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What is ping and why should I care?

What is ping - Decorative image showing ping pong balls falling onto a surface

What is ping? It’s the best measurement we have for how “responsive” our connection to the Internet is. Why should you care? If you’ve ever had a video call plagued with delays, or if you’ve ever said “lag” either out loud or in a chat, you already do.

What is ping?

The term ping originates from World War I and the rise of sonar. Submarines would send a targeted signal out in the water. It would bounce off the hull of any craft it encountered and return with a literal ping sound. The time it took for the signal to go out and return back would tell submariners how far away the target boat was.

In network terms, it’s the same basic concept at play (with notably fewer torpedoes.) Here, ping measures the time it takes for a tiny data packet to leave your device, travel to a server and for a response to come back.

Ping is measured in milliseconds (ms). The lower the ping, the more responsive your connection is, the faster it feels and the better your online experience. 

With a ping under 50ms, your video calls feel closer to face-to-face communication and your online gaming experience is great. Over 150ms, your video calls have a perceptible delay and online gaming is frustrating. In between? Well, it’s in between. 

What about bandwidth?

Download speed, measured in Mbps, is the number internet providers tend to sell on. Consider this your connection’s top sustained speed or your bandwidth. It’s important when downloading large files like games or system updates. The greater your bandwidth, the more people and devices can be connected at once without slowing things down. 

That said, all download speed speaks to is your connection’s top speed. It doesn’t speak directly to how responsive your connection responds; how fast it feels

If you think of an internet connection as a pipe, bandwidth is how wide the pipe is; how much data it can handle at once. Ping is how fast that data moves from one end of the pipe to the other. 

In gaming and video calling, a low ping is essential for a good experience.

A high ping means a connection that feels slow; video calls feel stilted, online games feel laggy, and streaming videos take time to start and may stop to buffer. 

So while bandwidth is important for a fast, reliable internet connection, latency or connection speed, measured as ping, is at least as important.

How to measure ping

Most online speed tests will measure ping. The Ting Internet speed test page can help not only with testing your current connection, including ping, but also helps to put the numbers in context.

The best online test to measure latency (ping and its close cousin jitter) is TestMy.net’s latency checker. This tool lets you test by pinging sites all over North America and the world to give you a more complete picture. Run a full latency test and you’ll see first-hand how distance affects ping.

What factors impact ping?

In the same way a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a network connection is only as fast as its slowest point.

Many factors can impact ping. With a copper connection (cable or DSL) your physical distance from the shared connection point plays a role. With fiber, because signals are traveling at the speed of light, physical distance from a shared connection point is not a factor. 

Again with copper networks, congestion can be a problem, especially in the busy evening periods. With a true fiber-to-the-home network, congestion likewise isn’t an issue. 

In either case, upgrading to a better internet service provider (Ting Internet here, hi!) will help.

At home, especially if you’re using an older router, your own home network might be the bottleneck. Connecting directly to the router with an Ethernet cable and/or upgrading your router will help.

If the service you’re connecting to is busy—say, a hugely popular online game on launch day—the problem is unfortunately out of your control.

What can you do?

The problem is figuring out where the weakest link lies. We will say that with Ting Internet and Whole Home Wi-Fi, you can rest assured that if there is a weak link, it’s not on your side of the equation. 

Check your address to see if fast, reliable fiber internet from Ting is available in your neighborhood.