What is Jitter and how does it affect your Internet connection?

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When you run an Internet speed test, the results can sometimes include a measure of jitter. Why is it important and can it affect your Internet performance? Here is everything you need to know.

Inconsistent delay in data packets

Modern computer networks, such as the Internet, use data packets to transmit information from one place to another. These data packets are sent in a continuous stream, evenly spaced. But if, for some reason, such as network congestion, poor hardware, or lack of packet prioritization, the steady stream of data packets is interrupted and the interval between packets becomes irregular, the result is jitter. In a nutshell, jitter is the internal variation between successive data packets. It is also known as Packet Delay Variation (PDV).

Jitter can lead to a poor experience, particularly in real-time applications such as video conferencing, VoIP calls, live streaming, online gaming, and more. You’ll notice it in the form of video or audio artifacts, static, distortion, and dropped calls.

Jitter Measurement

Cloudflare Jitter Test

You can check your internet connection fluctuation using Cloudflare or Ookla speed test tools. Cloudflare’s speed test tool is available through any modern browser, and in addition to jitter, it will also tell you about your connection’s download speed, upload speed, and ping time.

On the other hand, while Ookla’s Speedtest can be accessed through web browsers, jitter tests are only available on the official Speedtest apps for Android, iPhone or iPad, Mac, and Windows.

Beyond the Cloudflare and Ookla tools, Packet Loss Test developed by Matthew Miner is a more advanced tool that can identify fluctuations in your connection. It is highly customizable and allows you to modify the packet size, frequency, duration, and acceptable delay. But if you are not sure about these customizations, you can also choose a preset. Available presets include Full HD cloud gaming streams, Zoom calls, VoIP calls, popular online games, and more. The results will reveal details about the average jitter, among other things.

What is acceptable fluctuation?

Jitter is measured in milliseconds (ms), like ping or latency. Lower jitter scores mean you have a reliable and consistent connection, while higher jitter is the result of an inconsistent connection.

30 ms of jitter or less is generally acceptable. But some applications may have a higher or lower tolerance for jitter. For example, suppose you are streaming videos from Netflix or Disney+. In that case, you typically won’t notice the effects of jitter because the data flow is mostly one-way. The streaming service may have a large buffer to mitigate any jitter. Similarly, jitter rarely affects general web browsing, emails, social media, or the use of services like Google Docs, unless it’s extreme.

But in the case of a video conference, VoIP call, or online gaming session, where communication between two or more endpoints is critical, jitter can be a killjoy. Therefore, very low or no jitter is preferred in such applications.

If the jitter test has revealed a figure of more than 30 ms, and if you frequently use an application that can affect performance, you will need to fix the underlying problem or risk degrading performance.

How to mitigate instability

Ethernet cables on a network switch
cable issues

Once you’ve identified that your connection is significantly more jittery and experiencing issues, you can take a few steps to mitigate the problem.

A wired connection is one of the easiest ways to deal with instability in your network. If you use a desktop computer or have a fixed work location, it is better to opt for an Ethernet cable to connect to the Internet instead of Wi-Fi. Additionally, it’s also a good idea to upgrade from Cat5 or older Ethernet cables to Cat6 or newer. Newer cables have more bandwidth and better protections against interference and crosstalk.

cat6 cables

But if you have to rely on a wireless connection, it may be worth upgrading your wireless router. Many of the best wireless routers on the market have Quality of Service (QoS) technology that can manage your data traffic to prioritize critical applications and reduce jitter in your connection.

If possible, you should also reduce unnecessary bandwidth usage, such as streaming Netflix, while running critical applications. Plus, you can schedule device or software updates outside of business hours to free up bandwidth for essential tasks.

If you’re still having jitter issues, it’s time to contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, you may have a problem with last mile connectivity or you may need to upgrade your plan. But if nothing works, your final option is to switch ISPs (which may or may not be possible depending on where you live).

RELATED: How to get a better wireless signal and reduce wireless network interference

Does jitter affect internet speed?

Jitter does not directly affect Internet speed, but it can affect Internet performance. So jitter and internet speed go hand in hand. When your network jitter is very high, it can appear that you have internet speed issues due to interruptions, delays, and artifacts in the applications you use. But by using a wired connection, up-to-date hardware, and proper network settings, you can mitigate instability and improve overall Internet performance.