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What is latency?

latency affecting video call delays

Another word you may have heard whilst talking about the internet and in particular your connection, is latency. 

Again, we’re sure you’re wondering what it actually means and quite frankly why you should be bothered. It’s one of those ‘need to know’ words that will make life so much easier when it comes to ensuring you’re getting the most out of your internet connection.

Latency is quite simply the length of time it takes information to get from its source to you. 

Think about the last time you searched on Google and the delay between submitting the search and receiving the results, the delay is latency. So, the lower the latency the better it is, unlike, bandwidth where we literally can’t get enough.

Why is latency important?

People often assume that good internet performance is a result of higher bandwidth, however that is not always the case. High bandwidth and low latency is the key to having great connectivity. 

If latency is the length of time it takes information to get from its source to you, then bandwidth is the amount of that information sent per second. If you’re with us so far, great. If not, don’t worry too much, hopefully it will become clearer.

Just to explain further, latency is often referred to as delay, ping rate or lag. 

If you have children, then you’ve probably heard them saying their video game is ‘lagging’. What they’re actually referring to is high latency which is causing a slow reaction time on the game. Whether it’s making a crucial tackle on FIFA or responding to an enemy attack on Call of Duty when it comes to game play, quick reactions are essential and having a high latency line can be extremely frustrating.

With this in mind, low latency becomes business or school critical when you are using services such as VoIP and video conferencing. No one wants to be on that all important customer call and experience a poor connection, not only is it annoying it can also be extremely embarrassing when you’re trying to make the right impression.

How can you reduce your latency?

This all depends on the situation. It goes without saying your internet connection and router at home won’t be the same spec as the office and therefore things will be a bit slower and less reliable. 

However, for those currently working from home there are some really easy solutions that will help. A good place to start is either moving closer to your router or connecting to it with an ethernet cable. It might sound obvious but objects can block your wifi signal so moving closer should improve your line of connectivity. 

If you’re about to go on that all important video call and want to ensure it runs smoothly, another thing you can do is close any other browsing windows. If you have anything running in the background that’s bandwidth heavy this can have a major impact on your latency.

The next thing to do is check your bandwidth. As discussed earlier, bandwidth and latency are interconnected so if you have low bandwidth this could be causing you to have high latency.

In a business or educational setting a good starting point would be to check your router and make sure it’s the right spec for the job. A router for a commercial setting needs to be far more robust and therefore one from home just really won’t cut the mustard. Old routers can also affect your connection strength, speed and reliability, so if your kit is old it might be time to upgrade. 

If all else fails and reducing latency is critical for your business, you might just need to review your connection. Ultimately the best option to minimise the delay will be to upgrade to a service that offers you more bandwidth and therefore increases your internet speed. With superfast broadband widely available in the UK sourcing a better service shouldn’t be a problem and with the imminent roll out of ultrafast broadband latency issues should quickly become a thing of the past, for most. 

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Is DSL connectivity best suited to you?

DSL connections offer very limited bandwidth so it might be right for you if you typically use the internet for less data-intensive tasks. If you’re sending emails, browsing the web, downloading very small files and working with small amounts of data – you should be fine with DSL.

It is worth noting connections based on copper wire, like DSL, will be switched off in the UK by Openreach, with a phased approach due to begin at the end of 2025. If you don’t have a fibre connection at the moment, you’ll need to upgrade this as well as move to a VoIP telephone system.

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