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Beyond Internet Download Speeds: Why Latency Matters Just As Much

With all the reports on determining internet quality in the Philippines, the metric that’s often emphasized is download speeds. Because it is often cited in many reports, people have always associated faster download speeds with better internet experience–where in reality, other factors matter too like latency.

We sat down with Opensignal APAC VP Rob Lerner who spoke to us at length a few days ago, explaining why not everyone in the Philippines gets the same internet speeds that their reports say.

“Within a distribution, there are going to be users that are less satisfied,” Lerner says.

Satellite broadband internet

Latency matters

When you hear the word latency, one would associate it with gaming, as a high latency can reduce one’s gaming experience–especially with multiplayer games. “These are the ones that demand low latency because rival users are connected to a centralized gaming server and rely on their low latency to have a better chance of winning a match. In that context, latency is a very big factor,” Lerner said.

However, Lerner explains that they factor in latency in measuring experiences for voice calls and web browsing. Unlike video experience, which relies more on upload and download speeds over latency, latency is incredibly important not just in gaming but in voice calls as well. In Lerner’s explanation with voice calls, high latency and a volatile connection (which is called jitter) lead to packet data loss that results in choppy reception. Everyone has had that really bad Facebook Messenger voice call that took forever for the other person to hear what you’re saying – that’s latency. Latency is a huge factor when it comes to consumer voice apps like Skype, WhatsApp, and WeChat, where they don’t guarantee quality service always–instead, they do their best effort based on the current connection.

Web browsing does not necessarily need a fast internet connection

Despite people being obsessed with faster download speeds, Lerner explained that you don’t necessarily need fast download speeds if you are just browsing the internet. “You don’t need a high download speed to do that because webpages are usually optimized with your mobile experience.”

This best explains why you may encounter issues browsing certain sites using a specific ISP while not encountering the same when you use a different ISP. This ISP-specific issue boils down to latency issues with how they manage data coming to and from the site. Like with gaming and voice calls, latency issues while web browsing can lead to packet loss, which translates to a less pleasurable internet experience.

How can telcos improve their internet services?

While Lerner does acknowledge that the Philippines’ internet speeds have improved over the past few years, telcos need to start improving other metrics beyond the usual download and upload speeds. “Speed, at a certain point, has its values, but as speeds get higher and higher, it’s not necessarily impacting my user experience,” Lerner explains.

Instead of overemphasizing download and upload speeds, Lerner thinks that telcos should start focusing on upgrading their infrastructure to improve the overall internet experience for their users with lower latency and jitter and a more stable connection regardless of conditions.

The government needs to help too

While telco companies in the Philippines are working hard in expanding their internet coverage (which should help lower latency), the government needs to help out as well by incentivizing telcos to add infrastructure to areas where they get a lower return on investment (ROI) like rural areas. Having these remote areas covered is important, as it will help the Philippines improve its internet experience nationwide.

“Through government investment, perhaps a universal fund in helping digitalization in rural areas, they can help and encourage telcos to actually make that investment,” Lerner adds.