Everything that is sent and received over the internet is in the form of data packets. To make it easy and efficient to send and receive information, data is broken down into smaller packets. These packets are individually sent from one device to another.
A data packet may go through multiple servers and nodes upon its journey. At times, these packets will be sent over wired networks, while other times, it could be sent over wireless networks as well.
What is Packet Loss?
Anomalies and inconsistencies in the network can cause data packets to get lost, delayed, or dropped altogether. Every time a data packet fails to reach its intended destination, it’s called a packet loss. If the network is congested, the packets may arrive late, resulting in lagging and missing information.
How to Fix Packet Loss
i. Check Physical Network Connections
If you have faulty cables or if your RJ45 clips are too old and rusty on their terminals, chances are that you will face severe packet loss. Cables that are faulty, scratched, and over twisted create resistance within them. This resistance reduces the speed at which data flows, resulting in delayed delivery of packets and eventually packet loss. Be sure that you have fixed your cables and connectors before further troubleshooting.
ii. Restart Your Router/Hardware
After hours of consecutive operation, network devices such as network switches and Wi-Fi routers can end up in problems. The most common problem is indeed packet loss, which is quite often caused by a cached memory that is full. Clearing the cached memory from your network hardware can help in overcoming packet loss problems. Just reboot your network devices to clear their cache.
iii. Remove Sources of Interference
All wireless devices emit signals to communicate and operate. Wireless devices are known to cause interference with your Wi-Fi signal, and result in packet loss. To be sure about the reason why packet loss is occurring, turn off all wireless devices such as Bluetooth speakers, wireless cameras, and any IoT hardware that you may have installed in your home. After turning off all other wireless devices, check your primary device for packet loss. If the issue has been resolved, you can be sure that the packet loss was happening because of wireless interference.
Wireless interference can also affect wired connections. If a strong electromagnetic device is placed in a location from where Ethernet cables pass, the electromagnetic fields from the device can distort the flowing data in the cables and result in packet loss.
iv. Switching to a Wired Connection
The packet loss could be appearing over your wireless network. One of the reasons why such a problem occurs could be due to low Wi-Fi coverage in the room you are sitting in. If you are further away from your router, the Wi-Fi signal can get blocked because of the walls and result in packet loss.
A quick fix to this problem is a wired connection. Use a Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable to connect your laptop’s Ethernet port with the Ethernet ports on the rear of your router.
v. Wi-Fi Amplifier
Not all devices have an Ethernet port. While a laptop can be easily connected to a wired connection via Ethernet port, other devices such as tablets, smartphones, and even some laptops such as the MacBook, don’t have an Ethernet port. If you are facing packet loss on a device that does not have an Ethernet, the only corrective measure to take is to improve the Wi-Fi signal in your room. A good way to do so is by using a Wi-Fi amplifier in the room where Wi-Fi signal is weak. A Wi-Fi amplifier increases your Wi-Fi signal in its vicinity, allowing you to reduce packet loss.
vi. Update Device Software
This rule is not written in ink anywhere, but most tech companies live by it – for any hardware, the manufacturer will release new firmware and updates for 4 years. After 4 years, that piece of tech is considered outdated. If you are using a device that was launched less than 4 years ago, you will notice that you receive updates and patches to install on it every few months. These updates and patches are to resolve the most common issues and big fixes. Surprisingly, keeping your network hardware and internet connected devices up to date with the latest software helps by a great deal in reducing packet loss.
vii. Replace Outdated Hardware
Are you using old network hardware? Packet loss can occur if you are using outdated hardware. Newer hardware incorporates all the latest network protocols and supposedly has fewer bugs as compared to its predecessors. Replace your old network hardware with newer equipment to overcome packet loss.
viii. Use QoS settings
Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature provided in almost all of the modern routers. If you go into the control panel of your router, you will be able to locate a tab for adjusting QoS settings. With this, you can specify which apps are to be prioritized and which ones can be given less priority. For instance, if you binge-watch on Netflix regularly, using QoS settings to give priority to Netflix will allow you to avoid packet loss at least when you are streaming on Netflix.
ix. Free Up Bandwidth
If you are a power user, you would already be aware of the countless background tasks that are always running and taking up your bandwidth. If you are not a power user, you would be surprised to know that more than half of your bandwidth is getting consumed by apps and software that you don’t use much, or even at all. Freeing up bandwidth can help overcome packet loss issues. To free up your bandwidth, close any tasks or apps that are running in the background.
What Causes Packet Loss?
Packet loss can be caused by many reasons, some of which are mentioned below. Knowing the reasons behind packet loss can help you in troubleshooting and improving your network speed.
i. Network Congestion
The most common reason for packet loss on the internet is network congestion. A network that is handing more user requests than its capabilities will become too crowded with packets. In such a case, the data packets take more time to reach their intended destination. Severe network congestion can cause packet loss, as the data packet gets dropped after a few minutes of not reaching at its intended destination. Network congestion is common during weekends, holidays, and at other times when online activity has surged, such as during Black Friday and Christmas.
ii. Problems With Network Hardware
Keeping your network up-to-date and expanding it alongside your organization or institution is essential for avoiding packet loss. If your network hardware has aged over the years, or if it is running on drivers and OS that are outdated, you are prone to data loss.
Newer network equipment such as network switches, routers, and firewalls come preinstalled with the latest firmware. Newer versions of the firmware not only address vulnerabilities but also improve the functionality of the hardware, allowing it to perform even better and consequently avoid packet loss.
iii. Software Bugs
Software contracts bugs all the time. These bugs can appear because of extensive use, or because the software is faulty. Once a bug has been introduced to your software or network, it will result in discrepancies and anomalies. These anomalies will cause data packets to get delayed and eventually dropped and lost. In some cases, the bugs can be removed by rebooting the device and clearing up the cached memory. However, in most cases, you will have to reinstall or patch the software to fix bugs and avoid further packet loss.
iv. Overloaded Devices
Multiple devices connected to one network that is not strong enough can also cause network congestion and result in packet loss. Such an issue is common at places such as universities and workplaces. The only way to fix packet loss caused by multiple devices being connected at the same time is by increasing your network infrastructure hardware and improving its device support capabilities.
v. Security Threats
DDoS attacks are the most common security threats to any network. Devices and network hardware affected with a DDoS Attack will face severe packet loss and will remain completely nonoperational until reboot. Other cyber threats that can cause packet loss include man-in-the-middle attacks, where a malicious server is placed in between the user’s device and his intended server. The man in the middle can capture, modify, and delete any data packets, resulting in packet loss.
vi. Damaged cables
Damaged cables are the most common cause of packet loss. Cables get damaged every few months even if there is no visible wear and tear. For instance, if you live in a region that has a hot climate, your Ethernet cable will lose its efficiency a year down the road. If you use it for another six months, you would face severe packet loss and service outages. This happens due to the constant heat on the cables that melts the insulation in it.
Neighborhoods with rodent problems have the most damaged cables. More so, if the Ethernet cable is not installed underground, it will attract birds to sit on it. Too many birds sitting regularly on the Ethernet wire can cause it to stretch and snap from inside.
Packet Loss and Consequent Issues:
For an average user, it is easy to mistake a packet loss problem for a service outage. Getting to know the following consequences of packet loss can help you spot it easily if it is happening on your network.
i. Out-of-date / Missing information
Missing information is the first consequence of packet loss. When you load a webpage on a network connection that is suffering from packet loss, you will see a watered-down version of the webpage where many elements would be missing. The images may seem out of place, and the font and colors might seem weird. This is happening not because of a problem on the page, rather due to packet loss that is causing web page information to get lost on the way.
ii. Unclear VoIP Audio
When using VoIP services such as Skype calling or Zoom, you may notice that the audio is breaking up and is often inaudible. While such issues can occur due to a faulty microphone or a speaker, the chances of this being the reason of unclear audio on VoIP are slim. Audio breaks up or stutters when the data packet containing the audio gets lost or delayed.
iii. Slow Loading Times
When VoIP services lose a data packet, it cannot be recovered (unless you ask the other person to repeat what they last said). On the other hand, streaming services or social media networks deploy a different protocol in dealing with lost packets. If a packet gets lost on the way, it is requested again by the recipient device, and then resent by the destination server. This causes a delay in the rate at which data packets are delivered to your device, resulting in slower loading and browsing.
iv. Streaming interruptions
If you are streaming over a network where data packets are being lost, your streaming experience will be hindered frequently by constant buffering and lagging. When a data packet gets lost on its way to you, your streaming will pause and your streaming device will resend the request for that particular data packet. Until that data packet is received on the streaming device, your video will keep buffering.
How to Detect Packet Loss
Packet loss affects users differently depending on whether they are connected to a wired network or a wireless network. However, the method of detecting packet loss is the same for both types of network.
The following is a step by step guide on how to detect packet loss on your network.
- Press ⊞ + R, type cmd, and hit Enter
- Type ipconfig and hit Enter
- Look for your IP4 address
- Type ping [IP4 address] –n 25 (for example: ping 126.96.36.199 –n 25)
- Wait for your device to ping itself 25 times
- Once the ping is complete, the result would be calculated based on the number of packets sent and received.
Alternatively, you can try an online packet loss testing service such as https://packetlosstest.com/. Paste the URL in your web browser and hit Enter. Once the page loads, click Start Test. The browser will start making calculations and give you the results in a few seconds. The provided result specifies the percentage of packet loss on your connection.
It is important to note that as little as a 5% packet loss can result in a lot of problems. If you are using VoIP services such as Skype or WhatsApp, or if you are streaming, a 5% packet loss will mean constant breaking up in the audio during voice calls, or constant buffering during streaming.
Moreover, if you are testing packet loss over a wireless network, the ideal way to do it is to test it twice. The first test could be done sitting near to the router, while the second could be done sitting at a distance. If the results for packet loss are the same in both the tests, you can be sure that the packet loss is not occurring because of the wireless network. On the other hand, a difference in the results will mean that packet loss is occurring over the wireless network due to distortions and barriers between your device and router, such as walls and doors.
Best Tools to Detect, Troubleshoot, and Fix Packet Loss
i. Network Performance Monitor
Specialized software for monitoring your network performance can be used to monitor your network activity, which apps are using the most bandwidth, and whether there is any packet loss happening or not. Using a network performance monitor can help you to visualize, monitor, optimize, and troubleshoot your internet connected devices. It tells the performance and efficiency of your connected devices in real time. This allows you to zero in on the real problem that is causing packet loss, and address it.
ii. Use a Premium Streaming VPN
Using a premium VPN connection to browse the internet can help reduce packet loss. It is important to know that only premium VPNs help in reducing packet loss. If you opt for a free VPN, you will face more packet loss and your internet connection will become vulnerable to other online threats as well, such as cyberattacks and hacking.
As We Pack(et) Up…
Packet loss is a server concern of most power internet users. It cripples your network and restricts users from carrying out ordinary tasks like streaming and browsing. It is important to have some tools or regular testing in place so that you can know if your network is facing packet loss issues.
Packet loss issues, if not addressed promptly, can result in huge losses due to service outages faced by employees and customers. It is essential for the viability and performance of any network that the administrators check it regularly for issues related to packet loss.