Network Speed refers to the rate at which the data packets travel from the source to the destination. Two critical components of network performance are bandwidth and latency. Both are equally important to describe the speed of a particular network. However, the performance depends on various other physical factors as well, such as the number of users, the capabilities of the connected hardware, etc.
What is computer network speed?
Network speed is an aspect of depicting the quickness of the data transfer. It reflects how fast you can establish a connection between your computer and the web and perform uploading as well as downloading activities.
It has a relation to network performance. High speed means that the service quality of the network is good. If the rate is low, then it determines that the performance quality needs improvement.
Network Speed is the subjective analysis of the combination of the inter-related factors, bandwidth, and latency. They characterize the speed of a network and escalate the overall network performance.
How to know if your network is slow?
Nowadays, networks that run speedily have become an essential part of our lives. Sometimes the delay may be only for a brief period without causing any adverse effect.
But in some severe cases, slow connectivity can cause a lot of frustration and also hamper any ongoing activity.
The common issues that a user faces due to lousy network speed include
- It becomes difficult to establish a new connection
- Browsing takes a lot of time. Websites load slowly.
- Video files stream for extended periods with frequent buffering.
- Downloading speed slows down drastically.
What are different network performance measures
Along with the necessary criteria such as security and reliability, the performance of a computer network influences its effectiveness. There are several ways to calculate this performance, as each of them is different in functionality and design.
Network performance depends on an end user’s viewpoint. It refers to the quality of network services provided to the user. On the whole, you can measure network performance by examining the statistics and metrics from the following network components
Bandwidth refers to the total number of bits per second that a network can transmit. For example, the bandwidth of a Fast Ethernet network is a maximum of 100 Mbps.
So, it means that this network can send 100 Mbps. It is the amount of data that moves through a network connection over time.
The network delay defines how long it takes for a data packet, to travel from one designated node to another. Latency comprises four elements; propagation time, transmission time, queuing time and processing delay.
The throughput is a measure of how quick we can send data through a network. It refers to the actual data rate of successful data delivery over a communication channel.
It is expressed in bits per second (bps), and sometimes in data packets per second or data packets per time slot.
Jitter represents the variation in the latency of packet arrival time. It is the uneven delay in the delivery of audio or video packets. It results from network congestion, timing drift and route changes.
The error rate is the number of corrupted bits expressed as a percentage or fraction of the total sent. It is the number of received bits of a data stream over a communication channel that alters due to noise, interference, distortion or bit synchronization errors.
All of these factors, together with user requirements and perceptions, help in determining the perceived fastness or utility, of a network connection.
The relation between bandwidth and speed
As a user, we all love high-speed network connectivity. But there is a common misconception among users that bandwidth and speed are synonymous.
Your Internet service provider or the manufacturers of network equipment will advertise that if you purchase a high- bandwidth plan, you will get blazing network speed. But this is not true.
Bandwidth is just one of the many factors that can contribute to this faster user experience. It is the primary determinant of the speed of a computer network. Although these terms are interchangeable, they are technically different.
Bandwidth is referring to the maximum amount of data that can travel in a fixed amount of time through the network. On the other hand, speed is the time taken to reach the data packets from source to destination.
So, bandwidth remains fixed while network speed can always vary based on other physical factors.
But in some cases, bandwidth can directly correlate to speed. For example, when you are downloading a file across the network or Internet. Higher bandwidth means that more of its content transmit at any given time and therefore, downloads faster.
Similarly, when you are browsing the Internet, greater bandwidth would result in web pages loading faster and smoother video streaming.
So, we can say that bandwidth is the speed available for use, and speed is the data transfer rate.
Bandwidth amounts to the overall capacity of the connection. The higher it is, the more likely that better performance will result. Speed is the transfer rate. More bandwidth does not mean more speed.
Physical factors that can impact Network Speed
Many factors can affect the speed of your network connection. Let’s discuss them in the below-mentioned points.
Number of Users
If the number of users on the network at a particular time is vast, speed will decrease instantly. Any network can support a limited number of connections. When the maximum limit crosses, the system starts to slow down.
It generally happens during peak activity hours, for instance, in the evenings. Also, on a public Wi-Fi where many users try to use a single network, speed and connectivity issues are typical.
When a network tries to transmit more data packets then it can handle, network congestion occur.
If the load on the net, i.e., the number of packets sent is higher than the capacity of the network, i.e., the number of data packets it can handle, it is then known as congestion.
This congestion badly deteriorates the speed and the service quality of a network.
Distance also plays a significant role in affecting the speed. Depending on your location, network speeds can vary by a great deal. If you stay far away from your connection provider, data transfer rate might frequently decrease than usual.
The hardware you employ has a considerable impact on your network speed. The type of network equipment, such as a router or cable heavily influences the strength of your network connection.
For example, an Ethernet is usually more stable and faster than Wi-Fi.
Also, old devices or faulty wires can also affect the quality of the performance. You should always implement updated equipment and hardware to get better results.
An older router and an outdated computer generally don’t connect as quickly as newer, upgraded hardware.
How to measure Network Bandwidth?
Network administrators employ various tools to measure the bandwidth of network connections. In the case of LANs (local area networks), these tools involve netperf and ttcp.
Any layman can also detect the bandwidth using the different bandwidth and speed test programs available for free online.
Even if you have an idea about these tools, bandwidth utilization is difficult to measure in exact terms. It might change over time depending on the hardware configuration plus characteristics and usage of software applications.
Role of Latency in determining Network Speed
Bandwidth is not the only responsible factor that contributes to the perceived speed of a network. Latency also plays a significant role. It is a measure of the time a packet needs to get from point A to point B
Latency is equally essential for the better end user experience. In some instances, speed and bandwidth do not mean the same thing.
For example, in real-time applications, such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or online gaming, latency has more significance than having extra bandwidth.
Even if you have sufficient bandwidth, you may face issues like uneven voice transmission or response delay. This happens due to high latency.
In this situation, just upgrading your bandwidth would probably not help. You cannot enhance latency easily. You need to control the noise. Also, you have to minimize the total time it takes for packets to transmit from source to destination and vice versa.
If you want to achieve the best available speed for your network, it is not enough to have a high bandwidth connection. You also need to ensure that the latency is low enough so that the data arrives quickly. It is a concern only if you have enough bandwidth.
Low latencies without required bandwidth will also result in a very slow connection.
We consistently want high network speed. But many of us are still ignorant of different factors related to this. We generally attribute bandwidth and latency as the only factor for determining the network speed. But there are several other factors including error rate, jitters, throughout and also some physical factors like hardware etc which will determine end user experience in this regard.
So, next time, do check all the factors before blaming just bandwidth or latency for the poor performance of your network.