What is Latency?
Latency is found in any application that requires any sort of communication between its characteristic components to function. So, in this article, we tackle the general discussion as well as briefly discuss the specific areas in tech where latency might be a factor you would want to be aware of. Thus, we would be answering your question, “What is Latency?”.
Latency means delay. Said delay may arise in various fields of modern technology due to a host of factors, i.e. in technology that depends on some or the other form of communication. Consider the example of cellular connection that we use everyday to stay in touch with our loved ones and connect with our colleagues in our professional lives. When you speak over the phone, your voice here becomes the data. This vocal data then travels through a wide range of substations and base stations in the cellular infrastructure, finally reaching the recipient – a process that is not instantaneous, i.e. it involves some time. It is the time delay between you speaking a word and the recipient hearing the same over a network that constitutes the latency in said network.
In the field of networking, latency might be described as the delay between a user’s actions and the web application’s response to said action, often termed as the total round trip time it takes for a packet of data to travel.
How it is measured?
Since latency signifies a delay in time, it is measured in units of time, that is in seconds, mili-seconds, micro-seconds, etc. In the real world, even light takes some time after bouncing off a surface to reach our eyes and create an image. Similarly, the modern electronic systems technological development over the centuries have enabled also involve latency. Said latency might range from a few pico-seconds, all the way to hundreds of seconds in most cases.
In case of cellular connections, internet, modern GPS systems, etc., latency is usually measured in milli-seconds, i.e. one-thousandth of a second. In integrated circuits or ASICs, said latency might arise between two components on the same chip. For example, the time delay between the processor requesting data and the memory being able to fetch the same for the processor. In the real world, these latencies are usually measured in nano-seconds, or 1×10-9 seconds.
Latency in Gaming
In FPS gaming, latency plays a significant role in allowing a player to maintain a decisive competitive edge over his/her competitors, along with delivering a smooth and crisp gaming experience at the same time. In gaming, one must always try to reduce latency in two main areas – latency in the monitor’s panel and latency in the internet connection. Here is why:
Latency in the Display- Latency in the monitor might also be called response time. Response time describes the amount of time it takes for a single pixel in the panel to change its color from one to another (usually from Gray to Gray, or GTG). The faster the pixels can switch colors, the more recent the information that the user sees per second, allowing one to better line up the perfect shot. The gaming experience also appears to be crisper and smoother as every displayed frame suffers less from issues such as ghosting, due to a reduced response time.
Latency in the internet connection– It is desirable for any FPS gamer to seriously consider a low-latency internet connection, or a connection with a shorter ping. Ping is the amount of time it takes for your device to respond to a request from the hosting server. The lower the ping, the more recent the information you see on things like enemy positions. The more recent the information on where your target is, the more accurately you can line up your scope and take the split second decision on pulling the trigger.
There are also a few more areas to consider when it comes to latency in gaming. Such areas might include you might want to invest in low-latency peripheral devices, such as your mouse and keyboard, or a lower CAS Latency RAM in your system.
Where is it introduced?
Where should latency be introduced in a system, or in which network is highly dependent on how said system is configured or the architecture it might be based upon. However, generally speaking, there are four main components that affect latency:
Transmission Medium– The type of medium the data needs to travel through, between the start and the end point. For example, coaxial or twisted cables have more latency than optic fibres.
Propagation– Probably the component most responsible for introducing latency into a system. The farther apart the source and the destination are, the greater the time it takes for data to travel back and forth. Thus, greater the latency. Everything has a theoretical limit to how fast they can travel, with the universal limit to attainable speed being roughly equal to 3×108 m/s, or the speed of light. Thus even if we utilize light to communicate, we would still have to deal with latency.
Routers- Routers are mini-computers on a single chip, with their own dedicated memory, processor, etc., doing one thing- processing the packets of data entering said router and making it available to the devices connected to it. The quicker a router is at processing said data, the lower the latency introduced into the system.
Storage Medium– Data is often stored in mechanical spinning mediums, such as hard-drives which introduce delay in how quickly a piece of data stored in it can be accessed. This trend is changing as more companies switch over to solid-state drives or SSDs for their storage requirements. SSDs, though lesser than hard-drives, still introduce some delay into how quickly the data in it can be accessed.
It can thus be concluded that latency is an inescapable manifestation of the physical limits of our inventions and the universe we inhabit. Through the march of progress and newer innovations, we might be able to reduce said latency, however, we might not ever be able to fully escape its effects altogether. As a consumer, however, it is generally in our best interest to invest in products that reduce the effects of latency- a consideration that is all the more significant if you are, or intend to be, a gamer as well.