We are used to talking about internet speed in terms of throughput. Throughput is measured in Megabits per second (Mbit/s) and it is typically what you buy from your ISP. Perhaps you have a 10 Mbit/s or 100 Mbit/s line to your home. Throughput is also the metric used to showcase how much better the next generation of Wi-Fi or 5G networks will be.
I’m here to argue that those numbers are misleading. High throughput does not guarantee a good user experience — and that is what we really care about, right?
Throughput measures the maximum amount of data that can be transferred in a single second. If you have a high-throughput internet connection, chances are you can download and upload big files really fast. That’s great if what you care about is up- and downloading big files, but it ends there.
Sometimes the application you are using does not need to send any big files. Perhaps you’re gaming online, or use your internet connection for video conferencing — just to name a few examples.
In a teleconference, it is very important that the latency is low and stable. Latency is the delay from a packet is sent at one end of the connection until it is received at the other end. If latency is too high, people quickly start interrupting each other and keeping a conversation becomes tedious.
If you are an online gamer, packet loss is important for your in-game experience. Packet loss refers to how often a packet is lost in transit — meaning it never reaches either the server or your computer. When that happens, your local version of the game state will be different from the game state in the online server. This is experienced as “teleporting” either your own character, your opponents, or other objects in the game to different positions in an instant, creating confusion and distraction. Latency is very important for online gaming as well, and high or spiking latency can cause similar issues.
Traditional measures of internet quality have focused mostly on throughput. This is partly due to the fact that higher throughput tends to give you lower latency and less packet loss, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, optimising your connection for throughput can increase both latency and packet loss. It is therefore very important to measure all of these quantities when measuring internet quality.
Domos is part of a group to create a new standard for measuring internet quality. In Broadband forums Quality Experience Delivered (QED) project we’re working with Vodafone, Predictable Network Solutions and others to improve the future of your internet connection.