Understanding Packet Loss and Ping

When people try to think of how “good” their internet connection is, they usually use three major factors as their benchmarks: Download Speed, Upload Speed, and Ping. These of course are used for very good reason and are a decent marker of how strong your connection is. Yet, it is still often possible to have network issues and have these three settings (especially your Ping), all be within acceptable ranges and this can be problematic.

Ping on its own is a measure of how long it takes a sent packet of data to go from your computer or device to a receiving node somewhere in cyberspace. Generally, ping is lower when it comes to nearby server locations, but this isn’t always true due to issues in the network pipeline. Even with your ping being very high, it is quite possible to have issues with the constant flow of data, which may not itself be noticeable in general web-browsing but will certainly be a problem when it comes to dynamic data use from things like Voice Over IP programs (like Skype or TeamSpeak).

One of the biggest sources of this type of problem is something called “packet loss.” You can still have a very good ping but be having issues with packet loss because although the data is being sent and ultimately received fairly quickly by the destination server, not all of the data is getting there correctly.  One of the biggest tell-tale signs of packet loss would be if you were on a Skype call and all the sudden the call quality got very garbled and staticky and then possibly finally dropped out completely.  However, even though Skype was having issues, you might still be able to talk to your friends over TeamSpeak or Google Hangouts. The reason that only one specific program in that case had problems is because of how its data was transmitted over the internet and what route it was taking.

A good resource to diagnose any problems like this that you might be having is a free-to-use website called “Ping Test.” This site will give you several options to use in order to test packet sending and receiving to servers, and ideally you will want to try many different servers in your geographical area to see where, if anywhere, there is a problem. So, you might have a perfect connection to a server in Dallas, TX but then you may experience a very high packet loss when connecting to a test node over in Atlanta, GA. This indicates that somewhere there is a problem with the pipeline between your current location and the server in Atlanta.

While you cannot fix the issue directly that you will have identified above, you will be able to use the information you gained in order to come up with a work-around. So, if you were having an issue using your TeamSpeak client because the call quality was dropping to unacceptable levels, if you had access to the program’s server information, you could check to see what it was using as a routing station. If your TeamSpeak server was being hosted in Atlanta, GA and you had previously identified this as a problem for you, you could switch the server to Dallas, TX or another area that you had no issues connecting to.  Also, many programs that handle large data sharing, such as XSplit (a program which live-streams video feeds to Twitch or other similar services), have the ability to choose your target upload destination, and some will even report back to you on the current connection quality.

Ultimately, while you cannot repair an issue with packet loss (unless the issue is on your ISP’s end, in which case you may need to contact them, and this will only be evident if you have this issue no matter what server you connect to), there are ways to mitigate it. When you experience problems with data transmission, always be sure to check not only your current ping, but also your packet loss. Doing this might save a lot of frustration for you in the future.
by Allahweh

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