Learn about Packet Loss

The Most Overlooked Factor Affecting Network Performance – Packet Loss!

Learn about Packet Loss

A lot of people want to improve their network performance, whether speed or latency, and spend big bucks making haphazard guesses as to what may help. I also see advanced Quality of Service apps and features built into most modern wireless routers. Needless to say, network performance is a big issue, and becoming a big industry.

The ironic thing is that everyone seems to have entirely overlooked one of the most important metrics, something every network engineer will know well – Packet Loss.

Packet Loss is the single greatest problem affecting network performance today, yet it’s rarely mentioned, displayed, or mitigated.

One of the reasons they overlook it is because it’s old news – everyone knows about it, and there is no ‘magical fix’ they can quickly sell you. Instead, you have to take actions to mitigate the problem yourself. But the first step towards resolution is awareness!

Here’s the low-down on Packet Loss: Some packets are lost in transmission, so have to be requested again, automatically and transparently in the case of a TCP session. In the case of UDP, the application will need to handle requests for re-transmission, or just count the packet as lost. Every time this happens, it dramatically impacts both bandwidth, AND, more severely, latency.

Packet Loss has most severely impacts Gaming, VoIP, Video Conferencing, and other low-latency network I/O.

General web browsing can recover from it, and maybe you would never notice unless it’s particularly bad. But with Gaming, for instance, you’d see it as the occasional interruption, freeze, or lag. Same with a Skype call.

This long-standing issue has grown worse over the years. With WiFi came the introduction of a much higher rate of packet loss. Then with more WiFi networks, there is more interference, thus there’s even more packet loss. It’s a problem that has only gotten worse.

I’ve also found that packet loss can occur in great numbers on all types of other networks, from Ethernet over electric to satellite downstream.

Every type of network has some loss. It is negligible for high-quality connections, doesn’t matter at all if it’s 0.001%. In other cases, it’s so extreme that the network barely functions, with rates that can literally rise all the way to 100%.

In my opinion, sustained packet loss of 1% or more should be considered a major network performance issue that needs fixed. If it’s 5% or more, you have serious issues.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know where YOU stand? Well, you can. It’s easy. Here’s how.

How do I detect my Packet Loss rate?

We don’t just talk here at Bitsum, so let’s give you some steps to take to determine if packet loss is a problem for you.

  1. You will first want to determine if there is packet loss at all to the WAN (Internet)
  2. If there is, then you will want to narrow it down to see if it is your LAN (e.g. your WiFi), your your ISP.
  3. Follow the steps below to learn how to easily measure packet loss in Windows. Linux is similar, just adjust the command line of the POSIX ping utility as desired.

First, run (Win+R):

cmd.exe

Once the console window is open, you are going to want to run some PING tests. These are a special type of packet that doesn’t auto-correct for loss, like TCP connection would. Thus, it provides an ideal means to detect packet loss.

To test packet loss on the WAN (Internet), you might do this:

ping google.com -n 100

When the 100 pings are completed, it will tell you how many were lost. Alternatively, whenever you hit CTRL+C to abort prematurely, it will tell you the stats so far. Note that if your DNS server is unavailable, you can use 8.8.8.8 (one of Google’s public DNS servers), or some known to be reliable IP address. You can also try IPv6 addresses to test your distinct IPv6 network layer.

After that, if there’s 0% loss there, then you’re good enough. Sure, you could try 1000 pings if you think there are intermittent issues, etc.. — but let’s move on.

But if you DO have packet loss, then you then want to next determine if it’s between your client device (PC, laptop, mobile device, etc..) and your WAN Gateway, usually your Wireless Router. This is *usually* the case.

The IP address of your WiFi router or other WAN (Internet) gateway can vary, but it’s easy to determine by using ‘ipconfig.exe /all‘ and looking for your ‘gateway IP’ for the applicable network connection. For now, let’s just assume your router is at the most common IPv4 LAN address of 192.168.1.1 .

So, you’d ping your router just like you did Google:

ping 192.168.1.1 -n 100

What are the results? Discuss it over in our Forum Thread.

Note that advanced users can also get some data from TCP/IP counters and stats, which may give a better historical glimpse of overall packet loss in some cases.

In my next article, I’ll discuss ways to further narrow-down where and why the packet loss is occurring, and easy steps to take to mitigate it. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving a wireless router, or changing WiFi channels. Other times, for instance if it’s an issue with your ISP, you’ll need to call them up — but you’ll have real evidence in your hand to make your case!

Jeremy Collake
CEO & Principal Software Engineer at Bitsum LLC


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Like this article? I am raising money here at Bitsum to develop an innovative piece of software to help mitigate this problem of Packet Loss (of course, it can’t work magic, but can inform you when there is a problem!). We’ll offer detection, real-time display of LAN and WAN packet loss, and assistance with mitigation. I have a large plan for this that goes from A-Z, but we need YOUR help to get it ‘there’. And it won’t take long, we just need some capital to give us enough breathing room to take the time. Use the donation button below to let us know you’re interested: