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Understanding Latency and Bandwidth: How to Get Low Latency

Date Published:  May 23rd, 2022Date Updated:  May 07, 2024

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There are a variety of reasons you could be asking, “Why is my internet slow?” Oftentimes bandwidth or latency problems could be the culprit. These two important components of internet speed can mean the difference between a frustrating or enjoyable experience while you stream, game, surf, and more on the web.

In this post, we’ll dive into how bandwidth and latency work together, what it means for your connection, and how you can achieve the goal of low latency for a high-speed service.

What Is Bandwidth in Networking?

People often lump bandwidth and latency together, however, they are two different parts to understanding your internet connection. If you’re like most internet users, reliable internet is an essential part of modern life, and latency and bandwidth play a part in achieving that.

Bandwidth represents the maximum amount of data that a system can transfer within a specific time frame. There are two pieces to bandwidth: upload speed and download speed.

The bandwidth you purchase from your provider isn’t always your speed. Your internet connection’s performance will depend on a variety of factors – some of which are within your control and others that are not. Both speed and bandwidth in networking are measured in Mbps (or Gbps if you have a 1 Gig or faster connection).

For many customers, this distinction can be confusing. It may be helpful to think of bandwidth as a highway. The wider the highway, the more data it can transfer at once.

Pro tip: Higher bandwidth in networking is better. But higher bandwidth doesn’t always mean lower latency.

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What Is Latency in Networking?

Latency refers to how long it takes for data to travel from one point to another. People also often refer to latency as ping or lag. So which term should you use: ping vs latency? The term ping is technically the test for the measurement of latency.

Although they are two distinct terms, people generally use them interchangeably. Latency is usually measured in milliseconds, or ms.

If bandwidth is the number of lanes on a highway, latency is how fast the cars are driving. If the speed limit is 65 but due to construction, you’re only going 40, there’s a delay.

Pro tip: lower latency is better. On average, latency speed should be below 100 ms.

What Is Upload Latency?

Upload speed is a measurement of how much data you can upload using your internet connection. If you’re experiencing high upload latency, this means you may be struggling to upload data.

What Is Download Latency?

Download speed is a measurement of how quickly you can download a file or packet using your current network. If you’re experiencing increased download latency, this means your downloads may be taking a long time.

How Do Bandwidth and Latency Affect Your Online Experience?

Bandwidth and latency affect activities differently. Tasks that require higher amounts of data will also be more easily affected by bandwidth or latency problems. Here’s a breakdown of common latency and bandwidth issues with your favorite internet activities.


Some online games don’t require significant speed. This means bandwidth shouldn’t have a large impact on your experience. One exception to this is if you have multiple devices gaming or streaming at the same time. If you’re playing offline or there’s no multiplayer aspect, bandwidth isn’t an issue at all.

However, latency matters in gaming — especially for faster, more competitive games like Fortnite, and Counter-Strike. High latency creates lag. This leads to delays between your actions and your character’s actions. For example, another player could strike your avatar while you’re trying to dodge, but you won’t know it until it’s too late.

To learn more about how to lower latency for gaming, check out our blog post here.

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Unlike gaming, streaming tends to rely solely on download speed. You download packets of data from the server any time you stream audio or video.

Because of this, bandwidth is a major factor. Slow internet speeds can cause videos to pause or appear blurry as your connection struggles to download them.

This can happen when there isn’t enough bandwidth to support the content you’re trying to access. The remaining content may take longer to load if you have bandwidth trouble. Your video quality could decrease as your streaming service tries to make up for the slow download speed.

Video Calls

Video chatting is almost a hybrid of gaming and streaming. You’re sending information but you’re downloading it, too. With video calls, low bandwidth makes things hard to see, while high latency causes issues with syncing and freezing.

General Browsing

Generally, you won’t experience much impact from bandwidth and latency if you’re surfing the web, but it is possible. Low bandwidth causes pages to load slowly or in segments (i.e. you may have to wait a few seconds to scroll while the page loads). High latency creates a delay when you open a page where it looks like nothing is happening — even if the page is loading quickly.

How to Improve Latency

So, if you are having bandwidth or latency issues, what can you do about it?

First, run a speed test. This will identify your internet’s download speed, upload speed, and ping (or latency). If you’re noticing more issues at a certain time of day, run the test at several different times and compare.

You may be wondering, what is a good latency for your internet connection? Low latency is considered anything less than 100 ms. But if you’re looking to stream or game, you’ll want latency of less than 50 ms.

If your test results seem normal, next determine if your modem and router are to blame. If the software needs updating or the hardware needs an upgrade, it may not be able to handle your bandwidth. If you own your equipment, that means doing some research before making a purchase. If you rent from your internet provider, it’s as easy as making a call — that’s why we always recommend renting your router.

Finally, it might simply be time to upgrade your internet plan. If you’ve recently added more devices, increased streaming, or online gaming, you may need a bandwidth upgrade. Opting for a faster speed will improve your bandwidth, while changing the internet type can reduce latency. You may want to consider making the switch to fiber internet or wireless home internet to reduce latency.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a bad latency speed?

Generally, bad latency is considered anything less than 100 ms (which is still only 0.1 seconds). However, if you’re using more data-intensive activities, you’ll want a ping time that’s even lower: think 50 ms or less.

How to fix internet latency?

The first step is to do a speed test. The internet speed you signed up for and the speed you’re getting may be two different things. Your internet speed should be 95% or higher of the speed you selected with your provider. You can easily run a test to find out (and yes, internet speed tests do work — no bandwidth or latency test required).

What type of internet connection has the lowest latency?

Fiber internet has the lowest latency — it’s internet at the speed of light. Latency will always be lower on wired connections compared to wireless ones. That’s why you’ll experience less delay using an ethernet cable compared to WiFi. However, fiber internet has lower latency than cable or DSL. And not all wireless internet is created the same. Wireless home internet has lower latency than satellite internet because it’s local — not orbiting the Earth.

What does latency mean for internet speed?

Latency is the time delay that happens when data travels from a source to a destination. If you have high latency, your internet speed will be slower. If you have low latency, your speed will be faster.


Understanding the impact of bandwidth and latency is crucial to getting the most from your internet connection. It’s important to keep in mind how you use the internet and check your latency and bandwidth accordingly. This will keep you connected today and prevent headaches in the future.

Marie Flanagan

Marie Flanagan

Marie Flanagan is a contributing writer for EarthLink. She’s a life-long Atlantan with a passion for SaaS, IoT, AI, fintech, and everything technology. Her ideal offline situation is volunteering in STEM education for girls or on her front porch with a book.

See all posts from Marie Flanagan.