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What’s Worse for Your Website, High Latency or Low Bandwidth?

“The answer,” as Buzzfeed would say, “might surprise you.”

But before we get into that, here’s a basic primer on latency and bandwidth, and the highness or lowness of both.

How High the Road?

Latency is an expression of how much time it takes for a packet of data to get from one designated point to another. In web terms, network latency is the round-trip time for information to travel from your computer over the network to a server delivering content, and then to travel back to your computer.

A few months ago I wrote a blog on Pizza as a Service to explain the various “as-a-Service” models in terms that any pizza lover could understand.  Because pizza can do anything, I think we can extend the analogy into latency and bandwidth.

Think of latency in terms of a road. The longer the road, the longer it takes to travel. Now substitute “higher” for “longer” and you have latency. The higher the latency, the more impact that can have on load times. From a pizza delivery standpoint, high latency can have you impatiently tapping your toes, wondering when the pizza guy is going to arrive.

If we stick with the road analogy, you can think of bandwidth as the wider the road, the more traffic that can travel on it at once. As opposed to latency, where we don’t want it to be high, high bandwidth is in fact what we want. Low bandwidth means clogged traffic and cold pizza.

High Latency & Low Bandwidth or Vice Versa?

Latency vs Bandwidth

Of course, it’s unlikely that you’re thinking about latency or bandwidth (or even pizza) when you visit a website. All we care about is how fast the page we’re on is loading, right? But think of that site’s Sys or Network admin – site responsiveness and performance is their sine qua non, their raison d’être, their loaded Chicago deep-dish pizza. It matters deeply to them, is what I’m saying. They want your experience to be a great one, and that’s why they’re thinking about latency and bandwidth… or should be.

While low latency and high bandwidth is the ideal to strive for, it’s interesting to see, as the graphic above demonstrates, that high latency has a deeper impact on load times than low bandwidth. In this example, the load time is significantly slower when the latency is high, even when bandwidth is low.

Next time around: DNS queries, connections, and content downloads and how latency and bandwith affect them.

Further Reading

How 100% Uptime Helped Twitter Explode

Dyn Research: Global Cloud Adoption in 2013

Winning The Battle Against DNS Latency


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Whois: Fred Bals

Senior Stroryteller for Dyn. Tech enthusiast. Mini Cooper fanboy. One-time chronicler of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Husband of Peggy. Human of Shaggy Bear and Cassoulet.