With the ongoing demand for real-time business-critical applications like voice, video and the metaverse, the demand on network performance has intensified. Low latency is critical to all size of organisations because it directly influences the responsiveness and performance of systems, applications and networks.

What is low, or network, latency?

Network latency is a delay in network communication measured by the time it takes for data to travel from one point in a network to another. It is the delay that occurs during the transmission of data over a network and is typically measured in milliseconds (ms), which is 1/1000th of a second.

Networks with a longer delay or lag have high latency, while those with fast response times have low latency. Low latency networks minimise the delay between sending a command and receiving a response, enhancing real-time communication. Low latency networks are capable of handling a high volume of data transmissions with reduced delay or lag. Data can approach the speed of light (186,000 miles/sec) across a high-speed, fiber-optic network WAN link with a single hop point-to-point connection. Latency increases with greater distances and more ‘hops’ in the network.

The importance of low latency

Latency can impact the responsiveness and performance of applications, communications and any network-dependent processes. Low latency is critical for any use case that involves high volumes of network traffic between two or more points. This includes applications and data that resides in the data centre, at the edge or in the cloud. Poor latency is one of the main reasons that users will abandon a service, so ensuring you have low latency will achieve more efficient business operations.

New categories like ‘ultra low latency’ have emerged, referring to latency measured in hundreds of nanoseconds, with only speeds under 1 millisecond qualifying as ultra low. If your business expects to operate with real-time communications or live streaming, you must ensure your data streaming comes under the ultra-low latency category. Even a slight delay in live video calls can affect business performance.

Seven use cases where low latency is key

  1. Video conferencing and VoIP calls

Video conferencing apps for business like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams rely on real-time interactions, so low latency is key to ensure that there is minimal delay or lag. The same applies to VoIP calls. If there’s a discernible delay between words spoken and live video, it can cause poor voice quality, clipped speech, echo and jitter.

With the advent of technologies like 5G, the future of video conferencing looks promising. 5G networks boast ultra-low latency and super-fast speeds, enabling seamless high-definition video conferencing experiences.

  1. Video-enabled live streaming

Some vital remote operations, such as video-enabled endoscopy cameras or drones for search-and-rescue, require an operator to control a machine remotely by using video. In these emergency management use cases, a delay in receiving data could potentially cost lives, so low latency networks are crucial to avoid life-threatening consequences. Other live streaming services that require low latency include live events, sports broadcasts, real-time auctions and online betting. Users of betting or cryptocurrency applications rely on a low latency network because even milliseconds of delay can result in significant financial losses or missed opportunities.

Video-enabled live streaming

  1. Real-time analytics

Real-time analytics enables organisations to process and query new data as it’s being created. Rather than waiting for minutes or even hours for critical information, teams can immediately make use of streaming data from sources such as consumers’ mobile devices, smart sensors and point-of-sale systems.

Any latency delay can result in slowed data processing, reduced customer experience and lost sales opportunities. Data latency is the measure of time between when data is created and when it’s made available for analysis. All systems experience some lag time, but real-time analytics systems are designed to reduce that time to as close to zero as possible. This requires a system capable of writing incoming data and allowing an analytics application to query the most recently written data simultaneously.

The time required to execute a query and receive a result, known as query latency, is also critical. Advances in cloud and edge computing have dramatically reduced query latency in real-time analytics applications to ensure latency is kept to a minimum for vital retail systems.

  1. Industrial automation

In industrial automation, low latency is crucial for maintaining precise control over machinery and processes. IoT technology plays a vital role in manufacturing, and is referred to as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). Using smart devices in factories, manufacturers can use IIoT technology to access and analyse huge amounts of data in real-time.

Industrial automation

Industrial smart devices communicate with each other, and the corresponding technologies collect, exchange and monitor data, enabling the network to analyse and report insights that drive key business decisions.

To enable the real-time performance of IIoT devices and applications, a high-capacity, low latency network is essential, ensuring rapid data transfer and processing capabilities, which in turn reduce the risk of errors and improve overall efficiency.

  1. Autonomous vehicles

The autonomous driving journey is well underway and by 2035, autonomous driving could create $300 billion to $400 billion in revenue. Tesla already offers level 2 autonomous driving, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel while keeping their eyes on the road. The ultimate aim is higher levels of autonomy ultimately achieving full autonomy, in which the vehicle can operate safely and efficiently in any environment without any driver intervention. Low latency is essential for real-time communication between sensors, decision-making systems and control mechanisms. It allows vehicles to respond quickly to changing environmental conditions and make split-second decisions by quickly identifying potential obstacles.

A self-driving vehicle can be cost-efficient, safer and more reliable when leveraging the power of Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), which is enabled by 5G. Currently, 4G LTE network technologies provide improved automotive safety bringing together connected vehicle technology and associated infrastructure using MEC processing. By upgrading to 5G, latency is reduced further, increasing real-time safety and reliability.

  1. API integration

Two different computer systems communicate with each other using an application programming interface (API). System processing often stops until an API returns a response, so any network latency can create application performance issues. For example, a travel-booking website will use an API call to get information about the number of rooms available in a specific hotel. If network latency affects the website’s performance, it may temporarily stop working. By the time the website receives the API response and restarts, another user could potentially book the room, leading to a missed opportunity.

  1. Augmented and virtual reality

Augmented and virtual reality technologies are seeing an evolutionary change in the 5G and Beyond (5GB) network due to their promising ability to enable an immersive and interactive environment, by coupling the virtual world with the real one. However, the requirement of low latency connectivity is key for a high-quality immersive experience.

Augmented and virtual reality

As ‘metaverse’ (a collective virtual shared space created by the convergence of physical and virtual reality) technologies emerge, edge computing is a necessary technological enhancement. Edge computing provides rapid response times and reduces latency for mission-critical tasks and heavy workloads. This hybrid cloud technology enables businesses to tailor cloud strategies to fit their needs. Edge computing is key to developing an appropriate framework for a low latency system for metaverse applications. 

How can low latency be achieved?

  • Use network monitoring and management tools to quickly diagnose and identify the root cause contributing to high latency issues. They can perform functions such as mock API testing and end-user experience analysis to check network latency in real time.
  • Check application performance to determine whether applications are potentially placing pressure on the network.
  • Evaluate which network functions can be offloaded to a field-programmable gate array (FPGA)-programmable switch or smart network interface cards (SmartNICs) to create a low latency environment.
  • Use ‘subnetting’ to group network endpoints that frequently communicate with each other. A subnet acts as a network inside a network to minimise unnecessary router hops and to improve latency.
  • Deploy high-speed internet connections to increase the data transfer rate.
  • Prioritise data packets based on type, such as routing high-priority applications like VoIP calls and data centre traffic first while delaying less time-critical traffic.
  • Use fibre-optic cables to transfer data via laser-light rather than legacy copper cabling transmitting data via electrical impulses.
  • Use low-latency layer-2 hardware that can forward data using high-speed ASICs at wire-speed rather than slower Layer-3 devices that need to make slower routing table lookup.
  • Deploy caching of L2/L3 forwarding/routing tables to reduce lag created by slow forwarding lookup.
  • Use local LAN, edge computing and fog computing to keep processing power as local to the user device as possible. Fog computing is a form of distributed computing that brings computation and data storage closer to the network edge, where many IoT devices are located.

In summary

As the demand for low latency applications increases, maintaining low latency is a key factor in enabling fast and efficient communication, improving the performance of your systems and enhancing the user experience in a wide range of technological applications.

Securus Communications has a high-tech, super-fast, low latency core network featuring multiple diverse 100G Layer-2 paths. We can help our clients reduce latency across their LAN, WAN, edge, fog and cloud computing services.

If you’d like to understand more about our low latency solutions, please call the Securus experts on 03451 283457.

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