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Tackling Packet Loss

August 22nd, 2014 by

If you’re experiencing jittery video and gaps in your online audio, you might need to tackle packet loss…

As discussed in our introductory article, digital communications are typically dispatched in separate parcels of data that each follow different paths to their destination device or terminal. That means each packet is at risk of various technical issues including signal degradation, overcrowded nodes along the route, a lost Internet connection or corruption. The end result can be anything from jittery video streams to a page with those annoying little x symbols where a picture should be. In this blog, we consider what causes the phenomenon of missing data, and what can be done to prevent future data transfer mishaps.

Transmission Control Protocols

The issue of packet loss has been partly tackled by Transmission Control Protocols automatically identifying any missing packets and requesting them to be re-sent by the supplying terminal. If a particular connection along the transmission route is becoming choked with packets, the TCP can slow the supply of data to enable a more steady flow. Packets will sometimes be dropped deliberately to free-up space at a congested node, but TCP’s self-healing design ensures they will be re-transmitted automatically without any obvious impact.

How To Test For Packet Loss

Packet loss can happen intermittently and resolve itself without requiring any involvement, but sometimes it can become a regular phenomenon. You can test your device’s level of packet loss by visitingwww.pingtest.net and running the diagnostic tool. HostMyCalls also has a packet loss and delay test, which is free, but involves an extended period of monitoring. It’s located at http://www.hostmycalls.com/tools, and can identify whether data loss is being caused by your ISP’s network or something closer to home.

Quick Wins With Packet Loss

If packets are being lost by defective hardware or software, a trip to your local branch of Maplin may be necessary. A wireless booster or omnidirectional antenna can improve signal strength in Wi-Fi systems, while switching between the 13 commonly available channels can also help to cut out interference from neighbouring Wi-Fi loops. Also bear in mind that wireless data is being sent through air already congested by mobile phone data, baby monitors and power lines. Something as simple as moving your microwave oven can alleviate packet loss, since the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands are particularly susceptible to outside interference. Also ensure that your Internet-enabled devices aren’t completely full or running outmoded software, update any device drivers, and check all sockets and cables are clean and undamaged.

Packet loss concealment is a modern solution to the issue of degraded digital content in VoIP conversations. These algorithms replay the most recently received packet (or alternatively insert tiny patches of silence in lieu of the missing packets) to minimise the drop in call quality associated with ongoing data loss. By the time you reach 20 per cent data loss, dialogue will be pretty staccato and robotic-sounding, but it should still be decipherable as the human brain manages to fill in the gaps. Without these algorithmic insertions, words wouldn’t maintain their normal flow and signal degradation would probably render the conversation unsustainable.

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