some methods you can use to decrease latency in your network.

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What is network latency?

Network latency refers to the time it takes for a request to travel between and process through two points in a network. For example, network latency may be evident when playing online games as lag, or delays in the game processing. High network latency can delay communications like emails, downloads and uploads. There are many tools you can find online and use to measure your network latency if you think you are experiencing high latency in your network.

Why is latency important?

Latency is important because understanding it can help you improve your experience with internet-connected technology. High latency can make your network slow and ineffective by causing delays in your communication or entertainment. If you have a network in your workplace, high latency may cause a delay in customer services or online product delivery. When your clients rely on you for prompt service, it's important to avoid time delays to maintain their satisfaction.

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Latency vs. throughput and bandwidth

There are three components you can use to measure the efficiency of a network: latency, bandwidth and throughput. Network latency is the measurement of time between when a user makes a request and when that request can travel through the network, process and return. Bandwidth is the total volume of information that can travel through the network. The throughput, however, measures the amount of information that processes during a period. To calculate the throughput, you must use both the latency and the bandwidth. A healthy network throughput means that most messages deliver successfully and promptly.

A network works similarly to a network of water pipes for transferring information. In this analogy, how quickly the water can move through the pipes describes the latency. The diameter of the pipe is the bandwidth, and the throughput is the total amount of water that can transfer through the pipe during a period. You can calculate the total volume of water that travels through the pipe by considering how quickly it moves and how big the pipe is.

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Common reasons for network latency

These are some of the common factors that may cause your network latency:

Hardware inadequacies

Your internet service itself may be fine, but the equipment you're using might not deliver high speeds. Most devices can manage certain speeds, and you can find the information in their handbooks or product pages. Review your router, modem and device's information to ensure they're capable of operating at high speeds. If you don't want to purchase a new router or modem, you may be able to rent or lease them from your internet provider for a monthly fee.

Slow antivirus

If you have an antivirus installed, it may need to examine each piece of data transferred through the network. However, if the antivirus is an older version or not properly updated, it may increase your latency. Update your antivirus or consider purchasing a new package if yours is outdated.

Virus or malware

If one device within your network downloads or uploads a network virus or malware, it may transfer it to others within the network. The malware may also attack the network itself, slowing speeds and increasing latency. Downloading an efficient antivirus program for your network can help to prevent malware from spreading.

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Tips for reducing network latency

If you're experiencing a slow network or lag, you may have high network latency. These are some methods you can try to reduce your network latency and improve your experience:

Measure your network latency

Before you try methods for reducing your network latency, you may want to ensure latency is the real problem. To determine if your latency is the issue, search the internet for latency measuring tools and use one. Typically, functional network latency is anything less than 100 milliseconds, and between 20 and 40 milliseconds is good for most purposes.

Use a wired connection

Determine if all devices are experiencing network latency or if it's a certain device you use. If only one or a few devices have high latency, consider using a wired connection for those devices. In most cases, you can connect an Ethernet cable from the modem to the device to provide direct network access.

Eliminate background operations

Depending on your network's capabilities, your device may be attempting to operate too many programs or functions at once. If you have many devices connected to the network, like smart home devices or consoles, consider disconnecting a few. You can also check the background functions on your device to ensure other operations are not increasing the latency.

Update your internet plan

If you've attempted other methods for improving network latency and find that it's still high, consider speaking with your internet provider. A telecommunications consultant may be able to identify and resolve other issues causing the high latency. If there are no other issues affecting the network latency, you may need to upgrade your plan to improve your internet experience.

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Move closer to the router

If you are using a wireless connection and experiencing high network latency, consider moving closer to the router. The signal from your router may weaken the further your device is from it. If you can't move your router, consider buying network boosting devices to strengthen the connection over distances.

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