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Ensuring the highest degree of performance: 5 factors that affect your network

With appropriately-tuned network monitoring tools, you can quickly spot any problems and address them straight away.

active network monitoring
Image: IRIS Network Systems

Every business wants the best performance from its network. If a network is underperforming, then it slows down business processes and costs the company money by reducing efficiency and possibly interrupting sales.

From the C-suite to the IT department and everyday office workers, no one wants to deal with a struggling network and the downsides that come with it. So which factors affect a network’s performance? The five main ones that we will be talking about are bandwidth, latency, throughput, error rate and jitter.


In computing, bandwidth is the most significant amount of data that can be transmitted over a path. Think of bandwidth like a highway. A properly designed highway will have enough lanes for the number of cars that use it so that everyone can drive at the top speed. If there are too many cars, for the number of lanes, then traffic starts to slow down.

If your business doesn’t have enough bandwidth, it’s like having a highway without enough lanes for the amount of traffic that uses it. This slows down everyone that is using the network, reducing efficiency and productivity.

To ensure that your network has the appropriate amount of bandwidth, you need to plan appropriately. Factor in how big your network is, as well as how much data is transmitted. Don’t forget to include anticipated business growth in your calculations. You don’t want your business to slow down as it gets bigger.


Throughput and bandwidth can seem like similar concepts, but there are essential differences between the two. Bandwidth is the theoretical capacity of a network connection, while throughput is the amount of data that successfully make it through.

If we return to our highway analogy, throughput would be the actual number of cars that travel over the highway in a given amount of time, after accounting for traffic accidents, trucks, construction, slow vehicles, and other impediments.

When your internet service provider refers to the speeds of their plans, they are generally talking about the theoretical bandwidth. The lower speed that you end up with is the throughput.

There are a wide variety of factors that can affect your actual throughput. These can include bit errors, the proximity to a wireless access point, noise and interference on a network, congestion, and much more. All of these aspects can have significant effects on your actual network speed.


Latency is another key factor when it comes to network performance. It is essentially the amount of delay over a network when transmitting data. High levels of latency can create bottlenecks in a network, even if the bandwidth is adequate. Latency can be persistent or temporary, depending on its cause.

Latencies are much lower on wired connections than wireless ones, such as satellite or mobile networks. This is because satellite and mobile networks have higher propagation delays. The data has to travel to the satellite or mobile tower, then back to the network.

When networks are dealing with too much traffic, requests can also be delayed by what is known as WAN latency. This backlog ends up hampering speeds. It is an issue that can affect both wired and wireless networks.

Problems with device and network hardware can also end up causing latency. A common example is a slow hard drive. Software problems can also result in latency, which is why antivirus products often slow down devices.

Error rate

The error rate is the number of bit errors in a given amount of transmitted data. It can have a significant effect on throughput, with interference, distortion, noise and bit synchronization errors all affecting network performance.

In fiber optic connections, bit errors can be caused by slight hardware imperfections. This can include issues with the fiber, receiver, driver, and connectors. If a system has a low bit error rate, it is likely that noise and other errors are only affecting network performance at an insignificant level. A high bit error rate will have a noticeable negative effect on network performance.


Jitter is related to latency, but rather than the simple measure of the amount of delay, jitter is the measure of the difference in delay between network packets. As an example, let’s say that you are typically mailed one letter per week and you have an unreliable postal system. The average time it takes for a letter to reach you from its sender is one week. This would be the amount of delay.

Let’s say that the first letter takes seven days to arrive, then the next one takes 10. The third letter takes only four days, the fourth one takes six, and the final letter takes eight.

The average delay is still about a week, but there is significant inconsistency in just how long it takes for letters to arrive. Sometimes it only takes three days. At others, it takes 10. This discrepancy would be the jitter in the postal service’s delivery.

When it comes to network performance, an uneven delivery of data packets can cause significant problems. This is especially prominent in voice and video calls. You may have noticed jitter during a bad connection on Skype or FaceTime.

Sometimes, the picture and audio will seem to freeze or slow down for a moment, then rapidly get back up to speed, causing you to miss some of the conversations. This is due to network jitter. Without the network jitter, you wouldn’t experience these jumps that interrupt your calls.

What’s the best way to get an ideal network performance?

A couple of important steps will ensure your network runs at an optimal level. The first is to plan your network adequately beforehand, and update its key components as your business grows and technology progresses.

The second is to have insight into your network. If you don’t know what’s going on, then how can you solve any potential problems? The best way to get a window into your network is to use network monitoring tools.

These toolsets can measure your network in a variety of ways and at different points. You can use them to gain the insight you need, as well as to diagnose problems with bandwidth, latency, throughput, bit error rate, and jitter.

With appropriately-tuned network monitoring tools, you can quickly spot any problems and address them straight away. This ensures that your network is always performing at an ideal level.

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