What Is Packet Loss, and How Do You Repair It?

There is nothing more annoying than streaming your favorite show or movie. The video keeps pausing or your online game keeps stuttering to make sure you will never win this victory. You can thank Packet Loss for this inconvenience.

What is packet loss and how can you fix it? To understand the problem, read on to learn how to check for packet loss and various methods to fix the problem.

What is a package?

Think of a single email as a convoy of buses taking the class to Disney World. Each bus contains part of the entire student body – your email address – as well as information about where it's going, where it's from, and who is driving in the seats.

Networks essentially split your e-mails – and all other data – onto these buses or packets. Again, the email you send to mom is not just a large file that travels over the internet. Instead, it's a convoy of tiny bits of data so everyone else can email mom at the same time.

Once all of the buses have reached the set destination, their payload will be unloaded to recreate your message in Mom's email client.

A single package contains three main components:

Header

  • Original IP address
  • Destination IP address
  • Package type
  • Package number

payload

  • Part of your overall data

pendant

  • Error correction
  • End of package information

The typical packet size is approximately 1,500 bytes, although the actual size can be cumbersome.

What is packet loss?

At this point, one of our metaphorical buses does not reach Disney World.

Note that the bus convoy does not travel directly from your PC to the destination via a single freeway. Instead, the convoy takes the best route through several small towns. For example, your browser connection may go through 20 "stops" before reaching the nearest Digital Trends host server. This number can be larger or smaller depending on the geological location.

In the same way that real roads could disrupt bus travel, parcels are sometimes subjected to similar road closures and diversions. In the digital world, these congestion and diversions can prevent some buses from fully reaching Disney World. To avoid a complete interruption, packets are retransmitted. However, the result introduces delays in playing online games, choppy video streams, and broken audio. Even surfing the internet can feel slow.

Network congestion isn't the only factor

The packet loss is not primarily related to network congestion. Other factors can also cause problems, such as:

Defective hardware: Damaged cables, outdated modems and routers, and damaged network card drivers can significantly affect network performance. Problematic network switches and firewalls also cause problems in large organizations.

Overloaded devices: When this happens, the network hardware works harder than usual to handle all of the traffic. These devices temporarily store packets until they have time to process and send them along. If a package reaches its destination, it has arrived too late. In some cases it is discarded.

Defective software: Software running on a network device can have errors – either originally or as a side effect of a recent update – that require a restart, patch, or complete reinstallation.

Wrong configurations: Network devices on a single link that are set to two different duplex modes (also known as duplex mismatch) assume a "collision" and drop or delay packets.

Wireless is less reliable: Because of the nature of the wireless connection, packets have a better chance of disappearing into the digital void due to radio frequency interference, signal strength, and distance.

Security Threats: Hackers may have control of a network device and use it to flood traffic and block the target. Another hack can result in network devices deliberately dropping packets.

How do you see packet loss?

If you are short on time, we recommend that you visit this packet loss test website and run the quick test to see what results are on your network. For a more direct and thorough option, you can confirm the packet loss using PowerShell (or Command Prompt) in Windows. Here's to do that:

Step 1: Right-click the Start button and select Windows PowerShell (Admin) from the Power menu.

Step 2: Enter ping followed by your router's address (this is how you can find it). For example, you can type:

ping 192.168.0.1

In the results you will see a percentage next to Lost. As shown below, we want this number to be zero, which means that all packets will reach their destination.

Windows PowerShell show packet loss

However, this is only local. If you want to see packet loss between your PC and a website, you need to ping the web address.

For example, type:

ping www.digitaltrends.com

In our test, the results (currently) show that there is no packet loss. This is great because there are about 11 hops between this writer and the site's host server. We performed this test with a PC on a wired connection.

Windows PowerShell Ping DT

However, you only send and receive four packets with the ping command. If you want a longer test, enter the following instead:

Ping (insert address) -t

This test continues indefinitely until you press Ctrl + C.

If you're curious about how many hops there are between you and the destination, enter:

Tracert (insert address)

Windows PowerShell Tracert

Usually the results show your current IP address along with the addresses of all hops, but we've removed it from the screenshot for security reasons.

On MacOS and Linux, you can use Terminal to execute the ping command. On macOS, the terminal is either docked or you can usually find it in the "Other" folder in the launcher.

Location of the MacOS terminal

If you've installed Linux on a Chromebook, the terminal is likely in the Linux Apps folder on the launcher.

Chromebook Terminal Linux

However, like the Ping -t command in Windows, the test runs indefinitely, so you have to type Ctrl + C or Command + C.

MacOS Terminal Packet Loss

In this case, we encountered packet loss while pinging Digital Trends with a MacBook Air over a 5 GH wireless connection. A second test pinging the local router showed no loss. However, a third test that pinged Digital Trends again showed that packet loss was reduced to zero.

That said, random drops will happen – you just don't want a continuous loss.

How can you fix packet loss?

Many of the problems that lead to packet loss may not even be at the end of the connection. However, it doesn't mean that you can't take some action to improve the connection.

Restart your PC

Restart Windows 10 PC

The software running on your PC – whether it's a driver, service, or application – can temporarily conflict.

For example, tabs in Google Chrome may take up 75% of your system memory, causing other services to throttle or crash. Rebooting can in some cases solve software problems that can affect network traffic.

Check your connections

Picture of ethernet port and lpug.VisualField / Getty Images

It might seem simple, but cables that aren't plugged in properly can cause all sorts of problems. So it's always worth checking them out. If you're using a wired connection to your PC or laptop, unplug the cable and plug it back in. Do the same with connecting your router to the phone line to be doubly secure.

Update software

Restart Windows Update now

Sure, updates can be annoying as they can bring you to a halt temporarily. However, they are also required, especially if older firmware contains bugs that cause the underlying device to lose your packets.

Make sure your PC's operating system and network drivers, as well as any network access software you use, such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, are up to date.

Are you using a router? Make sure the firmware is up to date.

Go to Cable Connections

Craig Lloyd / Digital Trends

Wireless is a great way to get around the house while listening to Baby Shark on your phone. However, the connection can suffer from radio frequency interference, signal strength, and distance. If you don't see any real connection problems, continue as normal.

However, if you experience a noticeable delay on a desktop, laptop, set-top device, game console, or similar device, switching to a wired connection can make a huge difference. Not only do you get faster throughput, but most Ethernet cables are shielded, which can reduce interference.

Switch off possible interference

Radio frequency interference can be an issue with wireless devices. That means you should turn off other unused wireless devices like wireless headphones, speakers, and even bluetooth connections on smartphones and tablets. You can also use your router's settings to change your radio channel and reduce competition with your neighbour's WiFi.

If your devices are wired, make sure the cables are away from objects that can cause electrical and magnetic interference, especially if the cables are unshielded. If you are using a powerline connection, the electrical layout of your home or office can cause problems in addition to the "noise" caused by large appliances.

Check the quality of service settings

When other users in your home are competing for your connection and your work needs priority, you can allocate bandwidth by digging in your router and adjusting the quality of service settings to prioritize traffic. That means you are allocating more bandwidth to your devices than others.

How you get to these settings is different in every router. Once found, you can create "rules" that assign specific traffic, services, or devices with a bandwidth level such as "highest" or "maximum". Typically, you need to set the total upload and download bandwidth of your network below the allowable amount of your subscription so that the QoS component can make adjustments.

Restart everything

123RF

Somewhere between you and the World Wide Web, a digital gremlin has eaten your packages. While the problem might not be on your end of the ISP connection, restarting everything is a great way to fix errors without going into the details. Unplug your modem and / or router, press and hold the power button for 30 seconds, then plug it back in.

For all other connected devices, rebooting is also a good idea – it never hurts to start this way. The local network assigns your device an address which can change when the network is restarted (unless it is static). You can try turning off Wi-Fi or unplugging the ethernet cable for a moment. However, you may still have connectivity issues until you restart.

Replace or upgrade your hardware

Coaxifi router

Sometimes old or defective hardware can be responsible for your packet loss. Upgrading your router or modem if you've had it for a long time should be a last resort. However, if you've tried everything you can think of, this might be your best bet. Even if it wasn't entirely responsible for your packet loss, the raw performance boost you get will be worth it in the end. In fact, this guide has a huge selection of the best routers to buy in 2020.

However, if you think your desktop network connection is causing problems, you can always try adding a secondary network card instead. While you can't do this with most laptops and tablets, it might be just what you need for a desktop computer.

It is always stressful and frustrating when your technology works, especially when the end of the problem is not in sight. No matter what problem you're running into, there is always a technology-based solution to fix the problem. The key to troubleshooting packet loss is to uncover the problem that is causing it all. In other words, just like with a doctor, you need to properly diagnose the problem in order to find the right solution.

Deal with a DoS attack

Organizations may suspect that severe and persistent packet loss is caused by a common type of denial of service, or DoS, attack that floods a network with more requests than it can handle to crash it bring or render useless. IT pros can pinpoint the IP addresses sending these requests and permanently block them to fix the problem. More advanced cybersecurity can help block such attacks or quickly identify and deal with them. Switching to cloud services can also prevent or reduce the impact of DoS attacks.

Install a network performance monitor

It can be annoying to keep track of everything packet loss related, especially if you just want to keep playing or make sure a service stays available to customers. Network performance monitoring software can be an ideal solution for growing businesses and others to keep track of the overall health of their networks. Professional solutions include Solarwinds Network Performance Monitor and Progress WhatsUp Gold, both of which are available for free trials.

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